Dear Airlines: Humans come in all shapes and sizes

Dear Airlines,

You are in the business of transporting humans through the air. Humans come in all shapes and sizes. Deal with it.

There are tall humans and short humans, fat humans and skinny humans, humans in wheelchairs, humans on crutches, humans who max out their carry-on luggage, humans with small children and solo humans with no baggage. Do you think this is a hassle? Go and become a cargo airline – no one is stopping you.

If you still want to be in the passenger airline business, then you need to quit treating humans as if they were standard-size freight. All paying customers have an equal right to fly, not just thin ones. Now it might theoretically be possible that somewhere in the world there are humans who are so enormous that they literally cannot ever fly because of safety reasons, no matter how many seats they have.

But let’s call BS when we see it: That’s not what we’re talking about! If someone were “too fat to fly”, then having two seats would not make it any safer in the event of an emergency evacuation. If it were about safety, you would not routinely put them on the next flight or give them flight vouchers in compensation!

The reality is that you have set a seat configuration for your plane that allocates space based on a formula. That formula allows just enough space for a person of average size to fit, but not necessarily be comfortable. But you know what? By definition not everyone will conform to an average. When you are dealing with humans of different shapes and sizes, roughly half the people will be bigger than average and roughly half will be smaller. That’s mathematics.

When you combine the fact that your seat configuration is not based on reality with the fact that you routinely overbook flights, then you end up with a problem. A problem of your making. It’s not the fault of your passengers for coming in different shapes and sizes, it’s your fault for not understanding that accommodating this fact is a cost of doing business if you want to be a passenger airline.

I understand that it can be difficult if your flight is full and you are trying to get the passengers seated and the plane off the ground. It’s a problem caused by airline management, but I can understand the stress for flight attendants who have to deal with it. But here’s a tip: Looking around for the nearest fat person and ejecting them off the plane, even if they are already seated, is not the right way to deal with it. As far as I can tell, this seems to be what happened to film director Kevin Smith (aka “Silent Bob”) when flying Southwest Air on the weekend.

If you are going to discriminate against fat people, please don’t do it in my name. As a woman who is 5’5” (165cm) with a medium build (size 8 US), I fit nicely into your economy seats. I’m privileged to have a body shape that conforms to your standards and I find it highly unlikely that I would ever be kicked off a plane for this particular reason.

So when you say that your policy of making fat people buy two seats is for the comfort of other passengers, I’m those other passengers. And let’s get real: I don’t believe for a second that it’s about making me comfortable. I believe it’s about revenue raising by shaming fat people into buying two seats. I also believe it’s about expedience – it’s a convenient but arbitrary reason to shove someone off an overbooked flight. After all, it seems that even when someone does book two seats, they don’t always get to keep them when the flight is full.

If you were truly concerned about my comfort, then you would also ban tall people (who can take up just as much space without being fat), men who spread their legs, children who kick the back of the seat, screaming babies, people who recline the seat when I’m eating my meal, people who complain about me reclining the seat when the meal service is over, people who blind me by opening the window shades at the wrong time, and people with excessive flatulence.

But the reality is that dealing with other passengers in close proximity is part of the deal if I choose to fly economy. Sure I’d prefer to have the arm rest down and not to have someone’s thigh pressing against me, but I can’t always get what I want. Like the average consumer I typically choose low airfares over comfort and luxury. The other person is not doing anything wrong just by being there. If I’m so concerned about my own comfort, then surely I should be the one to buy two seats or pay for an upgrade?

If I choose not to do that, then I’ll deal with whoever I happen to be sitting next to. And I’ll try to be gracious about it and smile at the human sitting next to me rather than throwing them dirty looks because they’re not giving me exactly half the arm rest and they’ve stolen an inch of my theoretical leg space.

