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Paying for an Extra Seat?

We have some friends who are planning to join us on a trip to Europe in a couple of years. They are both overweight, the woman so much so that I'm confident she can't fit into an economy or premium economy seat. Other than losing 100 pounds, what are her options? The husband is not that heavy, but is still, ummm, portly.

If she gets an extra seat, how is that handled? Pay for another ticket? Or is there a surcharge for a second seat?

I'm hoping to help them get ready for the trip by giving them a copy of Europe Through the Back Door (Love the new edition!) and suggesting they start walking NOW.

What can I tell them about fitting into the seats? I suppose business class might be an option, if they start saving up now.

Posted by
1683 posts

Wondering the same as no way in heck my sister in law will fit in one economy seat. She also has trouble getting up from the seat and walking down the aisle to pee during the flight. Will the flight attendants help? She is a good 400 pounds or more but I'm too polite to ask her.

Posted by
3176 posts

Jane, this is a great question for the TravelBuzz section of Flyertalk.

Wondering the same as no way in heck my sister in law will fit in one
economy seat. She also has trouble getting up from the seat and
walking down the aisle to pee during the flight. Will the flight
attendants help? She is a good 400 pounds or more but I'm too polite
to ask her.

Mike, you also might want to ask that question on the TravelBuzz forum of Flyertalk too. I've never seen FAs assist someone to the bathroom and those bathrooms are tiny as you know. Also, a passenger must be able to close the seatbelt into position in order to be on flight. Airlines I think have seatbelt extenders but I don't know if they are long enough to fit someone who weighs ~400 lbs.

Posted by
5465 posts

It is simple, you contact the airline and ask them how they handle it. You cannot just book two seats, otherwise when one of "you" is a no show, they can give the seat away. They need to note why you have two seats, and that probably takes customer service.

Posted by
981 posts

Off the topic but it’s not just the flight that should be a concern. Will she be able to handle all the walking and handling her own luggage? Maybe you can gently suggest to her that she should start walking regularly to get in decent physical condition and build up her endurance for this. I’m overweight ( but not 100 lbs). and didn’t prepare for this on my first trip and I struggled. Ever since, I’ve been doing Zumba 3x a week and really felt the difference on successive trips. My friends even noticed the difference.

Posted by
43 posts

Hello from Canada. My comments are meant ONLY with the deepest respect. I think you need to consider the broader picture when planning this trip.

First, I can only imagine that at 400 pounds the person would probably have health/physical issues as well as being overweight. Is she on medication, oxygen, or have heart problems? I think she might have difficulty how she could navigate the cobblestones, stairs to tourist sites, hotel rooms, small restaurants etc. Perhaps you could rent a wheelchair. Depending on the time of year it could be very crowded and hot (if in summer) and would be very uncomfortable. If unable to even walk down an aisle to get to washroom on plane, how far would she be able to walk in a day? It would be very slow and perhaps uncomfortable.

I think the kindest thing you could do for her, is to encourage her to lose weight - start walking and a healthy eating lifestyle - her goal and wonderful prize would be a trip to europe with good friends. In two years she could really get herself in pretty good shape, although she may still have physical challenges to cope with, she would certainly get so much more from her trip.

Good luck! I hope everything does work out for you and your friends. I sincerely hope your friend looks upon this as a wonderful challenge with a fabulous prize at the end......

Posted by
7824 posts

Have them look at seatguru for seat dimensions for the flights/airlines they are considering and then set up a similar size chair at home and see what happens. I suspect there may be a variability among airlines on how they charge for the extra seat. Probably should expect to pay full price for it as the airline would otherwise be losing revenue for a seat.

And even if they 'fit', a single seat, can they sit for 8+ hours in it.

If they go coach, buying 3 seats for the two of them may be cheaper than 2 in biz class.

Posted by
192 posts

I have a dear friend who was in a similar situation a few years ago. About 380 lbs at the time. I told her that if she ever got down to the weight where she could fit in an airline seat with no extender I would pay for her airline ticket. She was able to get down to that weight...about 220 or so. We flew to Canada and had a wonderful time.
I have a lot of compassion for my friend because I knew her overeating for years was an emotional/depression issue.
But I think that someone as heavy as the OP describes has so many issues with air travel and once in Europe almost impossible to avoid some walking and other activities that would be very uncomfortable for a person of size.
Perhaps a cruise or some other type of travel would be better than air travel.
And there is also the issue of consideration for the person sitting next to you on an airplane. I read flyertalk as well and there are many tales of people who were extremely uncomfortably sitting in only part of the seat they paid for because a person of size was spreading over into their space.

Posted by
12795 posts

Perhaps a cruise or some other type of travel would be better than air

A good idea except that a cruise often involves a flight to get to the port city and back.

Jane, I'll, echo some of the concerns others have expressed. Aside from the flight, much of Europe is not exactly travel-friendly for people for whom weight and mobility might be a challenge. They simply don't have the sorts of taken-for-granted amenities - such as many hotels and attractions having lifts - we have in the States. Even showers in some hotels can be too small to handle a very large individual, and steps are EVERYWHERE. Yes, encouraging your friend to get in walking shape for the trip is a great idea but if he/she doesn't follow through and can't manage, then prior planning to accommodate their needs is necessary. If the trip is to a location/season with brutal summer heat, that may add additional complexities.

For the comfort and enjoyment of both your large traveler and his/her travel mates, there are considerations aside from a flight which need to be taken into account and pre-planned for.

Posted by
1683 posts

Ah, I forgot about the often small shower stalls. I'm fairly lean but still bump into the sides. I question whether my sister in law will fit inside. Astronauts use wipes maybe that's a good back-up plan.

Posted by
8293 posts

“astronauts use wipes”. Too much information. I just had dinner.

