The late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once made a famous allusion to hard-core pornography, noting it was “hard to define” but, “I know it when I see it.”
I suppose that may have been true in his day (the statement was made in reference to a 1964 case) but standards evolve and measurements change, and so it has been with the fat flier.
So now we have a famous movie director vs. Southwest – and despite the airline’s apologies, Kevin Smith is still steamed. Without getting too involved in who’s right/who’s wrong, it seems clear the situation could have been handled better.
And yet – as long as we have human beings acting as the Fat Police coupled with packed planes, there will be more confusion, embarrassment and stories like the one this weekend.
These policies are way to subjective: sure, everyone from flight attendants to captains to gate agents may say they know what “too-fat-to-fly” is when they see it – but everyone’s idea may be more than a slight bit different.
It’s like carryon bags: all of us have seen the cheaters – those who get away with bringing a clearly oversized bag (or three) on board – and yet, others get stopped. Now, nobody wants to be the Baggage Police (and I don’t blame them) – so who on earth would want to be in charge of quantifying who is and is not “too fat to fly”? Face it, some sizeable passengers are genuinely puzzled when they are allowed to fly an airline one week only to be ordered to buy a second seat the next.
And many airline policies reflect this confusion. Keep reading to see what your favorite airline’s rules are, for “customers of size”.
How do you know if you need an extra seat? Many airlines have standards similar to American Airlines’ which says “customers…may require more than one seat because they are:”
- Unable to fit into a single seat in their ticketed cabin and/or
- Unable to properly buckle their seatbelt using a single seatbelt extender (available upon request from a flight attendant) and/or
- Unable to lower both armrests without encroaching upon the adjacent seating space or another customer.
Now, click on the airline name for full details on its large passenger policy. Note that not all airlines seem to have such a policy (or none that we could find, we used airline website site specific google queries like seat belt extender, armrests, overweight, oversize, etc to try to find them), and those that do, are not always crystal clear.
Further: if “required” to buy two seats side-by-side, you will have to call the airline’s reservation center instead of booking online, and many airlines charge up to a $25 fee for that.
Not to mention the policy encourage those that need/want two seats to roll the dice at the gate — which is more enticing paying $350 roundtrip and taking your chances at the time of boarding, or paying $700 roundtrip and possibly getting a refund in 3 credit card billing cycles?
AirTran: We could not find specific information on policies for large passenger on this site
Alaska/Horizon: You are expected to purchase two seats, but if there are empty seats on your flight, you can receive a refund.
American Airlines: You are to be proactive and make a reservation for two seats (each seat will cost the same). If you don’t book two seats and there’s space, you will be seated next to an empty seat at no extra charge. If there are no empty seats, you will have to book two seats on the next flight.
Continental: You must purchase a second seat; if you wait to the day of your flight, you could pay a stiff price for that second seat. No mention of being seated next to empty seats.
Delta: We could find no specific policy on Delta’s site, but in its “Contract of Carriage” it states that the carrier may refuse transport “When the passenger is unable to sit in a seat with the seatbelt fastened”.
JetBlue: We could find no specific policy on JetBlue’s site
Southwest: It’s the customer’s responsibility to buy a second seat (at the same price as the first); if the flight does not sell out, the customer can get a refund for the second seat
United: If there are empty seats, the customer will be seated next to one; if not, the customer must purchase another seat on the next available flight; no mention of discounts or refunds
US Airways: We could find no specific policy on this site
Air France: The carrier recommends purchasing a second seat, which will be sold at a discount, and refunded if there are seats available on the flight.
British Airways: We could find no specific policy on the site, but a UK publication reports that “British Airways has no weight limits for passengers, but advises overweight people to buy a second seat for their own comfort and safety if necessary”
Lufthansa: No formal policy; when cases arise, they are dealt with individually