Some people suggest that most fat people are fat because they eat too much and don’t exercise and that this is unhealthy and therefore airlines should impose an obesity tax. In reality, there is debate about the health aspects – the BMI is notoriously unreliable as a public health measure and there is some evidence that it is possible to achieve health at every size. It is also impossible to tell by looking at someone whether they are fat because they eat too much or because of genetics, or because they have a glandular problem, they are recovering from an eating disorder, or because their pro-football coach asked them to get that way, or because they’ve lost the weight and regained it, or a hundred other reasons. And even if you happen to see a large person eating a large meal, you still don’t know.

But you know what? It’s irrelevant. It’s a private matter for that person. It’s not anyone else’s job to judge them or make them feel any more ashamed than they already do. It’s not our job to divide the world into good fatties and bad fatties. Maybe fat is unhealthy but that doesn’t make it a moral issue. And last time I checked, airlines were not in the business of healthcare or public health policy.

Airlines, I realise that no matter how big you make your seats, there will probably always be outliers who require a bigger seat. But the current policies are affecting too many people to be reasonable. The so-called obesity epidemic isn’t going to go away overnight and it’s going to take time and money before you can reconfigure your seating, which you should definitely think about doing at some point. But you could alleviate most of the problem right now by ending routine overbooking.

Think about it.

Yours sincerely,


Further reading:

Comment policy: You are welcome to disagree with me but I will not tolerate abuse of any kind.

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  1. Amen to this post. We have got to stop being a one size fits all world for the sake of ease and convenience. I am a big person and let me tell you that I do everything I can to give the person next to me their space. Airlines need to stop this thing they do by the name of a cattle call and realize that even commoditization of flight can be humane.

    We all have a bottom line to meet and we all expect a certain level of customer service and respect when traveling.
    .-= Shane Keener´s last blog ..A Utah Man Perhaps =-.

  2. Great rant Caitlin. I am sat on the fence with this because I do think it is important that airlines keep in mind passenger safety. Airlines though have not done anything though to make flights more comfortable and reducing the number of seats for comfort would bet the solution, but they won’t do that will they because they lose money.
    .-= Darren Cronian´s last blog ..Time for hotels to catch up with booking technology =-.

    Thanks, Darren. I definitely believe that safety is an issue but I don’t believe that’s what it’s about. Making someone buy two seats or putting them on a later flight doesn’t make it any safer. – Caitlin.

  3. Funny how this hasn’t been a problem forever, but only more recently.

    Why should I have to be smashed up against someone who can’t push back from the table a little earlier? I’m by no means small (5’11″, 220), yet I don’t overflow onto the seat next to me.

    Whether it’s a safety issue or comfortability issue, I have no problem with this. No one made you gain weight.
    .-= Tyler Hurst´s last blog ..The Little Things =-.

    Tyler, thanks for commenting. I agree with you that passengers shouldn’t be smashed up against each other. But sometimes these things happen and you could always pay for an upgrade. I disagree with you that it’s the fault of passengers rather than airlines for not allocating enough space.

    I don’t know how long it’s been a problem for, but I do know that while the population has grown larger over time, airlines have crammed more passengers into tighter spaces and packed their flights fuller than ever. So that goes both ways.

    I also wonder where you think the line should be drawn or how it should be measured, since according to the BMI you are obese yourself. (I mean no insult by this, it’s a genuine question and as I said in the post, there is evidence that the BMI is largely bogus).

    You might say the line should be drawn according to whether you fit in the seat, but that’s an arbitrary measure. Would you still feel the same way if the seat size was reduced further, so that I could easily fit but you no longer could? – Caitlin.

    • Sure, I’m bigger than I’d like to be, but I fit in an airline seat. If the airline I’m flying were to reduce seat sizes, I’d have to buy two seats or not fly that airline. They’re a business, not a monopoly, so I have that choice.

      Would you pay extra to have a flight that was guaranteed not to have any screaming babies? I know I would, and I bet a lot of other people would do the same.

