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Air Travel With Added Saddle Bags

I travel to the US twice a year. I would absolutely love to be able to afford first class or business seats, but I can’t. I always fly coach. The problem is this: I wear American size 22 pants, not because of my stomach; it’s because of my hips. They’re large and I have huge saddle bags. I always book an aisle seat to make sure only one person will be bothered by my saddle bags. And even though I try to lean to the opposite side as much as I can, part of my thigh still spills into my unlucky seatmate’s seat, making me very embarrassed. I read airlines/flights forums where people who could have easily been my seatmates complain about the passenger of size who should have booked a first class seat and let me tell you: Do I feel guilty! but I just can’t afford it.

So I have a few questions for all of you fellow E-hell readers and Ms E-Hell Dame: what should I do? What’s your opinion on the issue? Do you have similar stories? Have you been the “offender” or the “offended”?

Just for the sake of information: I’m 5″7 and weigh 270 pounds. When I weighed 230 I still had huge saddle bags. 0510-14

I can tell this is going to be a hotly debated post…..everyone keep it civil, please.

When I fly, being a BBW, I always go first class on an aisle seat.   That is just the cost of travel for me, imo.   In the pre-boarding seating area, I can tell which passengers the other flyers are secretly wishing they are not seated next to (squirming children, wailing babies, and big people) and I prefer to be as accommodating as possible to my fellow travelers so that I am not perpetuating stereotypes and prejudices.  In other words, I never presume I am entitled to more seat than I paid for and if any body part of mine has the potential to spill over into someone else’s purchased space, I need to make sure I pay for enough room to contain my body within the zone I “own”.   That may mean flying first class or buying two plane seats side by side.

That isn’t the advice you were probably hoping to read but it’s one I firmly believe in.   And I don’t think this just applies to fat people but physically fit and athletic men or tall people can also easily usurp more space on a plane than their ticket allows.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Gummy Roach May 14, 2014, 4:12 pm

    I’m 5′ 11″ and what I would consider somewhat short for my width. (Ok, yes, I’m fat. There, I said it!) It’s not fun. I’ve had that fear of, “Gosh, I sure hope I won’t need one of those seatbelt extensions.” I’ve been fortunate enough not to have needed one, but I’ve come close.

    Anyhow, I wanted to talk a little bit about those first class seats on an airplane. In my opinion, they’re not always what they’re cracked up to be. Certainly, they’re more comfortable, as in cushier; they have larger arm rests, there’s more space between your seat and the person next to you, however….. the size of the seat itself (from arm rest to arm rest) isn’t much better than the seats in coach. The seats in coach (most of them) at least offer some space below the armrests. This isn’t the case in first class. In fact, I thought the seats in first class were actually a tighter fit. Much more comfortable for the back and bottom, certainly, but still a tight squeeze around the hips.

    How you present yourself can make a difference. As you’re getting on the plane, walking past the rows of passengers, looking for your seat, you have some options. You could look down at the ground like a sad puppy dog, with a “Poor me” look, or……. you could hold your head up high (not too high, of course!) smile and say “Good morning!” to other passengers as you walk by. When you find your seat, you could plop yourself down obnoxiously and sulk, or worse. OR…… you could greet your seatmate with a cheerful “Hello” or “Good morning’. It often does make a difference.

    In my experience, I’ve found that if I show politeness and consideration towards my seatmates, they will (most of the time) reciprocate. Sometimes I’ll break the ice or tension by chuckling and saying, “Wow. Either I’ve gotten larger, or the planes have gotten smaller!” Sometimes I’ll ask, “Are you ok? Do you have enough room?” I’ve never had anyone tell me “NO!” (Not yet, anyway!) They’ve always replied with “Yes, I’m fine, thank you.”

    My wake-up call, regarding my large size, was when I went to Six Flags in California. I waited in line for over an hour to ride the new batman ride. When it was time to board, imagine my embarrassment and humiliation when the ride operators couldn’t get the safety bar to come all the way down and lock due to my large size. Yikes! To add insult to injury, all those people waiting, pointing and laughing, “Ha ha! He can’t fit on the ride!” All I could really do at that point was laugh and say, “Well, I guess THIS isn’t going to work, is it?”, and exit the ride. Interestingly, there were plenty of other rides in the park that weren’t a problem. Since then, I’ve made an honest effort to address my size situation.

