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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Too Fat to Fly? Know Before You Go

Words by Jennifer Stein
Words by Brett Snyder
This is a topic that seems to come and go with shocking regularity. Every few months, we find out about a customer who was kicked off a plane because he couldn’t fit in a seat. It’s happened again this week when famous director Kevin Smith received the “royal” treatment by being forced off a plane for being too large. Personally, I think the policy makes a ton of sense, but if you’re heading out on your destination wedding, the last thing you want is for someone to officially tell you that you’re fat. Here’s what you can do.

The first thing is to know the policy of the airline you’re flying. At Southwest, for example, the policy is that you should buy as many seats as you need in order to fit comfortably between the two lowered armrests. If the flight isn’t full, they’ll refund you after the fact for that seat. So you’ll only have to pay for it on a full flight. The policies are similar at many other airlines, but they will often not make you buy a second seat unless the flight is full – just a small tweak.

How do you know if you fit? Well, you can use SeatGuru or SeatExpert to find out the width of the seat. You’ll be surprised to know that it can vary. For example, Airbus narrowbody airplanes (A319, A320, A321) tend to have about an inch more width per seat than a 737. A United A320, for example, has an 18 inch wide seat while a Southwest 737 seat is 17 inches wide.

Also, make sure you know your body. If you are at all concerned, then you should probably just buy the extra seat and save yourself the embarrassment. Or you could try to play that game and find flights that aren’t likely to be full so that you can stretch out. Remember, it’s all about width here, so if you’re pregnant, that big ole’ belly doesn’t really matter.

Some say this policy is discriminatory, but as someone who has sat next to a passenger spilling over into my seat, I’m very happy to see it in place. Still, I can’t help feeling very sorry for those people who get flagged at the gate or on the plane, like Kevin Smith. Don’t be that person. Figure things out in advance.

And remember, you can avoid all these problems by just going First Class . . .

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