      I refuse to blame anyone else for something that I control (my weight). If I didn’t fit into a car, would I complain to the manufacturer? No, I’d buy a different car. There’s no difference.
      .-= Tyler Hurst´s last blog ..The Little Things =-.

      Thanks for coming back. I wouldn’t personally pay extra to take a flight with no babies, and I don’t think that should be allowed. I would and do pay more for an airline with good amenities and the ability and inclination to treat all passengers well. I also think it’s a myth that weight is always something that is in an individual’s control. – Caitlin.

      • Wait. Weight isn’t under your control? Who controls that?
        .-= Tyler Hurst´s last blog ..The Little Things =-.

        Not always. Genetics can determine how much weight someone is predisposed to carry. There are also many medical conditions that can cause extreme weight gain and/or make it hard to lose weight. Plus, most studies show that if someone does lose weight, they gain it all back within five years. So while weight can fluctuate or be altered more than height, to say it’s something you “control” is probably a stretch. Besides which, I think the airlines need to deal with people as they are now not as they theoretically *should be*. Humans come in all shapes and sizes and that is, and will always be, a fact. – Caitlin.

        • They do deal with them. They are asked to buy an extra seat in order to accommodate other passengers, and to a far lesser extent, that person’s safety.

          There is no way every business can treat every customer in a special way. We’d love for that to happen, but it just isn’t possible for everyone.

          I’d love some numbers on the percentage of obese people that can pin their weight gain on a medical condition.

          People gaining weight back within five years is UNDER THEIR CONTROL. If you can lose it, you can keep it off, if you’re so inclined. Perhaps this is one way for us to realize there are consequences to every action.
          .-= Tyler Hurst´s last blog ..Are you exceptional? =-.

          I say requiring someone to pay for a second seat is “treating them in a special way”. I also say that if it’s possible to lose the weight and keep it off for five years then I’d like to see you demonstrate this. Other than that, we need to agree to disagree. I welcome comments but I think you’ve made your point now. It’s time for some other voices on the thread. – Caitlin.

          • For other commenters, please don’t explore this tangent. The focus of this post is on how airlines should deal with large passengers and the reality of their customer base. It’s not the forum for discussing whether individuals can or should alter their weight. Thanks!

          • I’d rather you delete my entire thread. I won’t be coming back to this blog, nor will I ever again comment.

            Have fun getting people who agree with you!
            .-= Tyler Hurst´s last blog ..Are you exceptional? =-.

            I’m sorry you feel this way. I welcome discussion from people who both agree and disagree and certainly not all commenters here agree with me. However, just as if I were moderating a discussion in real life, I want to set boundaries and hear from a range of people. I have considered your request and believe your comments should stay. As a good will gesture I am offering to make your comments anonymous if you request it. – Caitlin.

  4. Just one warning for future commenters, I’ve let Tyler’s comment through but I’m flagging the phrase “no one made you gain weight” as the sort of thing that is likely to be moderated on future comments. I don’t mind disagreement, but I won’t tolerate abuse either of myself or fat people. I don’t normally have a hyper-sensitive moderation policy but I do for this post as I’ve seen this issue attract a lot of hatred on other websites. I want to draw a clear line and draw it early.

  5. I think this is wonderfully idealistic. And in most (not all, but most) cases it is not about safety. It is about the almighty dollar.

    Seat used to be wider, leg space greater, meals tastier, etc. But passengers have said that don’t want to pay for those things anymore. And that’s why we’re at the ala carte pricing — or, as I call it, the nickle and dime the traveler pricing.

    I would love to return those kinder, gentler travel days. But, unfortunately, I don’t see anyone willing to pay for them.
    .-= Mary Jo´s last blog ..Udvar-Hazy Center Near Dulles Airport =-.

    Hi Mary Jo, love your comment. I think you are right that consumer demand for cheap flights has led to the tighter seating arrangements. I argue that in making that choice they should accept the trade-off and the fact that they may be crammed with the other passengers who, you know, come in all shapes and sizes! It’s entitlement to think that you should have a cheap ticket AND have your personal space regarded as sacrosanct.