    I admit, some things are beyond our control. In my particular case, this is something I can fix. No, it doesn’t happen overnight. I’m not where I need to be yet, but thankfully I’m not where I used to be. I have hopes that the next time I get on a rollercoaster or ride in an airplane, it won’t be the tight fit it once was.

  • Kimstu May 14, 2014, 4:29 pm

    The real trouble here is that it’s the airlines’ responsibility to handle this problem, and they’re shirking that responsibility.

    “Undersized” people are not being rude in expecting to occupy the single seat they paid for without being squeezed by their neighbors.

    “Oversized” people are not being rude in expecting to occupy the single seat the airline willingly sold them without specifying any restrictions on their size.

    The airlines, on the other hand, are being EXTREMELY rude (as well as lousy at customer service) by routinely selling single seats to passengers who just can’t fit into them and then expecting those passengers and their neighbors to put up with the consequences. It is part of the airlines’ job to ensure that their customers get the goods and services they paid for, and if they don’t do that they should be taken to task for it.

    So yes, if a larger-sized neighbor is encroaching on your seat, you should (politely) complain about it, but not by chastising your neighbor or telling them what they should have done differently (buy two seats, fly first class, etc.). Rather, tell the AIRLINE what they should be doing differently, as in “It is your job to figure out a way to accommodate your passengers so that there aren’t multiple passengers occupying a single seat”.

    While the passengers are snarling at each other for being “too fat” or “entitled” or “fat shaming” or “inconsiderate”, the real culprits in this situation—namely, the airlines with their poorly planned seat design and allocation policies—are being let off the hook. Let’s bring that pressure to bear on them to fix it instead.

    (Personally, I’m looking forward to the “passenger pods” aka “coffin cabins” of the future, where passengers and their carryons are packed lengthways in open-ended individual boxes, floor to ceiling, like Japanese “capsule hotels”, with bunk-bed-style ladders allowing the passengers in the upper pods to get out into the aisle. In theory, the individual pods could even be loaded with passengers inside the airport and then just slotted into frames in the aircraft via conveyor belt, like mini-shipping containers. There could be some extra-long or extra-wide pods for tall or broad passengers, but most people will just get the standard-issue box to lie in with their own carryon luggage. Sleep your way across the continent: you’re not in anyone else’s space and nobody else is in yours! Small sliding hatches between pods could be latched shut on either side or opened for the convenience of neighbors travelling together; but no double pods for couples, to discourage anybody getting ideas about the Mile High Club. 😉 )

    • Kendra May 14, 2014, 5:55 pm

      Oh, my kingdom for a “like” button! This is it, exactly.

    • Rap May 14, 2014, 7:13 pm

      If I could give you a thumbs up I would! 😀

    • imc May 14, 2014, 11:15 pm

      Basically, a claustrophobic’s heaven.
      I don’t think I personally know anyone who’d wish to lie down for the duration of a whole intercontinental flight. Seven hours gives you a good round of sleep, but not something you might be looking forward to if you leave when it’s 5pm for you and you get to your destination at 6pm local time.

      But I do agree with the rest of the post.
      For the sake of higher gains, airline companies try to squeeze as many seats in coach as possible, without seemingly taking into consideration that a good number of people couldn’t possibly fit in them.
      It’s their responsibility to assure everyone’s (relative) comfort, even though it’s certainly apt for people with different needs (size-wise, or traveling with kids or the like) to make sure they cause the least possible inconvenience for their neighbors (and said neighbors should understand that they are not being inconvenienced by a deliberate choice of the other person). These situations shouldn’t even arise!!

      As for the OP, I haven’t gone through all the comments, so this might have been said already, but the only thing that comes to my mind is that you could try traveling during the weekdays, if at all possible, rather than on the weekend. I traveled to the US from Paris on the Monday before last (I’m still in NYC, actually) and my plane was half empty. I ended up having my whole row to myself.
      If your dates can be flexible and you have a favorite airline, maybe try establishing a rapport with one or more of their employees, regularly asking them, when you need to travel, which days are slowest for business, so that you might try and exploit those for traveling yourself. You might not end up next to a free seat, but there might be multiple free seats somewhere else on the plane that you could ask to be moved into.
      Of course, this hardly solves the problem, especially if you simply wish to travel over a holiday or a long weekend. But it might help, as a tactic, for work-related travels.

