Tips For Airline Travel For Oversized Persons

Large people endure a lot of pain when traveling by air. Here are tips of ways to minimize the problems and maximize the comfort.

Tips for Airline Travel for Oversized Persons

Airline travel for larger-than-normal people is often a painful experience. Airline seats are cramped for even normal-sized persons; for the super-sized, they are torture. There are, however, things you can do minimize the pain and make your trip a little more bearable.

Select Your Flight Carefully

A large person rarely has a problem when flying on an uncrowded aircraft. If the plane is only half full, it's easy to arrange to sit next to an empty seat, which solves many problems. Do not fly during popular, rush times. Take late night flights, leave a day before the weekend and return a day after the weekend and avoid holiday rush periods. Saturdays can be an off-peak time. Consult with the reservation agent about which flights tend to be less than completely full. If you fly a lot, you may find certain aircraft models have seats that accommodate you better than others. Take notes when you find a comfortable plane and try to schedule flights using your preferred aircraft.

Work To Get an Empty Seat Beside You

At every opportunity, work with the airline personnel to try to get an empty seat beside you. Make the request when you book the flight originally. The worst they can do is tell you they can't help you. Arrive early for your flight and make your request when you check in at the ticket counter. At that point, they may have a feel for the flight's seating and may be able to help you. If you still haven't been able to secure that empty seat, try again at the gate by speaking with the gate agent. At this point, they should know almost exactly how many people will be flying and what the final seating arrangements will be.

Get the Seat that Works Best for You

Some aircraft have a few seats that are larger than normal. Ask when making your reservation if there are such seats and request one of them. Even a single inch of extra room can make a dramatic difference.

Some oversized persons prefer the window seat. Others, who are especially wide through the shoulders, prefer the aisle. Wide-shouldered persons can lean out into the aisle most of the time, moving back out of the aisle when traffic comes through. Aisle seats also allow room for long legs to encroach a little into the aisle.


Airlines usually allow passengers with special needs to board ahead of the rest of the passengers. You can often join that group and get seated before the crowd rushes in. If the agent challenges you, explain that as you move down the narrow aisle, you often brush unpleasantly against the other passengers, which doesn't happen if you preboard.

Put Up the Armrest

Two-inch thick armrests between seats waste space. Put the armrest up as soon as you arrive. This can be a delicate matter for the person next to you, because it means that your body may be in direct contact with his or hers. If your seatmate puts it back down, you may have to leave it that way.

Armrests often contain the plug-ins for the headsets used to listen to music or the movie sound track. If you are crowded against the armrest, you won't be able to plug in the headset. If so, forego the entertainment. If you can put up an armrest, however, you can often plug into that armrest.

On the bulkhead seats--those directly behind the walls separating the first class cabin from coach and in the emergency exit aisles--the armrests usually do not go up. They are fixed in position. These seats, which offer more legroom than any others, are often thinner than the normal seats. When the armrests cannot be raised, you have more legroom at the cost of more precious seat room.

Check Out the Tray Table

For many oversized persons, the tray table coming out of the back of the seat in front of them cannot be used. There is not enough space between their abdomens and the seat back to fit the tray table into. Having the person ahead of you put the seat back in the full upright position may give enough room to use the tray table, but for the larger persons, even that will not do the job. If you have an empty seat next to you, put down that seat's tray table and use it. If not, you might be able to balance the food tray on a pillow in your lap. If that is not workable, you may have to skip the meal.

Ask for a Seat Belt Extender

Seat belts are not long enough for many oversized persons. When you board the plane, quietly inform the flight attendant who greets you that you will be needing a seat belt extender. Most often, the flight attendant will tell you that they use the extenders in their pre-flight demonstration and promise to bring it to you as soon as they finish. At times, they may not have enough extenders or may not be able to locate one. In those cases, what most frequently happens is that the oversized person pretends to buckle the seat belt and the flight attendant pretends not to notice. This is not a good solution, but sometimes it cannot be avoided.

If you fly frequently, you may want to purchase your own seat belt extender to carry with you, which alleviates all the concerns about inconsiderate flight attendants who embarrass passengers by noisily delivering the extender and possible unavailable extenders.

Plan for Rest Room Problems

Many aircraft rest rooms are so small as to be unusable by larger-sized persons. All are uncomfortable. Use the rest room in the airport before boarding to minimize your need to use the on-board facilities. For long flights where not using the facilities is not a choice, inquire when booking the flight if the aircraft has handicapped rest rooms. If not, you may wish to change to a flight that is so equipped.

Buy an Extra Seat

When all else fails and occasionally when the airlines insist, you may have to buy an extra seat. If so, be sure to inform the ticket counter agent, gate agent, and flight attendants, so they do not try to put someone into what looks to be unused space. There are horror stories of airlines "bumping" the extra seat or refusing to put your empty seat next to you; careful planning may eliminate these possibilities.

Consider Volunteering to Be Bumped

When a flight is overbooked (a distressingly frequent occurrence these days), consider volunteering to surrender your seat. This is usually profitable, as the airline gives you free tickets for future travel. It can also move you to a less crowded flight, which is good for all concerned.

Work on Having a Sense of Humor

As you deal with this potentially unpleasant experience, work on keeping your normal cheery mood. Work with the airline people and be as considerate as you can. You will still experience discomfort--it's almost unavoidable on today's airlines--but you can make your experience the best it can be.

© High Speed Ventures 2011