Flying While Fat: Research And Self-Awareness Mean Smooth Travel

Reader Mechpaul is a large man. He used to avoid flying, afraid of what would happen if he was too big for his seat, encroaching on his neighbors’ space and potentially being humiliated and marched off the plane. Instead of approaching his flight with fear, he armed himself with two essential tools: a measuring tape and the Internet. He used these to find out whether he would fit in a United Airlines seat, and to plan accordingly.



For years I had tried to stay away from planes. It’s not that I was afraid of them. It’s that I was obese and I didn’t want to inconvenience the other passengers with my size. However, because of work, I had to travel out to Las Vegas from North Carolina. There wasn’t much choice in the matter.

I wondered if I would have to buy two tickets. So, instead of buying one ticket and hoping for the best, I decided I would do my research. I found a website which listed all of the sizes of various airplane seats and found the average to be 18 inches wide. Then, using a yardstick, I realized that my hips were 21 inches wide. There was no way I would be able to fit in one seat and put the armrest down without cutting into my stomach. I needed to buy two tickets for me.

That’s exactly what I did.

I didn’t have any problems ordering two tickets. Both tickets had my name on it. I did have other issues. I was not allowed to check in online and I had to do so from the kiosk at the airport, and even the kiosk had problems and told me to check with an associate. I explained my situation (I am a large passenger and bought two tickets) and they were extremely courteous and helpful to me. She told me, “I would recommend that if you need to fly again and purchase two tickets for yourself, after purchasing call Delta and tell them they are both for you so we can merge the seats together on our flight plan. Otherwise, we’ll see two people with the same name which can cancel out the tickets.” She also checked all of my flights and made sure my two seats were adjoining. Then she sent me on my merry way.

Getting on the flights was absolutely no problem. I was never approached by a steward / associate telling me I was too fat to fly (and, if they had, I had two tickets to show them). Also, having two seats was a great thing as well. The people next to me enjoyed having the extra room to sprawl, and I was able to use the tray table of the other seat since I couldn’t fully deploy mine due to my size. I also discovered that I was absolutely right from the start – I was encroaching on the seat next to me and I could not put down the armrest. My research paid off. I didn’t have a single issue with any of my flights.

In short, learning to be real with yourself about how large you are is not a discriminatory issue against obese passengers. It’s about being comfortable with your size and learning where you can fit and where you can’t. I did the 10 minutes of research and had a comfortable flying experience. Thank you, Delta, for being courteous to an obese passenger!

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    Oh boy, here we go…

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      What? I’m sure the discussion of this post will be very courteous and completely reasonable….

    • CommonSense(ಠ_ಠ) says:

      Yes, finally a smart person that happens to be overweight.
      I might write in this guy for president.

  2. theblackdog says:

    Obligatory “OP should put down the cheeseburgers and take a walk, fatty” post

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      Obligatory excoriative ranting reply and attack against something you didn’t actually say.

      • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

        Well-meaning and thoroughly researched median comment espousing both viewpoints that will be invariably interpreted as taking the other person’s side.

        • theblackdog says:

          Screaming rant about how I’m right and anyone who disagrees is kicking my puppy.

          • Coffee says:

            Scathing comment that I think is funny and no one will reply to all day. I know this because I will go back to check it every five minutes, wondering why no one understands how funny I am. Tomorrow morning, I will check the thread again, only to find that someone in England, who posted at 3:00am my time, thinks I’m an enormous asshole.

      • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

        Comment in defense of Cheeseburgers and suggestion of Bacon Cheeseburgers.

        Late addition suggesting the batter frying of said Bacon Cheeseburgers.

        • theblackdog says:

          Comment agreeing that bacon cheeseburgers are awesome

          or

          Anti cheeseburger rant because it makes people fat and everyone should be vegan to protect the precious animals.

          • 420greg says:

            Cheese burgers don’t make you fat. The bun and the ketchup make you fat.

            • Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

              Gratuitous retaliatory comment excoriating you for uttering “broscience” read from another internet forum, and and sycophantic defense of the modern corporate food industry.

      • SavijMuhdrox says:

        meaningless reply where i simply give away an unsubstantiated tally to poster above me to increase his internet-related score by an additional one point.