    • ALM May 21, 2014, 9:51 am

      Actually, while I agree it’s on the airlines to address this, many have and PASSENGERS IGNORE THEM.

      My housemate/landlady is a woman of considerable size and bulk. She recently had to purchase tickets and I pointed out that she needed to check the passenger size regulations. Despite multiple news stories and coverage of this in the media, she hadn’t thought to check. (At least she can blame a brain injury for that one, but I don’t know what most other people’s excuse is). She checked, saw the regulations for Southwest (if you don’t fit in the seat, you have to buy two) and her immediate response:

      “Well, I can’t afford that!”

      Well, sorry, then you can’t afford to fly.

      She opted to buy her single seat ticket anyway, then tried to convince herself that she wasn’t that big and could fit into the seat. Not wanting to hear her fuss about it for the next six weeks, I pulled out a tape measure and measured several chairs she normally sat in, including her walker. She convinced herself it wouldn’t be a problem because she could fit into a chair with the dimensions listed in a chair that didn’t have sides. I am so grateful I’m not traveling with her by plane, although I do have to put up with the consequences of magical thinking in other areas of life.

      I’m sorry, but the airlines/bus lines/train lines do tend to put up the information on the websites because so many travelers buy tickets that way. People don’t book with a travel agent who could negotiate this issue for them, or some people travel rarely and think airplanes are like they were in the 60’s, with giant seats and a touch of glamour. As the traveler, it’s YOUR responsibility to ensure you meet the regulations posted. I always check the checked luggage and carryon regulations, why wouldn’t I also check the seating dimensions as well? I’m the one who has to sit there.

      (It would be nice if they posted leg room info and offered a few wider spaced rows for the tall people.)

      It’s a self-service economy today, which means, yes consumer, it’s on YOU to figure it out.

      • Rap May 23, 2014, 11:51 am

        I completely agree – but the reality is that most people are not going to self tax themselves. Particularly when its understood that the airlines will let it slide rather than confront a passenger, and when the airlines won’t post an exact criteria and stick to it. Right now, because they won’t enforce their own policies, people understand that they can get away with it, and much like parents with lap children, why pay extra when you don’t have to?

        And if she did pay for the voluntary extra seat, she’s not guaranteed by the airline to be able to use it… because the airlines don’t have a clear policy in place to handle it. I think Kendra was the one who pointed out that Southwest contradicts themselves on the issue.

        • ALM June 12, 2014, 5:06 pm

          From her report, I think Kendra is being deliberately obtuse.

          You can’t buy more than one seat just because you feel like it. You fit in the seat, you buy one seat.

          If you don’t fit in the seat, you have to buy two.

          This is not difficult unless you are trying to pretzel twist reality into fitting your 300 pound backside into a 17 inch seat.

    • Lorali July 5, 2014, 4:46 pm

      Amazing reply, you have just hit the nail on the head =)

    • soo October 27, 2014, 6:28 pm

      I work for an airline. At what point should I address this. After the passenger has booked this online themselves without checking the seat size. When the passenger books over the phone and makes no attempt to advise us they may need a larger seat. When the passenger finally gets to the airport and the flight is close to sold out and there is nowhere to seat them where there will be an unoccupied seat beside them.

      All airlines provide their seat widths and pitches on their websites, most airlines also offer seats for ‘passenger comfort’ which is usually where you just pay taxes on the extra seat and no fare. This information is available to read before booking if there are any concerns, this can also be used as a good reason to advise passengers that they will be unable to travel or must buy and extra seat due to safety reasons (not for the passenger themselves, but for the seat partner who’s space they will encroach.)

      It’s all very well to say that the airline should take responsibilty for this but how can we do so when the passenger makes no attempt to advise or warn us.

