The Airlines’ Policies For “Passengers Of Size” (Updated March, 2024)

by SharonKurheg

In their quest to squash more and more bodies into planes, airlines have made seats narrower and narrower. Whereas seat width 30 years ago averaged around 19 or 20 inches, nowadays it’s closer to 16-18 inches (depending upon airline and plane). Meanwhile, while the width of airline seats has been inching down, the weight of the average American has been inching up, which causes, of course, an issue for people of size – the inability to fit into some standard airline seats.

Safety regulations from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandate that passengers must be able to lower their armrests and sufficiently buckle and fasten their seat belts (but not all people can do that on all planes). And there’s no law from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regarding what airlines are required to do in the case of a passenger who can’t fit in a single seat due to his/her size. So, each airline has its own rules, some of which are better and fairer than others. As a reference, here are the rules for the major U.S. carriers:

Alaska Air

The seat width on all Alaska Airlines aircraft (armrest to armrest) is approximately 17 inches and the seatbelt length is approximately 46 inches. Passengers needing extra coverage may ask the flight attendant for a seatbelt extension, which adds 25 inches to the seatbelt length. Only seatbelt extensions provided by the specific aircraft operator may be used onboard.

Seat belt extensions are prohibited in the exit row.

We require the purchase of an additional seat for any customer who cannot comfortably fit within one seat with the armrests in the down position. The armrest is considered to be the definitive boundary between seats; width between the armrests typically measures 17 inches for coach and 21 inches for First Class. The purchase of an additional seat(s) serves as a notification to Alaska Airlines of a special seating need, and allows us to adequately plan for the number of seats that will be occupied on the aircraft. Most importantly, it ensures that all customers onboard have access to safe and comfortable seating.

After you have completed your travel, if all Alaska Airlines flights in each direction depart with an open seat available, you will be eligible for a refund for the second seat.


The airline seats measure 17.8″ from inside of armrest to inside of armrest, their seatbelts are 40″ long and one of their seatbelt extenders will add another 21″. Passengers who are unable to lower the armrest and/or compromise any portion of adjacent seat(s) should purchase an additional ticket during the initial reservation. Two seats will be pre-assigned (at no additional charge) in order to ensure the passenger of size has two seats side-by-side. If on the date of travel, a passenger of size requests a second ticket, the agent will be unable to sell a second ticket unless two seats are available side-by-side. In the event the flight is sold out and an extra seat is unavailable, the passenger of size shall be denied travel in the interest of safety.

Allegiant’s website does not mention the possibility of a refund for the second seat.


American’s seatbelts are 45″ long. They encourage customers to address all seating needs when booking.
  • When you call to book, Reservations will make sure you get 2 adjacent seats at the same rate.
  • If you didn’t book an extra seat in advance, ask an airport agent to find out if 2 adjacent seats are available.
  • You may be offered a seat in a higher class of service that may provide more space; in this case, you’ll be responsible for the fare difference.
  • If accommodations can’t be made on your original flight, you can buy seats on a different flight at the same price as your original seats.

Nothing on American’s website suggests a refund for the extra seating, although asking an airport agent to see if 2 adjacent seats are together might suggest they’ll give you a second seat for free (if available) at the gate. Or not. It’s very open-ended.


“For customers who need extra space outside the standard Economy Seat — which features 31-32” of legroom with a 17.2” width — you can ask to be reseated next to an empty seat or pay to upgrade to First/Business class. To ensure your comfort, you might consider booking an additional seat. If you have questions, Delta Reservations can assist at 800-221-1212. We’re happy to provide you with an FAA-approved seatbelt extension, but do not allow personal seatbelt extensions to be used.” No mention is made for any refund for the extra seat.

Delta doesn’t say how long its seatbelts or seatbelt extenders are, but in the past, their extenders were a whopping 10 inches.


Customers who are unable to lower both armrests and/or who compromise any portion of the adjacent seat or aisle should book two seats prior to travel. The armrest is considered to be the definitive boundary between seats. Additionally, armrests (when fully lowered) are viewed as providing a measure of safety by restricting the seat occupant’s lateral (side-to-side) movement.

It is Frontier’s goal to ensure a safe, comfortable flight for everyone and to make every customer’s travel experience pleasant from beginning to end.

Nothing is mentioned about refunds for the extra seating.

Frontier mentions nothing about side width or length of seatbelts.