      • RecordStoreToughGuy_RidesTheWarpOfSpaceIntoTheWombOfNight says:

        Belligerant and vulgar post attacking you directly and suggesting you commit seppuku for the betterment of mankind.

      • Miss Dev (The Beer Sherpa) says:

        FURIOUS BLAME OF OBESITY ON THE EVIL CONSERVATIVES/LIBERALS/MODERATES IN CHARGE OF THIS COUNTRY AND HOW ANY ARGUMENTS AGAINST ME ARE INTRODUCING A SLIPPERY SLOPE.

        IN ALL CAPS.

    • Package Man says:

      This thread is so full of win.

    • El_Fez says:

      Mandatory “+1″ that adds nothing to the conversation other than mentioning my approval of the original message.

    • CommonSense(ಠ_ಠ) says:

      This guy does not deserve that kind of post because he is intelligent and wants to live in society peacefully with the rest of us.

      • theblackdog says:

        Reminder that this is the internet and commentors on websties are not ever rational.

  3. clippy2.1 says:

    Thank you! This man is a saint

    • LadySiren is murdering her kids with HFCS and processed cheese says:

      Agreed! Kudos for being a polite, courteous traveler. Wish there were more like the OP.

    • Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

      B,b,b,but…he’s still a Fatty McFatterson, amirite!!! Push away from tray- and all other tables, fatty!!1111ONEZ

      • clippy2.1 says:

        Being fat doesn’t make you a horrible person; horrible people are people who have no idea that other people in the world exist. You know, folks who yammer away on cell phones, who never shower, who don’t bother looking when they sit down (especially when their butt is big enough to take up 2 seats).

        I know in the last article on this, I came off as an ass, but I think anyone can see the difference between these two articles. In one, a person shows up to the airport, knowing full well they will need more than one seat, trying to complain that the airport didn’t tell her she was going to need 2 seats. The other, a man actually goes out of his way to research the planes he will be using, and goes out of his way to make sure there will be enough room for everyone to be comfortable.

        • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

          To be fair, I’m fat AND horrible.

        • kobresia says:

          Thank you. This is exactly the situation.

          It all comes down to horrible people behaving as if everyone exists to accommodate them, throwing tantrums, and being generally discourteous, whereas the saints are those who are capable of functioning in society by exhibiting a modicum of respect for others. The former are deserving of contempt, the latter are worthy of showing respect in return.

          This applies to those who are: obese, have toddlers, smoke, drive giant SUVs, or otherwise have a lifestyle footprint that potentially steps on other folks’ toes.

  4. AcctbyDay says:

    This is exactly how you need to handle situations if you know you have special needs. Research and patience. It sucks that this person had to buy two seats, but at some point a person who is obese needs to get real with their size. It’s embarrassing no doubt, but you are not helping the situation if you expect others to cater to you.

  5. Marlin says:

    For “people of size” would it not be cheaper many times to buy 1 business/1st class ticket than 2 regular ones? Get more seat and also the perks that go along with it?

    • Bativac says:

      That depends where you’re flying and with which airline, I guess. I’m pricing tickets from Miami to Frankfurt and while economy class is around $600, business class jumps to $2500.

    • aloria says:

      Probably not. I looked into a first/business class ticket when I was flying NY->CA; They were over five times more expensive than coach.

      • chizu says:

        Depending on where you’re flying. On the flights I made before, if a roundtrip cost me around $1,000 — the upgrade to business would be around another $1,000-1,500 each way. So you’re looking at a $1,000 vs $3/4000 trip. First class roundtrip would run about $6,000.

        • HogwartsProfessor says:

          See, that’s just nuts. I can buy a car for $6000. Not a GREAT car, but a whole entire car! Airfare is just nuts.

    • who? says:

      Business class tickets usually cost several times what economy tickets cost. Also, most corporate travel policies will also only reimburse business class under certain really restrictive scenarios, usually something like 12+ hour redeye flights where you’re expected to work the next morning.

      • pythonspam says:

        It would be interesting to see if an airline would put in a few Coach+ seats (aka take a row of three seats and substitute 2 seats 50% wider than normal.) Charge 60% more than a standard economy seat and deny the other perks associated with business/1st class (free drinks, priority boarding etc).

