Explore. Experience. Engage.

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

airplane seatsNo, that’s not a typo in the title. As America’s collective waistline expands, some airline passengers may be looking at even smaller seats on their flights. According to a report by TerminalU.com, airplane manufacturer Airbus may decrease the width of middle and window seats on its A320 aircraft models, which each offer two sections of three-abreast seating, separated by an aisle.

The move, which is still under consideration, would decrease each of the aforementioned seats by one inch (from 18 inches to 17) in favor of increasing each aisle seat by two inches (from 18 inches to 20). The larger seats would be designed to accommodate larger passengers — or merely those looking for more roomy flights. And, of course, airlines would have the option to charge extra for the “privilege.”

For years, we’ve been hearing horror stories of overweight passengers being booted from flights or forced to pay for two seats as per airline obesity policies. I’m glad the industry is taking a constructive look at the issue and presenting possible solutions, but I’m not convinced Airbus has arrived at the right one just yet.

Surviving the Middle Seat

Although an extra fee would likely be more affordable for larger folks than an entire second seat, there’s no word yet on how much airlines would charge for that extra fee. And, while this idea gives other fliers the option to choose more seat room, it also means that more passengers may find themselves needing — rather than wanting — to purchase for-fee seats as the size of a standard seat shrinks. I also wonder whether those sitting in regular seats would pay smaller fares since their seats are smaller — somehow, I doubt it.

And what about those who simply prefer sitting in the aisle? Some airlines already charge an extra fee for select aisle seats, and this would expand that unfortunate trend even further. Meanwhile, folks who prefer the window seat would have to sacrifice space to sit in their favorite spot.

I think someone needs to go back to the drawing board on this one. Perhaps this could be implemented for some rows but not all, or maybe some rows could include just two seats instead of three, essentially making each an entire half-seat larger.

What’s your take on Airbus’s idea — awesome or ill-advised? Sound off below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

Shares 0

36 Responses to “More Obese Fliers, Smaller Airplane Seats? It Could Happen”

  1. Debra Mc says:

    This is a terrible idea. Seat pitch has already been decreased over the years so that even small, short (5’3″, 115 lb) people like me feel cramped. If airlines go this way, then passengers need to lobby politicians to start legislating minimum space required for each passenger. I’m not usually in favour of political interference in business, but there must be safety implications here. Putting larger seats into some rows at a premium price is a much better idea than reducing the already cramped area. Oh, wait, they already have that: it’s called business class.

  2. Kim says:

    That sucks! Some people just prefer aisle seats or need then not for room but for comfort (like a bad knee) – a medical reason. So now we would have to pay a premium or get stuck in an even smaller seat? That’s so not right. Of someone is too large for a seat then yes buy the extra seat or go business class or hmm do something about your size so you can fit. But why does the rest of the population have to pay the price? I don’t mean to be unkind but I also don’t want to have to pay extra to avoid hurting myself to sit in a squashed seat.

  3. Gina Strickland says:

    If it comes to pass, I’ll look for airlines that don’t participate. I shouldn’t be made to pay more for an aisle seat, or have to climb over someone large just because I fit in a standard size seat. Nor do I want to be squeezed in between two large people. To avoid discriminating on the size of any of us, they could make all the seats a little larger, or make larger seats in sections, not take up all aisle seats.JMO.

  4. soliteyah says:

    Hmm, not a fan. I prefer the aisle and don’t want to have to pay more for it! I also wonder whether the extra two inches will make that much of a difference to the majority of people who are too large to fit into the standard-width seat — ie, will this be enough to solve the problem?

  5. Kristy says:

    I am a woman with a small bladder and generally need the aisle seat to keep from making the people next to me get up twice (or more) per flight. I can’t even make it through a two hour flight without needing the facilities. I believe this move would be a terrible idea. I already have to sit toward the back of the plane to get an aisle seat that isn’t considered a premium seat.

    I do like the idea of having a few rows that only have two seats instead of three and having an upcharge for them. I think the people who you are considering obese need more than just an extra inch or two of space anyway.

  6. DaveS says:

    It is at a “concept” stage. Not even under design yet, and it will be the airlines that determine whether they want such a thing or not. I think if the public expresses enough distaste, it won’t happen, since the airline buying the configuration woul be at a competitive disadvantage.

  7. Bess says:

    I will also avoid airlines who penalize people for having normal weight.

  8. leigh says:

    …that is just not right. they already charge an arm and a leg for the tickets and also charge for the food and entertainment!..i usually like the aisle seat due to comfort and i could stretch my legs to avoid DVT since I have bad knees too… what’s more ? everytime gas prices go up, they increase the price of the tickets !