    It would be great to see some sort of chart that ranks airlines by their roominess in economy class. I’m sure bigger (whether tall or fat) people would find this useful as they can’t enjoy being cramped in these seats either. – Caitlin.

  6. Again, while I agree with you philosophically, as a business model that fails.

    If I want a cheap product, and won’t pay for a more expensive one, why should a business be obligated to supply the higher priced product for the cheap price? I think that’s true whether it’s flying, the supermarket, or by corner boutique.

    Yes, it is a trade off, maybe even settling, but isn’t that what supply and demand is all about — giving people the product and price point that match up.
    .-= Mary Jo´s last blog ..Udvar-Hazy Center Near Dulles Airport =-.

    Perhaps you misunderstood my point slightly? I’m not saying that the business should give the higher-priced product for a lower price. That would be asking the business to subsidise me. But I also don’t think it’s fair to ask a bigger person to buy another seat. That’s asking the bigger person to subsidise me, since they’ve sacrificed seat room for my lower fare. It should be one ticket per passenger.

    Sure, it’s about the product and price point matching up but we need to be realistic about the product. If the laws of supply and demand have resulted in consumers preferring cramped conditions at lower prices, then we should accept the trade-off that in return for a low fare we have to put up with cramped conditions and the fact that the bigger person next to us might encroach on “our” seat space. Or alternatively we can vote with our wallet to change that by paying more money for a roomier airline or higher class.

    Otherwise, where does it end? I am small enough that the seat size and leg room could be further reduced by several inches and I would still be reasonably comfortable alone in my seat. But then even more people would have to buy two seats to subsidise the discount that I would earn as a result of the fact that I am small. – Caitlin.

  7. If I buy a narrow, cramped seat on an airplane, I still think I get the benefit of being able to sit in that narrow, cramped seat. I don’t think that I have to give up a portion of it to someone who can’t fit in their own. I don’t think that’s the bargain we make — If I buy my seat, shouldn’t I get all of it, no matter how cramped it might be?

    If I want to buy a dress, and I can’t fit into it, I have to buy a bigger dress. Or a different size. Or go without. It’s really the same for an airplane seat. If I can’t fit into the seat, I can upgrade (a different dress) or buy two seats (a larger size).

    Personally, I’d rather pay more for a tickets and have a few more amenities included. But I’m whistling alone on that one.
    .-= Mary Jo´s last blog ..Udvar-Hazy Center Near Dulles Airport =-.

    I’m not so sure. I don’t think a cheap economy class airfare on a low-cost airline entitles you to much more than a place to sit and safe arrival at your destination. When I catch public transport, we all cram in together and people pay the same price regardless of size (discounts for seniors etc). If I don’t like being squashed next to a large person, I can always take a taxi, drive my own car, or ride my bike.

    In the example of the dress, you still have the right to buy the dress and wear it. Other people might argue it’s too tight but it’s your choice to make.

    I think the real problem is that the size of seat has shrunk and the size of the population has grown to a point where a lot of people are affected. Airline business can offer a product at a price dependent on consumer demand but it can only go so far before it starts causing other problems. I think we’ve reached that point now.

    I don’t mind budget airlines for short haul but I’m with you on wanting more amenities for long haul. I am a veteran of the 24-hour flights from London to Sydney!

    Thanks for your comments and healthy debate! – Caitlin.

    • I LOVE to debate with you Caitlin (and others like you) who understand that a healthy discussion of a topic and a look into all the nooks and crannies of an issue is a wonderful example of civil discourse. All too often the “civil” part of that is lost.

      I’ve always believed that reasonable people can, and often have a duty, to disagree. How boring would we be if people always agreed?

      One of the big problems with a web discussion is that it can become a childish playground for name calling and bullying. It’s so refreshing and intellectually challenging to read a blog that makes me think, encourages discussion from varying views, and keeps it all civil.