        I know I would probably pay the extra to get 2 armrests to myself (and maybe a headrest on each side so I can sleep without leaning on the person next to me.) Stick us at the back of the plane, I’ll wait the extra time it takes for everybody to deboard. (Also, because there are less passengers with the same number of bags, the space in the overhead bin should be freed up a bit.)

  6. raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

    +1 to the Op. If more people were as self-honest as you, there’d probably be a lot less drama in the world.

    Now that you’ve gotten your feet wet, the world! :D

    • JayDeEm says:

      This is the point I came here to make, and not just as it relates to a persons’ size. A bit of self-awareness and being honest with oneself would go a long way towards eliminating so much conflict. None of us is perfect, and it is safe to say that at some point something about us may be an inconvenience or annoyance for others. Whether that be an annoying habit, nervous tick, odor, size, personality trait, whatever, acknowledge it and try to make reasonable accommodations for others instead of deflecting of simply expecting them to deal with it.

  7. Roy Hobbs says:

    The TSA will not appreciate your reasonableness and since you paid for two seats you have to go through screening a second time.

  8. Coffee says:

    Pay no attention…this is clearly a Chewlies Gum representative trying to get people to purchase their new Hip Width Measuring Kit.

  9. Special Snowflake says:

    Congrats to OP for using logic and reason to make the flight comfortable for himself and those around him.

  10. gttim says:

    I was at a concert next to an obese man. No armrests, but he was so big he took up part of my space, and part of his wife’s on the other side. He was a nice guy, just too large. Sadly, everybody in our row showed up. Kind of a pain for me. Luckily my GF is small.

  11. That guy. says:

    I feel bad that the OP had to spend money on two tickets because he was marginally to large for only one seat (he wasn’t the full width of two seats).

    Aren’t seats in First Class typically wider, and cheaper than two regular seats?

    Since we as a country aren’t getting thinner, what if an airline had several “wide” seats on the plane? Like in a spot where there would be 3 regular seats, swap them out with two extra wide seats, and charge 150% of the cost. Some thinner people might even want that for the price.

    • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

      Business class is ridiculously priced, in the neighbourhood of 4 to 6 times the price of coach.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      I think this is the best solution, but it assumes there are only 2 fat people on the plane. However I do believe instead of a row of 3 seats if they just swapped 1 row of 3 with 1 row of 2 it would solve the problem of the single fat person encroaching on the person next to them at least on the majority of flights. The obese person could then sit in the larger row. The only problem is that theoretically a whole obese family could be on the plane at once and there would not be enough larger seats for all of them on one plane. If there were no obese people on the plane then the seats could still be used for 2 regular sized passengers even if they paid just the regular seat price. The airlines only lose one seat per plane and they could charge obese people who actually need the seat half the cost of an extra ticket for that seat, which would make up for the cost of the lost seat.

      • Jevia says:

        Given the increase in heavier people, maybe airlines should consider doing this for a few rows.

    • Geekybiker says:

      If economy plus did this, I would be all over it on longer flights and I’m not someone who can’t fit in a normal seat. The dimensions are just unrealistic ergonomically even for an average male.

  12. FatLynn says:

    I think a good point here is that she knew she was too big, so she bought a second ticket. So many fliers suspect they are too big, but then contact the airline to ask about the policy, and if the airline says one ticket is fine, they buy one ticket.

    • falnfenix says:

      *he

    • Shadowfire says:

      Also, when buying two tickets, you don’t necessarily get both seats. So then you have spent the money, still get one seat, and still get dagger-eyes from neighboring passengers.

      *person of size here*

      • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

        I would scream holy hell if I paid for two seats and they refused to honor that during seating.

        • bluline says:

          And if you were denied boarding because there was an “open” seat being taken by a large person who bought two, you’d be enraged as well.

      • axhandler1 says:

        Wait, what? How do you not get two seats if you buy two tickets specfically so you have enough room?

      • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

        That’s ridiculous. I always assumed the airlines had an algorithm of who to bump first if there are no volunteers, and I’d expect “Person of size who didn’t attempt any jackassery” would be toward the end of that list because of the relative difficulty in rebooking.

      • CommonSense(ಠ_ಠ) says:

        Why would you get dagger eyes?
        All you do is tell the guy you bought two seats so you have no idea why they gave one of yours away to him.

