Inside of aircraft, looking down the aisle. Photo by Sourav Mishra from Pexels

5 Plus-Size Air Travel Tips

Traveling allows us to get out of our comfort zones, try new things, and see new places. While getting out of our comfort zones can be a great way to grow, it can also be scary, especially when it comes to plus-size air travel. Flying can be especially tricky for fat folks, because many airlines discriminate against fat people and don't have seats or seatbelts that accommodate passengers of all sizes. When you travel abroad, it can be even more uncertain than when you travel domestically to guarantee seatbelt extenders will be readily available. So we turned to our Facebook group full of plus-size women, many who travel often, to get their tips to have the most seamless travel experience possible.


Tip 1: Check the seatbelt right away and request an extender immediately.

As soon as you sit down, check the length of the seatbelt. Hit the call button if it doesn't fit to ask for an extender. Seatbelt lengths vary from plane to plane, even within the same airline. If you already know that you will need a seatbelt extender, tell the flight attendant so as you enter the aircraft on your way to your seat so that he or she can provide you with one before you cause any roadblocks. If you are especially nervous, talk to the attendants behind the podium before the flight begins boarding so they can have an extender ready for you preemptively. While you can purchase your own extender online, they are not always compatible and not always allowed, so it's safer to just use the extender the airline provides. It might feel embarrassing, but just remember that everyone on the airplane will complain about the shrinking seat sizes too.


Tip 2: There is a secret button that allows you to raise the seemingly immovable aisle armrest.

It's true! If you have an aisle seat, you can get just a little bit more room by lifting the armrest that feels permanently in place. There is a little metal toggle on the underside of the elbow end of the armrest. Press it in, and voila, you'll be able to lift the armrest. Check out this blog post for some photos that describe just how to use this secret toggle. 


Tip 3: Sometimes there are inexpensive upgrades that are totally worth it.

Airlines like JetBlue offer a version of premium economy called Even More Space that can be an affordable way to upgrade your seat and get the legroom you need. Airlines like American sometimes offer cheap upgrades to first class day of the flight. If you are deciding which airline to book with and have comfort and space top of mind, check out this post that compares every North American airline's amount of legroom, and take a peek at SeatGuru to see the seat maps on every aircraft. Seriously– it's worth checking out! 

Plus-size woman, Anabeth, poses with her two suitcases while on vacation.


Tip 4: Pack smart. Plus-size clothing takes up more space in your bag, but many foreign countries won't have plus-size options to shop.

If you're traveling abroad, you might be thinking about all of the souvenirs you're going to shop for and bring home. But you might be limited to accessories like earrings, necklaces, and home decor because many foreign countries do not have plus-size clothing options accessible to shoppers. But that doesn't mean you need to fly with 10 suitcases for a weeklong getaway! Multiple members of our Facebook group recommend packing with packing cubes. One member mentioned being able to use just a carryon for a winter trip to Norway, and another mentioned traveling through Europe for 2 weeks with just a backpack thanks to these handy organizers. If you still have too much to bring and are flying domestic, consider flying with Southwest which is the only domestic airline that gives each passenger two free checked bags and two carryons. 


Tip 5: There is only one airline with a policy that allows you to book two seats without paying for both.

And that airline is Southwest, thanks to their Customer of Size Policy. If you know that you won't fit comfortably into the seat, you can proactively purchase the number of seats you need to travel comfortably to ensure that the additional seat is available. Width between armrests on Southwest is 17 inches, and if you would feel better knowing you will fly sitting next to an empty seat, this policy is perfect for you. It allows the airline to plan for the number of seats occupied without having to turn anyone away, which has happened to plenty of fat travelers before. You pay for both seats up front, but after your flight you can contact Southwest to get a refund for the additional seat. And, you get to pre-board to ensure you'll be in a comfortable seat. If you don't want to purchase an extra seat in advance, you can discuss with the customer service agent at the gate, and if a second or third seat is needed, you'll be accommodated. Be sure to read up on how it works to find out just how to take advantage of this policy.



While the media is filled with countless horror stories plus-size air travel, of fatphobic customer service and airlines turning away plus-size customers, just remember that you also have the right to travel. You have the right to take up space. So, take up as much space as you need!  

Do you have any tips for plus-size air travel? Leave them in the comments!

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1 comment

Plan ahead around eating. I’ve been on several airlines where the tray table doesn’t come down enough for me or if it’s on the side, it doesn’t work for me. I know the airlines and plan ahead to eat before or just bring snacks.

Also – don’t hide in the window seats. There is literally less space. Always book aisle. And I want to say that I feel far less shame each time I travel around my size (size 26/28) because I reframe it for myself. I used to just be mortified to ask for a seatbelt extender. Now, I don’t care. It’s not like people thought I was thin and see me ask and are shocked to realize I’m overweight. Maybe the comfort in my own skin comes with age.. it gets easier in your 40’s.


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