      Your bus analogy is spot on. A very good point. And I, like you, hope that we have reached bottom on the supply/demand issue!

      Please keep challenging all of us to really think about these issues!
      .-= Mary Jo´s last blog ..Udvar-Hazy Center Near Dulles Airport =-.

      I so agree about intelligent discourse versus petty arguing. That’s part of the reason why I’m keeping such tight moderation on this post.

      You know, I was thinking further about the argument that the airline should not have to provide the cheaper product at the cheaper price. I sort of agreed with you a moment ago but now I’m going to argue the converse. Basically, I would argue that airlines need to decide if they are more profitable providing bigger seats so this is less of a problem or if they are more profitable providing smaller seats and sometimes giving a second seat free of charge where warranted. I would say that accommodating larger passengers is a cost of doing business. I would also say that 90% of the time this is not an issue and the other passenger can deal with it. – Caitlin.

      • I agree with your analysis that it’s a balancing act. But remember — it may be a cost of business, but all costs of business are passed onto the passenger. It’s not like any company just “eats” business costs.

        One way or another, it will be passed onto passengers. So who should pay for the cost? All of us (the overall cost amortized out with each of us paying cents) or the passenger who requires that extra seat? I can make good arguments for either position, so I’m not sure I’ve convinced myself which is the answer.
        .-= Mary Jo´s last blog ..Udvar-Hazy Center Near Dulles Airport =-.

        I would say the overall cost amortised out. I don’t think it’s equitable to charge people based on their size, just as you don’t charge more for the passenger in the wheelchair or the passenger who requires a vegetarian meal (on long-haul). The extra cost would be small because the requirement for two seats is actually rare and can often be accommodated simply because the plane isn’t full in the first place. I guess if someone requires more space, you might like to know that in advance rather than dealing with it during boarding. But that’s just fine details. – Caitlin.

        • Mary Jo, here’s a question for you – and one you might be able to answer because you work in travel. I can see how reducing legroom might enable airlines to fit another row of seats in the plane. But how does reducing seat width help? I don’t see how you’re going to get another seat in each row unless the plane gets dramatically wider or the seats are too small for anyone to sit in them. How exactly does reducing seat width by an inch or two increase profits if there are still the same number of seats in a row?

          • I really don’t have any familiarity with the engineering and structural part of aircraft. All I know is that there are very strict regulations about what can be done, and that it’s way beyond my field of knowledge. Sorry I can’t be more help on the question.
            .-= Mary Jo´s last blog ..Udvar-Hazy Center Near Dulles Airport =-.

            Okay, thanks. Anyone else? Maybe a lot of two-by-two seats were reconfigured into blocks of threes at some point. But there are several inches difference in seat width between some of the airlines on the Seat Guru comparison charts and I think they are all configured the same. – Caitlin.

  8. Thank you to @AuthenticCoast on Twitter for tipping me off to Seat Guru, which has comparison charts with seat size, entertainment systems and so on, on its website. Useful info for anyone who is concerned either about fitting into a seat or being cramped next to a big person.

  9. The dress example fails. If you buy a bigger dress, you pay the same price as you would have paid for the smaller dress.

    Good point! – Caitlin.

    • The dress example only ‘fails’ because the economics of dresses and aircraft are completely different.

      Making a bigger dress doesn’t mean you can’t also sell the small one – you just buy an extra bit of fabric. Make the seats on a plane bigger and you fit less of them on – you can’t just buy an extra length of plane to fit in the same number.

      The difference: in the dress example, you sell a whole _extra_ dress, for a marginal extra cost. In the plane example, you sell _less_ seats, for the same cost.

      Thanks, Dylan. This is a valid point about the dress.