        If it were me I would take the next plane than be crushed by a fat person that did buy two seats if the fat person bought his tickets before me. If he bought his after me then he should take the next flight.

  13. Torgonius wants an edit button says:

    A consumer that thought about the situation, read documentation on policies and procedures, followed them accordingly, was courteous to the employee of the company who assisted him when their system didn’t work. On top of that, the employee explained how to avoid that situation in the future. For the grand finale, the customer had a decent experience.

    I think I just scored Conusmerist anti-bingo!

  14. Pete the Geek says:

    From reports on The Consumerist and elsewhere, we know that airlines’ second seat policies have not always been so straightforward. For example, the poster was able to buy two seats and airline staff displayed suitable courtesy in ensuring that the two seats were together. Still, there is some room to further reduce mistreatment of large passengers. The poster should have been able to buy the two adjoining tickets online and check in the same way as other passengers.

    • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

      Given if you bought tickets online, I wonder if you can note this in the “special requests” section of the website before you submit the order?

      It’s been a while since I’ve bought plane tickets — all I know is there is a portion you can put some special requests in, e.g. for wheelchair access, food restrictions…

    • lettucefactory says:

      Right – I mean, he’s all “it worked out perfectly for me because I did my research,” but he could have just have easily had a ticket “canceled out” as the Delta rep suggested.

      There was planning here, obviously, and good for him, but there was also luck.

  15. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    So, which airline does Mechpaul work for?

  16. VanceMan says:

    Depending on the airline, also check to see if they have a “special needs” department. They have have options for larger passengers. For example, Air France offers a discount on two tickets for one passenger with refunds available if there are open seats on the flight.

  17. MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

    Editors, you forgot the #goodconsumer tag.

  18. Blueskylaw says:

    I think the Sun just rose in the West and was last seen heading East.

  19. energynotsaved says:

    Excellent job! I admire your self-awareness and your willingness to be proactive.

  20. LabanDenter says:

    +1

  21. spartan says:

    hat if the plae was oversold and half of him was bumped to a later flight?

  22. spartan says:

    hat if the plane was oversold and half of him was bumped to a later flight?

  23. winstonthorne says:

    This guy’s a class act. If more people were like him, the world would be a more pleasant and civil place.

  24. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    So, what the OP is saying is that you cannot ignore his girth? *snicker*

  25. sigh says:

    Okay, now what are us tall people supposed to do?

  26. A.Bursell says:

    Bravo!

    As someone who recently flew on Delta next to a person too big to fit in a single seat (could not lower armrest), but who did not purchase a second, I applaud the OP.

  27. az123 says:

    This OP needs to be congratulated on understanding his situation and not expecting the remainder of the world to adjust to him but rather make the situation a good experience for himself by actually planning ahead.

  28. Important Business Man (Formerly Will Print T-shirts For Food) says:

    Does he get two meals? I would want two meals!

  29. milkcake says:

    I applaud for what this guy does.

  30. ronbo97 says:

    Yes, the OP did his homework and as a result, had a pleasant experience.

    Curious, though…is a large individual such as the OP, too large to use the restroom ? I know it’s tight for an average-sized person (‘me’). Couldn’t imagine what it would be like if I weighed an additional 200+ pounds.

  31. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    This is good to know. My company keeps threatening to make me go to the home office for a visit, which means I have to fly, so I’ll just tell them I need two seats. That will keep me home for sure. They’re so damned cheap they want us to find free pens, calendars, promotional post it notes, etc. at banks, supermarkets, etc. so they don’t have to buy supplies.

    • axhandler1 says:

      Wow. That is incredibly cheap.

      • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

        Yeah, and I’m not holding my breath that I’ll ever get another raise. It’s bad enough I’m still making the same per hour for over 3 years now…and after seeing that email, I know I need to find another job, or I’ll be retiring in 20 years making the same per hour. It’s depressing.

        • axhandler1 says:

          It does sound like it might be time to move on. Start looking around and see what you find. Who knows, maybe you’ll find something perfect right around you. Good luck!

  32. BelleSade says:

    That’s real good of the OP. As a very short person, I don’t whine that I can’t get the exit row seat (and on occasions that I do I offer to trade as there’s no point to me having it).