  • Helen May 14, 2014, 4:44 pm

    I do have to take issue with Miss Jeanne’s assertion that tall people should also be included in this argument. As a 6 foot plus woman with a 36″ inside leg any type of travel is uncomfortable for me, be it train, bus or airplane. First class seats are, in my very limited experience, generally wider but don’t offer an awful lot more in the way of legroom. Buying two seats together wouldn’t help – try sitting sideways (i.e. without back support) for a 9 hour flight. I would be happy to pay extra for one of the limited legroom seats on a flight but unfortunately due to mobility issues I’m not allowed to sit in the emergency exit rows.

    I fully appreciate that losing weight is far from easy but the overweight/obese at least have the option, the tall don’t.

    • admin May 14, 2014, 4:58 pm

      My last plane trip, I was seated in first class on the first row with oodles of leg space. The airlines was United.

      • Anonymous May 14, 2014, 9:15 pm

        But Jeanne, didn’t you hear that United Breaks Guitars?


        • admin May 15, 2014, 4:05 am

          I have a relative who books an extra seat on the plane just for his very expensive, custom-made guitar. I once sat on a plane and witnessed the baggage guys ride a western saddle up the baggage roller thingy into the plane…it was my saddle.

          • Anonymous May 15, 2014, 2:06 pm

            Jeanne–I mostly posted that video, because I remember first seeing it on here, but it was a long time ago. Anyway, I had no idea that you rode horses–that’s cool. 🙂

          • admin May 15, 2014, 3:37 pm

            I used to ride. Due to a hip problem, I now have driving ponies.

          • Kendra May 15, 2014, 3:57 pm

            Sorry about the hip. I have hip issues, too. Having driving ponies is really cool, though. Do you keep them for personal use or do you do the couple rides through the park kind of thing?

          • admin May 15, 2014, 10:04 pm

            Personal use. One is an Amish bred and trained mid-size mare and the other is a mini mare.

          • Kendra May 16, 2014, 12:12 am

            That sounds amazing. We don’t see a lot of driving ponies here in the west. You must feel so much a part of nature when you go out on drives with them.

          • neversummer May 16, 2014, 8:18 am

            I think my head would have exploded if that had been my saddle.

          • NostalgicGal May 16, 2014, 8:31 pm

            I would have taken some pictures through the window and taken it up with the airline after the flight, especially if the saddle frame had been hosed…

            Years back a world champion sharpshooter had them misplace his custom rifle; he should have shot 1 or 2, with a borrowed gun, he shot #5 in the competition. He started insuring the gun for $250k with the airline. (they would not allow him to buy a seat for it in cabin). He said they never lost it again; there would be someone assigned to carry it to him in baggage claim….

            I have heard of Miss Harp C Cord and Miss Alto Cello getting seat tickets in first class before and riding with their owner….

            And the Baggage System at DIA (Denver International); they had it up briefly then it was down for 8 months… why? Fellow was flying with a specially built military hardened laptop that was used for demonstrations to clients, worth roughly $50k and he was forced to check it. On arrival it could not be found. He happened to know some mucky-mucks and got personally escorted through the guts of the handling system and they found it; what was left of it, in a bodybag (he said it sure looked like that) in a side room. It had gotten afoul of the system somehow. He said it was a strung out totaled mess. This special laptop that should have survived being tossed out the backdoor at forty thousand feet, opened and running and when it hit the asphalt, just need a reboot. That cost them plenty, and they shut the system down for awhile again…

    • Kate June 8, 2014, 9:15 am

      Precisely. Yes, there are a number of overweight/obese people whose size is nothing to do with lifestyle or dietary choices and yes, even if you are obese due to your own diet and lack of exercise, losing weight is hard to do. However, tall people are ALL this height through absolutely no fault of our own, and there is nothing we can do to ‘lose height’.
      I always try to book an exit row seat wherever possible, but some airlines don’t let you book ahead of time. I’m not rude enough to encroach onto someone else’s space by taking over their leg room, or making someone in front of me keep their seat up the whole time, so I just have to suck it up or pay for another seat. Fortunately, last time my husband (6’1) and I (6 feet tall) flew, the woman at the check-in desk took one look at us and allocated us the exit row free of charge!

  • rachel May 14, 2014, 10:20 pm

    Admin is dead wrong. My husband has no control over his height and should not have to pay more so that he can inconvenience someone else less. Ridiculous body shaming.