  9. Allie says:

    Yet another way the airlines have found to \squeeze\ their passengers–this time literally! At 4’11 and small build, I too am already cramped. These airlines will suck us dry until someone (government regulators, are you listening?) steps in and stops them from dehumanizing the \cattle\– oh, I mean their paying customers–any more!!! Someone needs to require that all members of Congress fly in middle seats on one of these planes. Perhaps then we’d get them to agree on SOMETHING!!!

  10. MyMarie says:

    If we are looking for a vote on this issue, I prefer the 2 seat option, especially on international flights. I hate getting stuck with me, my traveling companion and a stranger flying in cramped quarters for hours.

  11. Gary P. says:

    We all have to look at the facts! Airflight is a business! I don’t like much about flying at all ever!! Your body is Freight & it should be charged accordingly!! There should be a variety of seat choices & people should not
    pick a seat that allows there girth to spill out onto other passengers.
    I’m 5’8”stocky 210lbs I would welcome paying a bit more to have an appropriate seat.

  12. Kelly Donovan says:

    I am overweight-not obese. I am cramped in my seat when I fly, but do not spill over into another’s. However, if I did spill over, why would I NOT be charged for two seats? And yes, there is business class for roomier seats for those who need them. Why should others suffer for my body size?

    The airline industry has got it wrong on two counts: the concept of seat arrangement and their perception of consumer tolerance.

  13. Sue Horn says:

    I need an aisle seat as I am claustrophobic. If I have to pay extra in order to not cause a scene, then I will be flying any other airline. Surely not all planes will do this, and it just may cause those who do to lose business. Completely ridiculous idea…shame on who ever thought of it.Why cater to the oversized..that is just “feeding” their addiction !!!

  14. Gains says:

    A terrible idea. Why should anyone have to sit in a smaller seat? Cruel, cruel, cruel! Why not charge for a ticket by a passenger’s BMI or width of their butt? The airlines are getting ridiculous. I am not overweight but flying is already bad enough without any attempt to make smaller seats. I’ll just quit flying.

  15. Am-Expat says:

    This is a major issue with me. I travel on 16-20 hour flights every few months and find the seats are getting unusable on some airlines but we can never know until we get to our seat whether we are going to be in pain or just uncomfortable for many hours. I am large..tall but slim, 6’3 and 188lbs, 32-34 waist and have arrived in such bad condition that it takes several days to be able to walk normally again. The last trip, on an airline I have flown a lot on, about 100,000 miles in a few years but decided to never use them again. The seat backs on this airline reclined more than normal so, with no place for my knees except pressed hard against the seatback in front, I let out a yelp of pain every time the woman in front tried slamming her seat back. I could not sit there, eat my meals or get out of my seat due to the angle of the seat ahead. I asked the attendant for advice and she suggested looking around for someone to switch with. I asked her to kindly ask the woman in front(who laughed to her companion every time she made the game of slamming her seat back) and she was very uncooperative. The attendant said she could not do anything but since it was a full flight, I could stand in the back of the plane. I did, for 6 hours, missing meals but was finally told to sit down even if it was impossible to do, there was nothing the cabin crew could or would do, it was my problem. The same attendant was besieged with other complaints, even by very small passengers, who really could not use their seats. My real complaint, other than the medical expenses of visiting a orthopedist to look at my hip joint(metal) due the the extreme pain I was in for days after the flight, was that no options were available, no concern on the part of the cabin crew, and no use of the seat I paid for. This is just one example of the shrinking seats. In past flights I have been sandwiched between obese people so I could not get out to use the rest room or use my arms to eat a meal…for a 16 hour flight. Why is there no concern for average people who watch their weight and bad habits, but are expected to suffer in favor of those who are not responsible? I should get full use of my seat and not be pinned in while they get to eat and sleep. If fat people are charged extra, it ought to go to the thin people who are made miserable by the lack of consideration by fat passengers and useless flight attendants?

    • oldblackdog says:

      I was in agreement with you – about the lack of leg room, the rudeness of passengers who smash their seat back without regard for persons behind them, the failure of the attendants to take charge of anything, etc. But why then join the rude masses with an attack other people instead of the airlines who have decreased the seat space overall? You think YOU should pay less because you are thinner than some? Should you then pay MORE because your legs are too long? Don’t YOU make it difficult for others to get past you to the aisle? The point – everyone has some problems, sooner or later. Airlines could focus on serving the passengers they have, not imaginary ones concocted by taking average sizes, and arbitrarily adding and subtracting inches, in ways that will create even more antagonism in their passengers.

      • Cathy B says:

        Oldblackdog, As to your comment about legs being too long – the obvious (as least to most) difference is that we CAN’T shorten our legs, but we CAN lose weight.

