What are the pros and cons of addressing the issue when reservations are made vs. at check-in vs. at the gate? The considerations include choice of airline, the cost of your trip, the potential disruption of your trip, and the potential of unpleasant interactions with your fellow travelers or airline staff. We’ll discuss each option and its’ pros and cons in the following table. The bottom line is that making person of size arrangements when reservations are made leads to the least stressful experience.
As of early 2016 the US/Canada airline industry did not regulate the person of size seating. There are no standard definitions, nor terminology, nor regulations for persons of size seating. This is surprising considering the prevalence of the issue and the potential for negative social media postings. Only time will tell if the airline industry will address this increasingly frequent issue. Here is what the FAA, U.S. DOT, ADA have to say about person of size accomodation.
Are airline seats designed and tested for comfort and safety in the case where a person of size is occupying two seats? From personal experience, I can say that it is very uncomfortable to straddle two seats. Typically there is a hard ridge in between the seats that is directly below the tailbone. The raised armrests often protrude and contact the spine. The seat belt receptacle is directly underneath the person sitting this way.
Each airline has a policy for persons of size. The airline policies vary widely. Southwest Airlines has a progressive policy and is continuously improving their process for persons of size. Alaska Airlines has a clear policy. The remaining airlines in the U.S. top five, approach the issue with varying levels of concern for persons of size and quality of their policies and process. These excerpts of person of size policies were retrieved on July 1, 2017.
All travelers should know their rights and responsibilities relative to the seating policies of the airline. A person meeting the airline definition of person of size may opt to purchase one or more extra seats in advance. Alternately, if they board the aircraft and it comes to the flight attendants attention that they are a person of size, if there is an available seat they will be accommodated. If not, the policies say they will be de-boarded.