  • Kendra May 15, 2014, 12:19 am

    It seems to me that the main disagreement comes from a fundamental difference in point of view. Some feel that when they purchase an airline ticket, they are purchasing use of a given amount of space for the duration of the trip. In this viewpoint, any loss of the use of the seat is basically theft. Others feel that when they purchase an airline ticket, they are purchasing the ability to get from point A to point B, full use of seating not guaranteed. While I can see the merits of both points of view, I have to side the with the second group. In fact, I believe that if the FAA allowed it, airlines would install standing bars and straps in the isles like other modes of public transport do. That said, nobody should be so squished in that they end up black & blue or so stiff and sore that they can’t move at the end of the trip. If a passenger finds themselves in that situation, ask a flight attendant to please find you another seat, that is part of their job. Also, I am a little bothered by all the advice to sit in the emergency exit row for more room. While there is more room in that row, it also comes with a pretty heavy responsibility. By sitting in the emergency exit row, you are agreeing that, in the event of an emergency, you are willing and ABLE to open the emergency door and help the other passengers escape the plane possibly at the risk of your own life. I know, I know, the chances of an emergency happening are infinitesimal, but what if……It is possible, no matter how slight, that my life and the lives of others may depend on you doing your emergency row duty. If you aren’t sure you can perform if needed, then please don’t sit in the emergency exit row just because there is a little more space there.

    • admin May 15, 2014, 3:55 am

      I think the second group is more accurately described as “purchased the ability to get from Point A to Point B, full use AND THEN SOME of seating guaranteed if I need it.” That service is calculated on how much weight is distributed per seat and if you exceed that weight, you are requiring more service (resources of the plane) to get from Point A to Point B.

      • Anonymous May 15, 2014, 7:21 am

        Yes, but the problem is partly because airlines set X (the size of the seats) so far below Y (the average size of the would-be passengers with purchasing power, brains, and Internet connections, who can choose their airline or the other guy’s, and tell the whole world exactly why), that a lot of perfectly healthy, normally-proportioned adults don’t fit. We’ve seen anecdotes from athletes, from large-ish women who straddle the line between regular and plus sizes, and, as Rachel said, from tall people, who I think are worse off on airplanes. Sure, they don’t get “tall-shamed” in everyday life, but on an airplane, buying two seats wouldn’t do any good, because a tall person can’t exactly call up the airline and say, “Hello, Airline, I’m too tall to fit comfortably in one seat, even the emergency row, so could I please reserve two seats, one in front of the other, and could you please just remove or flip down the seat in front for me for the duration of the flight? Thanks so much.” Yeah, that wouldn’t happen, because an airplane is not a Dodge Caravan. Anyway, my point is, I totally agree with Kendra. It almost seems like the airlines are trying to scam anyone even slightly larger than average into buying two seats/an upgrade/whatever. It’s especially despicable because body size is a very loaded topic for most people, as we can see by the fact that this thread has grown to almost 300 replies. So, when the airline’s definition of “acceptable size” is so narrow, and anyone who falls outside of that has to pay extra, it’s yet another element of our size-shaming culture. I’m not as big as I once was (I used to be morbidly obese), but honestly, when I fly, I get a bit nervous about not fitting into the seats, even as a large but not outrageous 14-16ish sized woman at 5’9″ or 5’10”. As I said before, I eat right, exercise regularly, and I teach yoga, so people look to me for health and fitness advice…..but, in the eyes of the airlines, I’m right on the cusp of being “too fat.” When things have gotten to the point where fitness instructors worry about being too fat to fly, something is very wrong–the airline seats are just plain too small. Now, I’ve never not fit into an airline seat, even during my “fat days,” but I suspect that the seats were bigger back in 2003 (the last time I flew while obese) than they were in late 2011 (the last time I flew altogether), but it’s an ever-present, low-grade anxiety of mine. I don’t have a ton of money, so if I ever didn’t fit, I couldn’t pay the difference.

        • Kate June 8, 2014, 9:17 am

          Sorry to nitpick – but oh yes, we do get tall-shamed and spoken about like we’re some freak of nature because god forbid you’re a woman above 5’7 with a shoe size in the double digits.