        • Kim says:

          Cathy B., educate yourself – a small percentage of heavy folks are that way because of medical issues – so do you propose carrying medical statements from doctors when flying? And, YES, you CAN have your legs shortened OR lengthened. And just what should YOU have to pay extra because I’ll have to endure YOUR JUDGEMENTAL PERSONALITY if I get assigned a seat next to YOU???? Oldblackdog’s point, I believe, was to STOP JUDGING and to place the “blame” where it should lie – with the airlines! I loved the idea of making some row a seat and a half wide (two seats in the space of three) and charging one and a half times for it!!! I’m not obese, but I’d pay it for lengthy flights and get some sleep, to boot! By the way, to those suggesting business class…on some planes there is NO business class…only coach and first class. On other planes, the business class is ONLY two inches wider than coach, but more leg room. I LOVED the idea of the cheap guy with the long legs and bad hips having to pay extra for his long legs!!! And tall folks blocking movie screens should have to fold themselves in half if the person behind them wants to watch!!! I don’t think they’d have a problem selling 1 1/2 size seats for 1 1/2 the fare, but first class seats are outrageously expensive.

  16. Ed H. says:

    Just another way for airlines to charge extra for something that used to be part of the ticket price.

    I have a bad knee. Does this mean I will have to pay extra to accomodate my knee. I’m a big person, though not obese. I doubt that I could comfortably sit in a smaller seat.

    Stupie! Stupid! Stupid!

  17. Peter says:

    This is why I like regional planes. They may be smaller and slower, but almost always have a 2-2 configuration. The one glaring disaster being the older DASH designs that have a 5 seat configuration at the back like a transit bus. Did that once with the absolute knowledge that in the event of a crash I would rocket through the windshield at Mach 9.

  18. Charlie says:

    Not a good solution, and I’m not even sure it is a safe one. I’m concerned if there is an emergency – would this person be able to move quickly out of the way, or would I be trapped in the inside seats? I feel bad enough squeezing past the aisle seat – everything is already so small. Maybe the answer is to redesign the entire plane by making the body wider by two feet or so and allotting a few extra inches to each seat AND THE AISLE WAY!! We are paying through the noses to fly anyway, we might as well be comfortable and SAFE when we do!

  19. Charlie says:

    Wow – that’s horrible! Rude passengers on flights are the worst. We are all ‘trapped’ in a metal tube, why can’t people make an effort to be thoughtful? I always ask before I recline my seat – and then I do it slowly and carefully, so the passenger behind me has time to adjust/react. And I agree that the flight attendants should have a bit more control over passengers. I hope it gets better in the future for you.

  20. Rosia says:

    This is ridiculous. How about people start losing weight and taking care of themselves. Why punish the people that are not fat!!

  21. lorie says:

    Wow Rosia — pretty harsh. I’ve been 35lbs overweight for the past 10 yrs (menopause). I work with a trainer 2x/wk, exercise and walk. I eat 4 sm meals/day. I’m going to guess you’ve never struggled w/your weight.

    Changing the aisle seats is discriminating to all sizes. I am very clastrophobic and will not fly unless I can get an aisle seat. I’m 5’4″ and already feel cramped. Many airlines have already trimmed their seat/knee space to an almost intolerable space. Because of this & price of business/1st class I choose to fly less. Pretty soon I won’t be flying at all.

  22. angusm says:

    i think the seats in plane are enough torture so why charge extra i made a trip to the UK AND PAID EXTRA for the wider seats this done through air transit (canada) but the plane we got on was Thomas cook and the seats were not any wider than normal due to fact they have seats with the tray that comes out of the side armrest so i wasted money ???

  23. This is not the solution! Seats are already too small for any sized person – making 2 in each row even smaller doesn’t make sense. Even if someone is willing to pay a fee, the availability of those larger seats is an issue. There aren’t enough of them. I don’t have the answer to the problem, but this isn’t it.

  24. maya says:

    And if the aisle seats are not specifically for larger passengers, what happens if smaller people who prefer to sit on the aisle buy them all out? Could happen, especially on already overbooked flights. Then what do the heavier passengers do, try to cram into the even smaller seats? Someone isn’t thinking this over very carefully.

  25. AJ says:

    On a recent flight I paid extra to sit in the bulkhead (business class)so I had more room (I’m tall, not heavy). A young mother with an 18 month old sat next to me. That little brat slapped, kicked, spit, climbed, and threw things – all at ME! The mother was trying to calm the kid, but she didn’t bring things to keep him busy (and the little she did bring had to be stowed up top as we were in the bulkhead row). When he wasn’t being unruly, he screamed bloody murder. Something should be done for people with kids too. I know it’s difficult for younger attention spans, but for heaven’s sake, bring snacks, books, coloring books, stickers and sticker books – anything to keep the kid busy. And don’t let them sit in the bulkhead row!

