Flying When Fat
We've all heard the stories about overweight passengers being kicked off of planes, humiliated in public at the airport, or being forced to buy two seats. And because of this, many large people are nervous about flying. However, as an overweight woman, I can assure you that there are ways for the obese to fly (relatively) comfortably and with dignity.
First, let's get one thing straight. I'm not merely chubby. I'm seriously overweight. I'd rather not disclose my actual weight, but it's safe to call me obese. And while I worry about many things relating to this, including my health, flying isn't one of them. I'm not fond of flying, anyway, but that has nothing to do with my size. As for my size, my goal is to not let it get in the way. Sure, I'd like to lose weight, but in the meantime, why limit myself and my life's adventures?
With this attitude in mind, I've become a frequent flier, taking several trips a year—many of them long haul. I've flown to Australia, New Zealand and just came back from Nigeria ... and I've never let my weight become an issue.
I've seen too many overweight people miss out on things because they feared that their fat would prevent them from participating. I can tell you that with a few tricks, you, too can fly to your favorite destination and enjoy the trip that you deserve!
Flying for Overweight Passengers
1. Before you step onto a plane, see your doctor. I'm diabetic so I made sure that it was safe for me to take a long flight and go to Nigeria. If you suffer from high blood pressure, a bad back, heart problems, etc., it's better to get yourself checked out beforehand. You don't want to get sick on the plane or on your trip. Let's be honest: if you're obese like I am, there's a good chance that you have health problems. Don't let them get in the way.
2. Book your flight well in advance. If you're able, book it a couple of months ahead of time, and do it online. This way, you can choose your seat and won't get stuck in that dreaded middle chair. I personally like aisle seats because they give me more room on one side. It's also easier for me to get up to use the restroom because I don't have to crawl over people.
3. If you can, book a seat on a plane that has a two-seat configuration instead of three. Some airlines, like Delta and KLM have rows with two seats by the windows. I've found these to be so much roomier. A great place to look at plane layouts is seatguru. This site gives you all of the information you need, including the seat width and plane setup for every airline. Many airlines are now offering economy upgrade or economy plus where you pay $50-100 extra for seats with more room. We did this on the way home from Amsterdam on KLM and it was worth it!
4. Try to travel with someone. I'm lucky because I always travel with my husband. He's used to my size and just takes the middle seat, letting me have the aisle. I don't have to worry about bumping him. But this can be awkward if you're seated next to a stranger, especially if he gives you a hard time about your size. But if you are traveling alone...
5. Try to negotiate for a more comfortable seat. Yeah, this can be a little embarrassing, but most flight crews are discreet. Ask if you can switch seats so that you're sitting next to a child or a skinny person. If you are given the middle seat, ask the aisle passenger if you can switch, explaining that you'll ALL be more comfortable. Trust me, no one wants to feel smushed when they're flying, even the skinny folk, so more often than not, people will make the swap.
6. Buy your own seatbelt extender. You can order one for a few bucks online. This way, you never have to ask the flight attendant for one. Plus, not every airline has seatbelt extenders on board. Just make sure that the extender you get works for the airline which you're flying. Usually when you purchase it, there's a list of appropriate airlines in the description. But if you don't bring an extender, quietly ask a flight attendant for one when you get on the plane. Like I said, they're usually discreet.
7. Go to the restroom beforehand! Airline bathrooms are small and cramped. If you have a shorter flight, you might be able to get away with skipping the restroom. But if you're on a longer flight, try to go during "unpopular" times. I've found that the restrooms get long lines soon after the meal service is over and about an hour before you land. Go during the bathroom "off season" so that you can take your time and squeeze into the restroom carefully. If you can't fit well, then you may have to resort to asking if you can use the restroom in first class. Again, I've found that flight attendants are usually kind and cooperative.
8. Bring your own food. Many airlines don't even serve meals these days so you'll need to bring food, anyway, but for me, my problem is that I can't lower the meal tray. My stomach just sticks out too much (I wasn't kidding about my size). Obviously, you don't want to hold a burning hot tray on your lap so what I do is lower my husband's tray and use his. Then when I'm finished, he uses it to eat his meal. You don't have to eat at the same time as everyone else. Usually if you ask the flight attendant if you can have your meal afterward so you can reuse the tray, they'll agree. Of course, if you don't know the person next to you, it can be awkward asking if you can do this. I have no shame, though, so I've flat-out asked and have never had an issue. But if you'd rather avoid this, bring your own food.
9. Get to the airport early. Getting around the airport can be exhausting. There are long lines and often long walks to the gate. If you're in not-so-great shape like me, you don't want to have to rush through the airport. I like having the time to sit and relax as I make my way through the terminal.