      • Kendra May 15, 2014, 2:35 pm

        Ok, this thread got me curious, so I went to Southwest .com (the airling I use most often) and looked up the contract for carriage. I only looked up Southwest so other Carriers may have different policies. As far as southwest is concerned, purchasing two seats for yourself is not allowed.
        Section 2a.(2)(v) states “Multiple Reservations. Southwest prohibits multiple reservations for the same passenger departing from the same city on the same date. Furthermore, without notice to the passenger or purchaser, Southwest may cancel such reservations or any other reservations that it believes, in its sole discretion, were made without intent to travel.”
        Section 4a. (3) “Purchase Of Additional Seat. The purchase of more than one seat for use by a single passenger is required when necessary to transport large musical instruments or electronic audio/video, medical, or otherwise sensitive equipment unsuitable for Carriage as Checked Baggage, as specified in Article 7. It is the passenger’s responsibility to notify Carrier of any unique seating needs. In accordance with Article 6, Carrier may refuse to transport individuals who are unable or unwilling to comply with Carrier’s seating requirements. Purchase of more than one seat for use by a single passenger for the sole purpose of ensuring additional personal space is prohibited.”
        then we go to Article 6 Acceptance of Passengers
        a.Refusal to Transport
        (8)Comfort and Safety
        (iii)Persons who are unable to occupy a seat with the seatbelt fastened
        and lastly, back to Article 4(a) Tickets
        “(1) No person shall be entitled to transportation except upon presentation of a valid ticket or proof of identification acceptable to Carrier to confirm that transportation has been purchased. Such ticket shal entitle the passenger to transportation subject to this Contract of Carriage, and, in particular, certain terms and conditions as follows.
        (i)Such ticket is valid between the points of origin and destination via the specific routing designated on the passenger’s itinerary only.”

        So reading this, it seems to me that according to Southwest Airlines, when you purchase a ticket you are purchasing the means to travel from point A to point B, seating not guaranteed. You do not “rent” a specific amount of space while you are getting from point A to point B, therefore if someone “spills” over into your space they are not being rude and they are not stealing.

        To the OP, if you are still with us, it looks like you are doing nothing wrong, you are not being rude to your fellow passengers and you are fine to continue on as you are doing.

        • Anonymous May 15, 2014, 4:13 pm

          Honestly, Kendra, that reads like something out of Lewis Carroll. Passengers MAY NOT reserve more than one seat (and pay for it), but they also MUST reserve an extra seat if they have a large carry-on item (musical instrument, oxygen tank, Ming vase, whatever), that’s either fragile, or they can’t be separated from it. They also MUST reserve an extra seat (despite the fact that they MAY NOT reserve an extra seat to ensure extra personal space), if they have “unique seating needs,” i.e., are too large to fit in one seat without spilling over. The airline can also refuse to transport such passengers, even if they’ve purchased an extra seat, which is REQUIRED if you’re a “Passenger of Size,” but FORBIDDEN if you’re not. I can imagine how this would create a lot of confusion, especially for people like me, who are large, but not obese, and may be considered a “Passenger of Size” at one airline, but not another. Imagine the variables–I could be fine for one seat on the way there with Airline A, but “too fat” and need an extra seat on the return trip on Airline B, or maybe the plane is cold on the way there, and putting on a sweatshirt or jacket would put me over the “acceptable” limit for one seat, but removing it would qualify me to fly on one ticket.

          Also, for the person who said that long pants and long sleeves were the only “polite” flying apparel…….I think that’s a bit much. If someone’s grossed out by the sight of my arms in a T-shirt, I think that’s on them. I’ve flown several times in my life, and my only real clothing considerations have been A) Comfort, and B) Stain potential–I’d never wear a white or light-coloured garment on an airplane, because if I spilled something on it, it’d be more visible, harder to get out, and I’d have to wait until landing and retrieving my luggage (or finding a store in the airport) to change.

          • Kendra May 16, 2014, 12:04 am

            I know, right!?! I copied that directly from their Contract Of Carriage on their website, which is a legal document. Then turn around and on their faq page under customers of size it says that you can preemptively purchase an additional size, but if you choose to only buy one seat, you can talk to the gate agent. If it is determined that because of your size, you need more than one seat, they’ll give you the additional seats complimentary. And round and round it goes. If the airline is going to contradict itself like this, how are we supposed to figure it out?