  26. Jenny Thomas says:

    I have read the above comments with interest. As a normal weight petite person I have often complained about the crazy way that airlines operate and have found myself literally squashed between two people who spilled over the edges of their seats on numerous occasions. I truly think that it is the individual’s choice as to whether they fly or not and basically if someone is too large to fit into a seat comfortably then it seems very unfair to reduce the size of the seats of normal weight people to allow the overweight people extra space whether they are paying for it or not – as someone says above, more space = business class seats. In addition I have always believed that airlines should look at the weight of the passenger combined with the luggage rather than the luggage alone. For instance if the airline had a total weight for passenger and luggage of 100kg then a person weighing 50kg would be allocated 50kg of luggage. If a person weighs 80kg then they are only allowed 20kg of luggage. Doesn’t this seem fairer?

  27. Corny says:

    I’m so old, that I remember when flying was FUN!!
    Now I avoid flying because it’s such a hassle.
    It is not good business practice to drive away
    your customers.

  28. Betty says:

    I hate flying, period! I would love to see seating restricted to two by two configuration. Most who travel for pleasure travel in pairs so that is a comfortable alternative to having a stranger in the row with you. Single travelers could be in a three row aisle.

  29. Sheila says:

    I’m in the travel business for a very long time. Started in the days when travel was fun and an adventure. Now it’s worse than a Greyhound bus. We hear complaints constantly about how uncomfortable flying is.And I fly enough to know from personal experience. The airlines used to be considered a “service business.” Now the only thing they service is themselves. Let some of these CEO’s get treated the way their passengers get treated and things might change.

  30. T. A. Powers says:

    They just don’t learn! For a long time now, I have believed that the airlines need to be re-regulated. Let the airlines and plane manufacturers keep up this endless nonsense and they’re s going to annoy the flying public enough to bring back some serious discussion/action on this issue.

  31. c y l says:

    I hate this! On a very long flight I don’t care how big or small you are-it is torture! My husband and I recently flew to Europe and they did not give us the seats we requested. They put my very tall husband in the middle of 5 seats for that long flight. I am short and was closer to the end. It was hell! I felt like a sardine and I can’t imagine how he felt! We spent alot of our time walking around during the flight. I was so tired that I stood with my head against a wall, a cold wall, because I could not stand the thought of going back to my seat. We exercise every day and it was physically very uncomfortable for us-56 and 58.
    I think the people who come up with these stupid plans should be strapped into one of those small seats for 14 hours or more and see how they like it.It is akin to TORTURE! Always money is what it is all about.

  32. Ellie May says:

    This idea should not be considered or allowed. If there is an emergency I don’t want to be blocked or delayed from evacuating the aircraft. If these is an obese or overweight passenger in the aisle seat presumably they will not be able to react quickly. I also would like the freedom to get up easily during the flight. Why should healthy, fit passengers be penalized. There is nothing wrong with a large person purchasing business class of two seats. Why should they impinge on my personal space and my comfortable enjoyment of the seat I’ve purchased?

  33. RichardNika says:

    A few comments….

    (1) People who condemn those who are overweight, say they should be segregated from others, and insist that it is always their fault, are just as bigoted as if they were wearing white sheets and hoods and burning a cross. An airline’s contract of carriage provides that a passenger pays a set fee in order to be transported from Point A to Point B. Period. In my own case, I suffered from obesity for decades and tried every food and diet plan known to mankind. I finally found one that worked for me. I lost almost 100 pounds in 2 years and kept if off. I was one of the lucky ones, and I cast no aspersions on those who were not as fortunate. In the days when I was much largher, I sought a window seat, asked for a belt extebnsion – something I have not had to do in years now – put the divider down, and squeezed myself against the side of the plane to make sure I didn’t impinge on my seatmate’s space.

    (2) Middle seats? I’ve been lucky – it’s been years since i’ve had one, despite so much flying. As for crowded or cramped seats, I recommend xanax (the generic is alprazolam).

    (3) Boors who insist on pushing their seats back into your lap? I’m big boned, and if someone starts to do it, I ask them not to. I haven’t had an argument yet. I travel with a carryon suitcase and a small bag, and after take off, I put the small bag between my kneesa nd the seatback. If someone tries to push back, the small bag cushions it, and I’ll say something. If anyone ever tried to make an issue of it, I’d claim knee surgery and threaten a lawsuit. On foreign flights, I use a free on line translor and print out alips in different languages asking people not to try to do that. I guess I’m one of those weirdos who believe in showing consideration for other people. I never ever put my own seat back unless a small child (or an empty seat) is behind me.

    (4) Re. yowling babies and kids. How were you when you were a baby, toddler or small child? I try to put myself in the place of the beleaguered parent. You can try to quiet your child, but it doesn’t always work. Imagine being a frightened baby or little child, surrounded by strangers, in a noisy environment, crammed into a flying sardine-can. Be kind, OK?

Leave a Reply