10. That said, pack light and print out your boarding pass beforehand. My No. 1 travel tip is to only bring a carry on bag. This has nothing to do with my weight; it has to do with getting through the airport more quickly, saving money and not losing my luggage. BUT this also helps me as an overweight person. For one thing, I don't have to wait on as many lines so I can spare my knees and back some pain. Also, I can keep track of my bag which contrains my plus-sized clothing. Not every country sells clothing for someone my size and I want to make sure I have stuff to wear. Keeping my bags within sight assures me of this.
11. Join a program where you can earn airline miles. If you get enough of these, you can upgrade to business or first class—where the seats are larger.
12. Book your flight during an "unpopular" time. If you take a very early morning flight or fly to a cooler place during the winter or off-season, there's more of a chance that there will be empty seats on the plane. You can then ask if you can sit in an emptier row. When we flew to Australia, we took the red eye during their winter (our summer) and the flight was only half full. I got a whole row to myself and it was great! I stretched out and slept for eight full hours.
13. If you really have to, buy two seats or buy a seat in first class. I've never done this, but if you're large enough, there just might not be another option. Again, see about getting air miles so you can at least save money.
14. NEVER FEEL BADLY ABOUT YOURSELF! You deserve to fly as much as anyone else. Don't stop living life because you're large. Enjoy it and take that vacation that you've been dreaming of.
Juliebuck on May 27, 2019:
As a flight attendant of almost 50 years i have had at least 500 passengers ask me to assist them deal with an uncomfortable or impossible situation. They were jammed into a small portion of the seat they paid for but someone was encroaching on space they did NOT pay for. Since most flights i work are full (long haul flights only for me), they usually claim they are being cheated out of space included in their ticket price. Full flights do not allow for reseating anyone. Period. And selecting aisle seata can end badly. Fully loaded beverage carts easily weigh 300 pounds. We cannot see over or through carts. Not only is that an issue but it is also an issue for other passengers. The shape of a seatback is an outline of the space per passenger. Take a hint people!!! I agree it is everyone's right to consume as much food as they wish. But why is it the responsibility of everyone else to accommodate the end result of those decisions? Passengers that allow small children to run up and down the aisle is yet another safety concern. Imagine the damage a wheel on the 300 pound beverage cart could do to those tiny toes and feet! And if C.A.T. (Clear Air Turbulence), occurs those tiny bodies can easily end up flying through the air - hitting overhead bins and falling to the floor or onto other seated passengers.
COMMON SENSE PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!
Rebeckering on October 23, 2018:
Good tips! I've been doing a number of these things for the past few years, making travelling that little bit easier. Also, for number 8, I tend to simply rest the food tray on my handbag or the pillow provided by the flight crew to eat off of - as the tray also doesn't flatten for me due to my stomach being big.
I've also always found being seated nearer the toilets a benefit...you have more space to stand up and stretch your legs, and being closer saves you having to bump into people in the aisle while heading there.
Mari S Adkins from Lexington on June 22, 2018:
" I know that it's hard for obese people to bathe properly." Seriously? Can you be any more rude? Jeeze.
Toni on January 29, 2018:
Do not bring your own seat belt extender. Flight attendants are not allowed to allow you to use a safety item that has not been vetted by the airline's mechanical department. There are seatbelt extenders on board. Just ask for one. We flight attendants hand them out all day. Do NOT sit unbelted; you are a hazard not only to yourself but to those around you.
Anne McGuigan on January 21, 2018:
From the other side of the seat. I have severe claustrophobia. The few times an overweight person has been seated next to me I have almost gone into a panic attack. Why? Because they have insisted that the armrest be up for their comfort, taken up half my seat and had the crew move me from my outside seat to a center seat. 7 hours in this position is intolerable. Especially since our seats were booked months in advance. Being sick in a bag for hours or taking meds is unfair. I know that it's hard for obese people to bathe properly. But being trapped on a plane also is rough for those in the area surrounding the person. So please take special care to book adequate seating that gives you your own space, and if you have a hygiene problem consider those around you. Notice I said if. Some people whether they are any weight are unaware of this. I have also had people use my table without asking. Knit and crochet while flying, Elbows!!! And read porn. Ignore crying babies. Let's all try to be considerate traverlers.
Tara on December 15, 2017:
Thank you for this - especially the seatguru info. I'm flying next week and very anxious so that was helpful!