Average Seat Widths:
Boeing 717 – 18 inches
First Class seats are 19 inches wide. Exit row seats are 17.5 inches wide.
Airbus A321neo – 18 inches
First Class seats are 21 inches wide. Some seats in the rear of the plane are 16.8 inches wide.
Airbus A330 – 18 inches
First/Business class seats are 20 inches wide. Some seats in the rear of the plane are 16.5 inches wide.
Boeing 717 – 18 inches
First/Business class eats are 20.5 inches wide. Some seats in the rear of the plane are 17.6 inches wide.

Most of our seats are 18 inches wide. For larger guests, this may create a safety issue. If you are unable to sit comfortably in your seat with the armrests lowered, we will try to find a suitable alternative. However, if no safe alternative seating can be found, we may not be able to transport you on your ticketed flight.

If you may need extra room, we highly recommend booking an extra seat in advance. Please reserve your extra seat by calling our Web Support Center at 1-866-586-9419. Our agents can assist you with booking two adjacent Coach or Extra Comfort seats. Each seat will be charged at the lowest available fare.

Note: Extra seats booked online are not guaranteed to be adjacent. To book an extra seat, please call our Web Support Center at 1-866-586-9419.


Although they have a section for “Booking Extra Seats” (“Whether you want more physical distance from other travelers or you’re toting a large musical instrument, booking an extra seat next to you [or even blocking out entire rows] can be done with a couple extra clicks.”), JetBlue makes it clear that one will pay x2 for 2 seats.

Beyond that, jetBlue doesn’t specify any policy for people of size on its website. It does note that its seatbelts are 45 inches long, and it makes 25-inch extensions available onboard its aircraft.


Southwest’s seatbelts are 39″ long and their extenders are 24″. Customers who encroach upon any part of the neighboring seat(s) may proactively purchase the needed number of seats prior to travel to ensure the additional seat(s) is available. The armrest is considered to be the definitive boundary between seats; the width of the narrowest and widest passenger seats (in inches) is available on our Flying Southwest page . The purchase of additional seats serves as a notification of a special seating need and allows us to adequately plan for the number of occupied seats onboard. It also helps us ensure we can accommodate all Customers on the flight for which they purchased a ticket and avoid asking Customers to relinquish their seats for an unplanned accommodation. Most importantly, it ensures that all Customers onboard have access to safe and comfortable seating. You may contact us for a refund of the additional seating cost after your trip. If you prefer not to purchase an additional seat in advance, you can purchase just one seat and then discuss your seating needs with the Customer Service Agent at the departure gate. If it’s determined that a second (or third) seat is needed, you’ll be accommodated with a complimentary additional seat.


Spirit requires that a passenger who “encroaches on an adjacent seat area and/or is unable to sit in a single seat with the armrests lowered” must purchase an additional seat (or a “Big Front Seat”). If there aren’t any available additional seats on the plane, the passenger will be rebooked on the next flight or get a refund on his or her reservation.

It’s also noted that guests who require a seat belt extension may not occupy any seat equipped with an inflatable seat belt.

Rows with inflatable seat belts
Aircraft Seat Row
A319 1, 4, 5 (D,E,F)
A320 (32A, 32N) 1, 3, 12, 13
A321 (32B) 1, 3

Spirit makes no mention of the possibility of refunds for the second seat(s).


United’s seatbelts are 31″ long, and you must pre-reserve a 25″ extender.

They require that all passengers fit comfortably in their seats on the plane. You may have to make additional arrangements if:

  • You can’t buckle your seatbelt, even when using a seatbelt extender.
  • The seat armrests don’t stay down when you’re in your seat.
  • You’re in the space of the seat next to you when seated.

If you can’t sit comfortably in your seat on the plane, there are a few options available:

a collage of images of a man in an airplane

If an extra seat isn’t available, you’ll need to change your flight to one with extra seats. If you’re not in your home city, state, or country and your new flight requires you to stay overnight, we can also give you meal and hotel vouchers.

Which airlines are the most/least fair to passengers of size?

Each airline is different. The size of its seats and planes vary from airline to airline. The same goes for its respective seatbelt extenders. On top of that, there are differences in policy.

We studied each airline, their seats, extenders and policies in this post and determined which airlines seemed to be the most/least fair to passengers of size.

It’s a sticky situation. Airlines have a point – as businesses, they want to make money. People of size also make a point – each one of them is just one person. Is there any easy answer? No. Is the way the situation is being handled now fair? No. Hopefully, things can be better in the future.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Deva March 9, 2024 - 6:33 pm

Even though I don’t need two seats for myself (130 pounds) wouldn’t mind buying one just to give myself space from the next person. People don’t know how to act nowadays.

SharonKurheg March 9, 2024 - 9:11 pm

Pretty sure the airlines would have no qualms about selling someone 2 seats at their advertised price.


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