  33. James Sumners says:

    You, sir, deserve applause. I wish everyone in your situation would think ahead like you did. Sure, it sucks that the seats are not accommodating (to anyone, really), and incurs a doubling of your flight fare, but that’s the reality of the situation.

  34. Mike says:

    Bravo, but questions:
    1. If the plane is oversold, is he more likely to get bumped, since they can bump him and let 2 people on? If he is bumped, does he get double the compensation?
    2. If he changes flights, does he need 2 seats? This is what happened to Kevin Smith, he changed flights and they only had one seat on that flight. Does he have to pay 2 change fees?
    3. Does he get 2 stowable carryons?
    4. What’s the adjacent seat fee for Spirit? Do you have to pay twice the charge for being overweight?

  35. homehome says:

    wow, an actual responsible adult with no excuses on consumerist? i think i just saw a unicorn

  36. Slatts says:

    OP, I sincerely thank you for your diligence and for your courtesy to your fellow travelers.

    You managed to avert so much of the conflict that typically results from people failing to demonstrate either.

  37. Meano says:

    If you want to blow the airline’s mind, try to get a linked reservation for three seats to accommodate two Passengers Of Unusual Size traveling together.

    See extensive discussion at FlyerTalk on whether the term “Passengers Of Size” should be avoided because of the initialism.
    Strong minority position is that it should be used *because* of the initialism.
    But everyone likes a nice Princess Bride reference.

  38. maxamus2 says:

    But I have found that, in life, 100% of all obese people I meet are that way due to their genetics. At least that is what they tell me.

    • bwohlgemuth says:

      100% of assholes are assholes because they didn’t get what they wanted in life. At least that’s what they keep telling me.

  39. bwohlgemuth says:

    As a current fat guy (yet much much smaller…thank you GB surgery) I took up 1.25 seats. I planned ahead as well, asked at check in if there were open seats…ALWAYS took the aisle seat, flew on airlines/aircraft that I was reasonably sure would have a retractable aisle armrest (yes they do go up….button is underneath) and did my best to stay out of the way.

    Some people are very nice/understanding/etc. Some are real assholes. Had one lady flip out on a flight because she did NOT want to sit next to THAT guy (me). She got the seat by the toilet. Thank you UA for that moment or karmatic justice.

    Yes, you plan ahead, you make room, and you try to be nice even when the assholes of the world are looking for someone to pick on.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      I don’t mind if someone mooshes into my seat a little bit, as long as they’re not stinky. That’s a bigger problem than them being fat. I’m so uncomfortable anyway (tall, bent-up legs) that I probably wouldn’t notice. And I’ll take the window seat, because I can get a tiny bit more legroom out of the wall curve. If I fall asleep on your nice squishy shoulder, just shove me over.

  40. JF says:

    *Standing up and slow clapping* Bravo to this guy for understanding how to be civilized in our far too often uncivilized world.

    (I’m one of those parents that will pack up a meal and leave if my kid even thinks about misbehaving in a restaurant and one of those people that sends and expects thank you cards)

  41. gman863 says:

    The moral of the story is in the form of a riddle:

    What do obese guys and Delta Airlines have in common?

    Both are fun to ride until someone you know sees you.

  42. ben_marko says:

    I just got back from a business trip to Indiana last Saturday. The woman next to me on the American Airline flight from Dallas Fort Worth to Palm Springs was so obese she literally could not pull her tray down – folded up it was no more than three-four inches from her belly. She actually had the NERVE to complain to the flight attendant that my arm was digging into her side (never mind that you could no longer see the armrest!). I got off that plane having little violent fantasies over how we could throw her from the plane and watch her splat.

    Kudos to Mechpaul for buying two seats.

    • gman863 says:

      After having incidents like yours twice in the past few years, I’ve finally figured out a devious trick I’ll use the next time Shamu decides to sit next to me:

      Obese people tend to sit in the aisle seats (since they usually can’t squeeze their fat asses across the row into the window seat).

      As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign goes off, I’ll mention I have to use the restroom – they’ll have to wiggle their belly up and into the aisle to let me out.

      I get back from restroom – fatty has to get up again.

      Repeat process every 10-15 minutes until plane lands or flight attendant moves one of us to an empty seat in First Class.

  43. corridor7f says:

    Huzzah for personal responsibility!