Must “persons of size” buy two seats on SW Air or on Delta Air Lines?

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Last Friday The Today show had as a guest Kenlie Tiggeman, who is currently suing Southwest Airlines over an incident where she was told she was “too fat to fly” by a gate agent. Whether you agree or not with her issues with Southwest in her legal case, this is something that brings up a range of questions in my mind.

Now please bear in mind that I am not exactly tiny (yeah like most I need to drop about 30 lbs), so I get the problems with the reductions in seat sizes and this is one reason I like to sit “in front of the curtain”. You might remember my humorous post about things that will get you kicked off a Delta flight? It included being a “passenger of size” although in reality they will try to accommodate you in some way as you will see! Seriously though, my first question after seeing this story is how do airlines determine a passenger to be a “passenger of size” ? What are the alternate seating policies for “passengers of size” ?


Here is what our airline will do. First, Delta’s policies state that a passenger must be able to fasten the seat belt with 1 extension and lower both armrests. Failure to meet these conditions means the passenger qualifies as a “passenger of size” and must comply with alternate seating requirements. These can include requiring the passenger to move to another seat with more space available, or in the case of a full flight, they may end up having to wait for a seat on a later flight that is not fully booked so there would be an extra empty seat available. In today’s world of very full flights, this could be a long wait. But it is important to note that unlike SW Air, Delta does not require the passenger to purchase an additional seat. Delta’s policy is clearly stated at

Back to Southwest Airline’s policy that states in the contract of carriage on page 11 that it is their sole discretion to determine if a passenger “encroaches on an adjacent seat area or is unable to sit in a single seat with the armrest lowered.” The Today show story asserts that the Southwest Airlines employee asked this woman how much she weighed, and what size clothing she wore. Now in my experience, you NEVER ask a woman what she weighs or how old she is  (and I have been told the weight on her driver’s license is a “goal” weight)!

If the policies all center around fitting into the seat, then there should be a means provided to check to see if a passenger can in fact fit into the seat. Whether that means requesting any suspected “passengers of size” to pre-board in order to discreetly check or having a size-wise passenger seat available in a discreet location. This brochure, published in March of this year by NAAFA, makes several suggestions for persons of size to consider prior to travel in order to make things go more smoothly for them on their trip.

I like the fact that our airline will not force a 2nd seat purchase. But I also see the reason to amass just a ridiculous amount of points so I do not have to ever fly coach unless I want to! – Rene

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  1. I agree with the Southwest policy. If you need more than one seat, buy another seat.

  2. Plain and simple. I bought my seat and I fit in it. I should not have to share with someone who does not fit in theirs. I spent 3 hours mashed against the window because the person in the middle, who was very uncomfortable, was too wide for their seat. Neither airline or passenger offered to refund half my fare. Buy two or upgrade. Simple.

  3. Let’s be honest, when we see someone that is going to “spill over”, walking down the aisle, we think, “Pls sit by someone else”. When they say, “That is my seat” and the seat is right next to you, you die a little (particularly after a week on the road). Unfortunately, seats are smaller; argue with the airline about putting bigger seats in planes. Pls do not make the person next to you suffer while you either are trying to win that argument or before you lose the volume.

  4. I would argue that Delta’s “policy” isn’t a policy at all. It merely provides guidance and recommendations, not requirements. I mention this because I had the pleasure of flying for two weeks straight while sitting next to “customers of size” who should have been required to buy an additional seat. The flights were 100% full and the only thing that was obvious about the situation (other than the size of the passenger) was that no Delta employee was willing to do anything to confront the situation. Upon writing to Delta, they told me that they simply rely on their employees to identify cases that might create a situation. In reality, no employee wanted to handle the situation, and I was the victim. My safety and comfort was compromised because Delta does not set strict requirements, like Southwest. I am in 100% agreement with the Southwest method because it is clear, widely published, and very fair. If you purchase a second seat on Southwest and the flight does not leave 100% full, you receive a refund. If the flight is 100% full, you still have your second seat. Seems reasonable to me…..

  5. As someone who weighs just over 100 lbs, I find it annoying that I almost always have to share my seat with my neighbor–whether he/she weighs 150 or 300. People seem to think they need the space more than me, so they just take it! When I can’t sit in the middle of the seat that I paid for (because I don’t want to be brushing against the person next to me), I am just as uncomfortable as the person who can’t fit in their seat. I think if someone needs two seats, they should have to pay for two seats. It would be great, if airlines sold a few “oversized” seats in coach on each plane that could be purchased for less than 1st class, for people who need or want them.

  6. I’m with Southwest on this and I wish Delta’s FA’s/Gate Agents would take the person whose space is infringed upon into consideration.

  7. *sigh*

    The REALITY of flight is that every pound of payload means more fuel. Physics-wise we should put each passenger & their luggage on the scales and charge them by the pound. This is impractical however.

    Should a 3-year old be able to file a “discrimination” suit because they are being overcharged for their ticket for some adult who can barely squeeze into the seat.

    There is no “right” answer to this, just compromise which work well enough for most pax.

  8. I’m not a “person of size” per the Delta definition, though I am obese and do sometimes need a seat belt extender. On a recent flight, the man in the middle had such broad shoulders that he encroached on my space even though I was leaning into the window. He was stocky but not obese, but it’s the same situation, really — he didn’t fit in his seat on either side.

    So, by all means, let’s also take up the crusade against anyone who could play football in addition to anyone who has some extra pounds.

    As my shoulder-to-elbow length is short, I typically never use the armrest. I try to be considerate, though I have accidentally encroached on another’s space when I fell asleep once or twice over the years. Typically not, though.

  9. Yay, go SouthWest.

    Perhaps we should also decline the boarding of smelly people (whether it be purchased scent or provided naturally).

    What about people who wear headphones that create that annoying tssss tk tsss tk sound. Double so if people wearing them sing out of tune.

    My favorite annoyance is people who lean on my seat to get in/out/past, let’s test people’s balance on the way on and charge them extra if they won’t quite make it unaided after all I paid for my seat why should it be used (free of charge) as a crutch.

    This is multiply annoying with people who cannot sit still all flight but have to keep looking in the overhead bin. Or have to pee a lot. So please let’s extra penalize fidgets. And people with weak bladders.

    Any more? Gee we could have some fun with this 🙂

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