      • AthenaC May 19, 2014, 8:51 am

        Admin, I disagree. I am in the second group, but not because I have ever spilled over the seats. I am 5’6″ and my weight has gone from 125-160 over the past 12 years, so I have always fit in the seats. I am in the second group because airplane travel is not comfortable at all. Regardless of who may or may not be in my personal space, and regardless of who I may or may not be forced to cuddle with on the flight(*), there are so many reasons that air travel sucks. Take all the other passengers away, and you’re still left with: 1) a seat that’s impossible to get comfortable in, much less sleep; 2) inadequate availability of water (especially if you’re pregnant or nursing); 3) inadequate availability of food (again, especially if you’re pregnant or nursing). And to answer the obvious objection, there’s a limit to how much I can plan for my water and food needs when I am 175+ lb of pregnant woman, also wrangling a toddler, also managing the luggage, and the flight is 6-1/2 hours long. I simply can’t pack-mule sufficient water and food along with everything else. So I get off the flight one irritable, uncomfortable, tired, dehydrated, hungry mom. As a bonus the baby is probably screaming because I haven’t been able to get enough water to make enough milk to nurse the baby. Yay, air travel!

        So to be honest, the whole debate about whether you’re renting space or paying for the ability to get from A to B is a silly one, because I think the answer is clear. Cuddling with your neighbor is by far the least uncomfortable part of flying.

        (*) I like to look on the bright side – if you’re sharing your seat with an overweight person, at least they’re cuddly.

        • AthenaC May 19, 2014, 12:18 pm

          Just to clarify – the point of the above was to say that I have let go of ANY expectation of being the least bit comfortable on a plane, which is why I am not a stickler about MY 17″ of seat that I have paid for. Regardless of how inhumane the flight conditions, I am still at my destination at the end of it all, which is the result that I paid for (hence why I am in the second group).

          • AthenaC May 20, 2014, 8:39 am

            Begging your pardon, but this comment doesn’t make any sense without the one above it.

  • Manoomin May 15, 2014, 3:28 pm

    I’m with the Admin on this one. Buying a plane seat to me means that you are entitled to that (admittedly small) piece of real estate. If you need more, you need to purchase more. Information about dimensions within specific models of planes is widely available, so you can enter the situation with a good idea of what you’re dealing with.

    My boyfriend is a big guy (300+) and we frequently travel together. Thankfully with there being two of us this situation is more easily solved. We sit together and if he needs the extra space, he gets it from my seat.

  • OP here May 16, 2014, 8:15 am

    I’m the OP. I’d like to thank you all for the helpful comments.

    I wanted to be very concise and straightforward on my first post, but now, after reading all your comments, I realize I left out some important information., so here it is.

    1. I do use seatguru.com whenever I fly. I compare all seat sizes and always end up with American Airlines, even though it’s far from being the cheapest option. (I’m not sure I can mention the airline?)

    2. It takes about 10 hrs to fly from my city to New York.

    3. I buy my tickets with at least 5 months in advance to ensure I will be able to choose the most convenient seat regarding my and my seatmate’s comfort.

    4. American Airlines have Preferred Seats in coach. They add a little bit more leg space. Not much, but it does make a difference. It costs around $140 more per flight, $280 total. I buy these seats, not always, but often.

    5. The arm rests go down just fine, since I have an hourglass figure. I never need the seat belt extender. My thighs spill under the arm rest.

    6. I have AA miles program but, because of work related issues, I can only fly when it’s high season; a few days before Christmas and during the American summer holiday. Upgrades at these times of year require a lot more miles than I have.

    7. I always, always, let my seatmate know that I am aware of my size making them uncomfortable. 100% of the times they were very acommodating and sympathetic. I guess I’ve been extremely lucky.

    8. Reason for going twice a year to the US: a long distance relationship. Almost 8 years already! 🙂

    When I wrote my first post all I wanted was some ideas on what to do during the flights. I never in a million years thought it would escalate into a huge debate. I am very grateful to all of you for taking the time to reply.