Lace on December 14, 2017:
This was nice to read and super helpful i am planning on flying at the beginning of the year and I was worried
Meg on November 29, 2017:
I needed to read this. I have a flight on a commuter flight for a business trip and I really get terrible anxiety on if Im going to fit comfortably. I never knew you could buy your own seat belt extender! This is would be worth me not having to ask the flight attendant for further assistance.
MommaV on November 28, 2017:
Thank You needed this!
Shelly on November 09, 2017:
Jim - my husband wears flip flops or boots so he can slip his feet in quickly and easy.
Look for the cheapest flight and buy 2 tickets. The seats are made for somebody that is 5'10 & 170 lbs.
My husband is 6'3 225 lbs and I am 5'10 190 lbs and before when we only purchased 1 seat each we were uncomfortable. What we started doing is looking for the cheapest flight and buying 3 seats in the emergency lane for the extra leg room. First class tickets are too expensive.
If tickets are purchased in advance 6-8 months they are more reasonable priced.
Also, when if you purchase an extra seat that also entitles you to be an extra piece of luggage. We purchase 3 seats and bring 3 carry on pieces of luggage. I paid for that space and will use it.
Janelle M-R on September 01, 2017:
This is for Jim-There are plenty of seats to use after the security checkpoint. You can sit and put your shoes on. You can join TSA PreCheck or Global Entry (this will give you precheck status), which will enable you to leave your shoes on. I suggest taking at least one change of clothes in your carry-on. If you can't get all clothes for a trip in that bag you may have to check one but at least you'll have that spare set if your checked bag becomes lost. You may have to purchase two economy seats or pay for an upgrade. Happy travels!
hmmm on August 24, 2017:
What an amazingly self-centered person you are. You say you never let your weight be an issue. Well... not an issue for you anyway. Your seatmates may have a different opinion. You look for a skinny person or child to sit next to. Because a skinny person is okay with sharing part of their seat with a complete stranger? And kids, they don't get an opinion, right? And the middle seat thing. You admit it's the worst seat but brow beat people into taking it because "everyone" will be more comfortable. You mean, you will be more comfortable. You're right about one thing. No one wants to feel "smushed" and expecting someone to give up an aisle seat for a middle seat might help you but they will still feel "smushed." BUY TWO SEATS. No one owes you seat space that they paid for. Your weight is an issue for those around you on the plane. Too bad because most of the rest of your advice was really good.
Jim on August 23, 2017:
I would like your feed back please. I am 52 years old, 6'5" tall, weight 500 lbs. , shoes size 17. No physical issue at all, except that I am a large portly fellow. The last time I flew was twenty years ago ( pre homeland security ) The issues that concerns me are 1.) removing shoes and belts at check points with no where to sit to put shoes back on, 2.) I understand the one carry on, but with the size of carry on's what they are, try to put a pair of house shoes and a change of clothes to fit me in a carry on. The seat issue is a big one too. seat width, leg room, even enough room to place to size 17 feet. I have done most of by travel by car or rode the trail, this time I just can not afford the time rail and car travel takes. Thank you.
Chris on August 17, 2017:
Thank you for your amazing truth of fly ...I'm travelling soon and very concern about my weight and feeling uncomfortable..but I want to see family so I'm biting the bit and going your tips have eased my concerns knowing I'm not alone..happy travels to all us over cuddly people
Rachel on August 08, 2017:
I just google searched "Am I too fat to fly" after reading a news article from a woman saying she is repeatedly kicked off planes and charged for an extra seat. I am very large and have never had this experience. I'm about to go travelling for two months and just about had a panic attack that I hadn't even considered that may happen to me. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart for being the second google search result and making me SO RELIEVED. You are so right. Us plus-sized people have the same rights to fly as everyone else. God bless you :)
Kris on May 13, 2015:
Thanks for the article. Just an update thought, seat belt extenders are prohibited by the FAA. You will not be allowed to use one.
Victoria on July 10, 2014:
Thank you for this. It has helped me with my anxiety about flying. I haven't flown in a year due to a bad experience with an Alaska Airlines agent last year due to my weight, so thank you. :)
Denise Taylor on March 11, 2013:
Josee on November 08, 2012:
Thank you so much for your comforting words. I am taking my kid to Disney in January and I am just dreading the flight. I am buying an extra seat for myself but I don't have a lot of money so it's not easy. Thank you for your tips.
freecampingaussie from Southern Spain on May 16, 2012:
I enjoyed your hub as this is a problem so many have and it is good to see that you still enjoy flying while showing consideration for others yet still being able to enjoy the flight yourself .
I get up & down a lot so like the rows with just 2 seats as well.
I found you while hub hopping sitting outside near a lake !