What’s the Friendliest Airline for the Obese?

Complaints about overweight passengers in middle seats are common. We’re told that almost a third of U.S. citizens are obese so the odds of sharing your coach seat with parts of someone else are fairly high. How are the airlines handling this issue?

FT member kingzwingz posted that while on a UA flight “a 400 pound plus” passenger sat next to her and “oozed onto my seat the entire flight.” According to FAA policy, passengers must be able to lower armrests and buckle seatbelts. In theory, UA follows that guideline and anyone unable to lower the armrest must purchase another seat.

The buckle seatbelts issue is often handled by seatbelt extenders, which most airlines provide. In August, the FAA banned the use of personal extenders. (Presumably meaning non-airline extenders.)

Airlines vary in how they handle the “oozing” issue. AA, Delta, United and US Airways require obese passengers to purchase a second seat or rebook on a flight with a glut of open seats if the armrest is an issue. The gate agents appear to be the arbitrators in most cases. But in fact, the problem is often not apparent until the aircraft is leaving the gate and flight attendants have to deal with complaints and juggle open seats if possible.

Air Canada is seemingly the most gracious by considering obesity a medical problem and providing full-figured passengers a free extra seat if they have a doctor’s note.

Southwest Airlines have a Customer of Size Policy stating you can’t encroach on a neighboring seat and must pay for another seat if you do. But they’ll reimburse the extra fare if the flight’s not overbooked.

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