  • Floofy May 17, 2014, 7:34 pm

    Where are these impossibly tiny seats people keep talking about? I’ve flown couch, cheapest flight they had and I fit just fine in my seat. I’m medium sized with long legs and wide hips to boot. I had enough room for myself and a big purse without touching the other seats, and I had a window seat!

    Yes, I think it’s rude to take up more than one seat. If you didn’t pay for it, it’s NOT yours. I would feel the same way if someone helped themselves to my plate at a restaurant because they ate all of theirs and couldn’t afford more. I’m sorry for your plight, but you can’t take what doesn’t belong to you.

  • b May 30, 2014, 1:57 pm

    I’m completely average size (5’5 and 145 lbs) and I feel cramped in airline seats! They are ridiculously small. I have no idea how anyone larger can fit at all.

  • Devin June 6, 2014, 2:38 pm

    One thing I have seen anyone directly address is the issue of the armrest. When I select my seat (either online while booking my ticket or by early boarding on Southwest) I always select an aisle seat because I often have to get up to the use the restroom. Nothing medical, but I’m a runner and I actively stay hydrated. I make sure that the arm rest is down when I sit, and keep the armrest down the entire flight. I’ve had, on occasion, had larger people sit next to me and as long as that armrest can stay down, I have no issue. On one occasion I had the flight attendant ask if I would raise it to allow a larger passenger to be seated and I politely declined. I believe that person was seated elsewhere on the plane, but I felt fully justified in declining the attendants request. The armrest to me, delineates the end of my reserved space and the beginning of the next passengers. I’m sure some of the larger passengers who have sat next to me with the armrest down might have been less comfortable because of it, but IMO that is an issue they can take up with the airline. (note: I’m 6’0″ and 170 lbs. though my knees might touch the seat in front of me, I fit in my space just fine)

  • Laura June 8, 2014, 12:07 pm

    OP, I think it might be a great gesture on your part if maybe you carried gift cards (Amazon, popular restaurants, stores, whatever) that you could give to someone you encroached upon. Like, “thank you for being so understanding! sorry if I made your flight uncomfortable” and then hand them a $100 gift card. It seems like a nice gesture and a little bit in way of reparations since they paid for a seat they did not get the full bargain of and were probably made to feel a bit uncomfortable for 10 hours. In general, though, just try to be as polite as you can. While I don’t love having my seat encroached upon, sometimes I would happily prefer the quiet, polite, clean, ‘oversized’ passenger than the smaller passenger who is wearing clothes in need of laundering, loudly crunching on chips the whole flight, singing along to the music on his headphones, etc.

  • Alex July 8, 2014, 6:48 pm

    I am sorry you have this embarrassment when you travel.
    But let me reassure you that there are many men, myself included, who find a woman with large saddlebags to be absolutely beautiful

  • OSUJillyBean August 25, 2014, 3:11 pm

    I fly quite often with my DH (so far this year we’ve hit the Seychelles, Ireland, Thailand, China, Atlanta, and Portland, OR). I am 5’5″ and 130#. We usually fly Southwest for domestic flights and anybody but american carriers for international. Delta, United, etc. all have terrible international service, even in first class.

    That being said, I am uncomfortable in plane seats. Even though I’m by no means tall, a lot of my height comes from my legs and I hate having my knees jammed into the seatback in front of me. I’m able to fold my legs and sit “Indian style” (is that even PC for an etiquette forum?) for a bit but there just is not way to be comfortable on an airplane anymore if you’re flying coach. My poor DH is 6′ and he’s had his head brushing the overhead compartments and his knees jammed into some poor shmuck’s seatback for hours at a time. It’s not his fault for being tall, I fully blame the airline.

    On a flight back from Atlanta, our seat assignments somehow got lost and for the first time in awhile we weren’t sitting together. Instead I was seated in the very last row next to a “Passenger of Size” who overflowed just slightly into my area. His weight didn’t bother me nearly so much as his flirting but whatever, it wasn’t only two hours or so.

    What I want to see is maybe two rows of extra-wide seats in every plane. You could sell them at a premium the way United does with their “extra legroom coach” section. Make it 20″ wide instead of 17″ (which is ridiculously narrow unless you’re prepubescent). Even as a short, normal-sized person I’d be darned tempted to buy that roomier seat and I know my husband would enjoy it as well!