travelers of size

Flying tips for plus-size passengers

Plus-size fliers have a slim new tool to help them get from here to there.


A downloadable, four-page brochure titled “Travel Tips for People of Size” offers tips for packing, booking flights, choosing seats, traveling to and through airports and getting on and off airplanes. A description of each airline’s passengers-of-size policy is included, along with recommendations for ways that travel agents can help a passenger of size have a comfortable flying experience.

“Airline travel, in particular, is such a hot topic for fat people,” said Peggy Howell, spokeswoman for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA). “Some have mobility issues and the trip from the curb to the gate is daunting. Some people are concerned that they may not be able to move quickly enough to make connecting flights. And we often get questions about which airlines have policies regarding the purchase of two seats.”

Howell said the brochure, which was created with input from the Association for Airline Passenger Rights (AAPR), will help passengers of size make informed travel decisions and avoid some uncomfortable situations, such as being publicly humiliated by being called out of line to buy a second seat.

“The reality is that purchasing a second coach seat, sharing a third seat with a fellow traveler of size, or considering an upgrade to business or first class may be the most appropriate choice,” said Tony Harrell, owner of Abundant Travel, based in Alexandria, Va.

The brochure recommends that passengers of size book a second seat when flying Southwest, American and Jet Blue. United may require passengers of size to purchase a second seat if they are unable to fit in a single seat with both armrests down. The brochure also suggests that travelers check their airline’s policy at the time of flying.

“Air travel these days is not a pleasant experience, but as passengers we’re all in this together,” said AAPR executive director Brandon Macsata. “So if traveling can be easier and more pleasant for people of size, it will be more pleasant for people of all sizes.”

In addition to urging travelers to choose airlines that are “people-of-size friendly,” the brochure also offers these tips:

  • A window seat will give you a little more shoulder room but hip room remains the same. The average seat is (approximately) 18 inches wide.
  • While you can discreetly ask your flight attendant for a seat belt extender as you board, you may find it more convenient to carry your own. (A list of sites that sell seatbelt extenders is included.)
  • Smile and say hello to your seat mates. It is harder to be annoyed with someone if they are being nice.
  • Washroom size may be an issue. Try to plan accordingly

“I’m going to print out the brochure and take it with me when I travel,” said Carole Cullum, a Minnesota resident who usually purchases a second airline seat.

“Society thinks people of size want special accommodations on airplanes, without respect for others,” said Janie Oyakawa, a 34-year-old person of size from McKinney, Texas. “But we just want to know exactly what the deal is, and this brochure removes a lot of the guesswork.

“My hips might be wider,” she said, “but my money is just as green as the next person’s and I want to travel and see the world.”

(My story: Flying? New brochure offers travel tips for passengers of size first appeared on’s Travel Kit)