TTT: Flying large – or next to someone who is

February 19, 2008 at 5:09 pm 1 comment

This CNN article got me thinking about the challenges that face people who just don’t fit into those tiny airplane seats and the people who sit next to them.  This Travel Tip Tuesday is for everyone who’s been in one of those situations.

The story:  Julie had an aisle seat on a Delta flight next to a large woman who took up both the middle seat and about half of Julie’s seat as well; the woman could not lower the armrest.  Julie did all the right things – talked to the flight attendant about getting a different seat and tried to purchase a first class fare.  Unfortunately, the flight was full and the flight attendant refused to assist Julie in dealing with the situation.  Julie spent the flight alternating between sitting on the woman’s lap and spilling into the aisle.  After following advice from ombudsman Christopher Elliot, Julie received an apology and a $250 flight voucher. 

What I’d have done:  I’m fairly small, so I can see myself in Julie’s shoes.  I do not believe I could handle such a situation quite as politely as it seems Julie did.  Had I been in her situation, I would have insisted that I be permitted to sit in the seat I paid for all by myself.  Delta should have found a seat on a less crowded plane for Julie’s poor seatmate.  I would have obtained that outcome or been escorted from the plane.  While I do not believe Julie’s seatmate should be humiliated for her size (and I would have spoken quietly, as far away from other passengers as possible), it was unfair for Delta to refuse to provide Julie with the seat for which she paid.  (A side note: If your seatmate can put the armrest down but has trouble with knees/elbows, suck it up!)

For those in Julie’s seatmate’s position: Extend-It has a good list of tips that might be of use to you.  Further, be sure to be advised of your airline’s policies.  For example, Southwest requires that plus-sized passengers purchase an extra seat, which is refunded if the plane is less than full.  While I think Southwest’s policy (enacted in 2002) is fair in that it ensures everyone at least gets the seat for which they’ve paid, I worry about their ability to enforce it in a polite and discreet manner.  I also don’t wish the surprise of buying an extra ticket at the last minute (at last minute prices!) on anyone!

A related note:  The Canadian Transportation Agency ruled last month that passengers with disabilities may fly with a personal attendant at no extra charge and that the same “one person, one fare” policy will be applied to those who take up more than one seat.  I hope that this will force airlines to come up with a workable solution so that no one will again be put into a situation like that which Julie and her seatmate faced.  I wish you all empty middle seats and cheap fares!

The dream (from ABC News):


Entry filed under: Travel Tips.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Kosar's Mama  |  February 20, 2008 at 7:41 am

    This happened to me this summer on a red eye out of San Diego. It was the last flight that night, completely booked. There was no point even asking for another seat. I didn’t even bother the flight attendant who was busy dealing with the puking man in the row in front of me. It never occurred to me to ask for my money back (it was a government flight anyway so I couldn’t have received cash). I literally sat on this woman and rested my arm on her body for the entire flight to Chicago. Oh and I was the middle seat too – the man on the aisle purposely spread his legs so I couldn’t have any of his room. I was angrier at him than the poor larger woman who was obviously embarrassed and a nice person. Talk about a miserable experience. Next time I will contact the airline and ask for a voucher.


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