Posted by
949 posts

I agree with the comments already made by others regarding the inadvisability if your friends flying to Europe at their current weight. Besides the obvious issues of not fitting into economy-sized seats and the difficulty of getting up and down to the restroom, there are other issues to consider. Even healthy, average-sized folks are at increased risk of blood clots in their legs when traveling on long flights, particularly if they don’t get up and walk in the aisles periodically or do calf exercises while sitting. Your obese friends are, by virtue of their weight, at an increased risk over the usual for this type of complication, which is life-threatening.

I also would agree with previous posters that, even if they manage somehow to fly to Europe, this is not the end of their troubles. Traveling around cities will require either extensive walking or getting on/off public transit, and most venues also have stairs in one place or another. Traveling from city to city will involve getting on or off trains and climbing stairs to get to rail platforms. All of this will be difficult for them.

I am sympathetic with the desire to travel. This forum is loaded with folks who have the travel “bug” and do our best to help others similarly infected. It is also filled with people with vast experience in the ins and outs of the travel mechanics. It seems that the consensus may be that this is not the time for your friends to travel. It would be unfortunate if they spent the time and effort to attempt this trip, only to find it to be an unpleasant at best or disastrous at worst experience.

Posted by
43 posts

One additional thought I had was the cost of travel insurance for this person (if it was available for someone of size and/or with preexisting conditions). Even without preexisting medical conditions, a woman of size might find it difficult to be able to purchase travel insurance. Just curious now would travel insurance in the states be available (or at a reasonable cost) to a woman of size or a woman of size with preexisting conditions?

Posted by
4738 posts

Wow! Thanks for all the feedback. I'll check out some of the websites you have all mentioned.

The point about the small showers is well taken; I, too, had forgotten about those. I myself am "plus sized," so I can relate there.

Interestingly enough, my friend doesn't have any mobility issues. And she's not as heavy as MikeFromWestVirginia's SIL - probably about 300 lb. In fact, she asked to go walk with me one day, and I thought "Oh, well, I can slow down for her." Wrong! She took off and set the pace for the two mile walk. However, that was a couple of years and about 50 pounds ago. I am going to urge her to start exercising; she's a former teacher who quit to take a higher paying desk job, adding to her physical situation.

Thanks for the suggestions. I'll follow up on them.

Posted by
8055 posts

Also consider that in Paris, where I am now, very often the restroom at cafés and restaurants are down a narrow, winding staircase to the floor below and the room with toilet is usually tiny, like an airplane or smaller.

Posted by
12795 posts

Same in Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, Susan. I seem to recall some in Germany too.

Posted by
5664 posts

Alaska Airlines policy:

Purchasing a seat when you need extra room

Our seats average 17 inches wide in coach, and 21 inches wide in First
Class. For the safety and comfort of all passengers, those who are
unable to fit comfortably in their seat with both armrests down, will
be required to purchase two seats. Please review our second seat
policy for more information

I would suggest that each airline has it's own policy regarding passengers who cannot fit in a standard seat.

Posted by
1146 posts

Are you saying that this woman has never flown in an airplane to have an understanding of the size of the seats? If she is big and has flown she is fully aware of the size of the seats and I don't think you need to school her on that subject.

I am a big girl and do just fine in Europe. I may even look like I might not fit in an airplane seat, but I do, with no seat belt extender and if I needed one I would have no shame in asking for one. I do not exercise regularly but I know I need only about 6 weeks of a consistent walking schedule to get "Europe Ready" (I walk up steep streets mostly). There is no way I would need two years to get into shape for walking...I am not doing a cross fit competition, just walking. It is amazing how fast you can get into shape. We even notice that we are so much more in shape at the end of the trip compare to the beginning due to daily walking and stair climbing for miles and miles.

Giving her the Europe through the back door book is a great idea and because the couple has never been to Europe before talk to them like you would any other couple about the physical requirements of the trip based on your past travels. Mention how many miles you walk on an average each day, those steep stairs down to the bathrooms, the uneven surfaces etc just like you would anyone else. The last trip we took with another couple and we talked about all of it and they are both thin, but even just hearing about some of it they decided to take travel pillows for lumbar support for her back as she had medical issues. I did not need to suggest anything to her, she was self aware as I am sure your dear friend is.

Posted by
4738 posts

Letizia, thank you for your thoughtful comments. And you're right: just talking about how much we walk, how steep some of the hills are, how narrow (and rare) the elevators, would go a long way.

As I mentioned, I am "plus sized," and have never been the heaviest woman on any RS tour we have taken, so I know that just being large is not a deterrent. But after I read Edgar's post about AA's seats being 17", I measured some big, heavy yard chairs we have on our porch: 19". Last week I saw my friend have to squeeze down between the armrests, and need help to get back up again. That prompted my original question.

Thanks for your thoughts and observations. I suspect they're planning a rather more luxurious trip than we normally take; we'll continue to talk about the rigors and joys of our travels, and see what happens. Three years is a long ways away.

Posted by
3655 posts

RE: travel insurance issue raised.
I have been asked my age, but never my weight, on travel insurance applications.

Your friend knows she is grossly overweight. If the solution was simple for her, she would have taken care of it already. I am confident this is a burden she deals with daily. If you are a good friend, encourage her in any efforts she is making but be cautious about saying anything.

Posted by
1146 posts

Jane- I know your coming from a place of love and concern and I am sure your friend will see that too. Going to Europe is a great motivator to get into shape, and if she loses weight in the process that is a bonus. Do you have video or pictures you can show her so she can get an idea of how cramped things can be?. I have had instances were I seriously had to come up with an exit plan when sitting in a café in Paris so my body did not touch a stranger when getting up from the table, ughhh and those narrow steep stairs require some thigh/gluteus strength!