      I would argue that airlines have several choices aside from making large people buy two tickets. They could make all their seats big enough so that everyone can fit all of the time, but this is likely to be very unprofitable as it would mean turning a lot of banks of three into banks of two. Or they could have seats that fit the average person but accept sometimes they will have to give two of them to accommodate an extra-large person. This will still be more profitable than the former scenario and travel professional Mary Jo above says it would cost cents when divided among all passengers. Or they could do as some commenters have suggested and have varied seat sizing and some formula for allocating the bigger seats.

      Note, *slightly* bigger seats don’t always mean fewer seats or reduced profits. Looking at the comparison charts on Seat Guru it seems that seats sizes can vary by several inches among airlines but still have the same number in the row. – Caitlin.

  10. Nice post, very well-written! I feel you and I agree with your concerns. Hope some airline companies hear you!

  11. Full moderation is on for this thread and I’m off to bed, so I look forward to reading and posting any new comments in the morning. Agree or disagree but be polite and delightful and we’ll all get along just fine. Thanks for dropping by and good night!

  12. I used to feel similarly to you. Last year on a flight to Japan I sat next to a man whose body took up part of my seat – over the armrest. If I sat straight in the middle of my seat, our bodies were heavily pressed together. The flight was full and neither of us could change seats. I didn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable, nor did I want to feel violated by him practically laying on half my body, so I contorted my position to stay as far on the other side of my seat possible. — For many hours. — My back and neck suffered for quite a while afterward and it cost me quite a lot in chiropractor bills once back home, as well as significant pain and discomfort during my trip.

    I’d be all for a different seat configuration to help alleviate this sort of problem. But that’s not going to happen anytime in the near future. In the meantime, requiring two seats seems the only realistic option. Just as are the extra measures and considerations I have to take (which are not all easy ones) to comply with all the procedures necessary for getting my paraplegic son on board an aircraft when I fly with him.
    .-= Kim@Galavanting´s last blog ..7 weeks in Kyrgyzstan =-.

    I’m sorry to hear about your experience. I agree there are some individuals who require a second seat, though I think this is rarer than most people think. It sounds like you got really unlucky. I think the airline should provide a second seat for these people, though ideally the airline would need to know about this in advance since flights are sometimes full. Mary Jo and I have discussed this above. – Caitlin.

  13. I agree with you, too, Caitlin. Airlines have decided that putting more people on each plane is more important than passenger comfort. Perhaps we passengers have been complicit in that, too. But in the end it means that we all suffer. I, for one, long for the day when flying was glamorous and interesting rather than being an exercise for my patience.
    .-= Angela K. Nickerson´s last blog ..Michelangelo: More than Agony and Ecstasy =-.

  14. Interesting post. I think another issue that the airlines refuse to deal with is traveling with infants. It seems like the best solution would be to create a family section. I’ve been on both sides of the equation. A few years ago, we forgot our 1-year old son’s pacifier and he cried for almost the entire flight. Now, I’m sensitive to parents with young children, but still don’t enjoy sitting next to them on a plane.

  15. This is really, to a large degree, about Airline Economics.

    Why do airlines overbook flights? Since they know some people will not show up, and it’s a way to have lower prices, or make money. Just like hotels overbook rooms, and rental car agencies overbook cars.

    Why do airlines charge people that need more than one seat for the second seat they require? Because they’re unable to sell the other seat, if it’s taken up by a passenger that did not pay for the second seat.

    Airlines could very well run an operation that does not overbook. They could change their seat configuration to accomodate everyone. They could allow people that need it to take two seats. Hey, for that matter, they let you check luggage for free, handed out pillows and blankets for free, didn’t charge you for headphones, food and drinks… They can still do all of that, but the price of a ticket would go up.

    In reality, it’s us (the flying public) that demands low fares; and the shareholders that demand a profit. The airlines respond in kind by finding any way to keep the base fare for the average traveler low. It’s nice if you’re in that large ‘average’ group, not so nice when you’re not.

    Thanks for your comment. I understand how airline economics work, though not all airlines routinely overbook flights. In my experience, the overbooking problem seems worse in the domestic US market. Also outside the US most airlines do give you free checked baggage, free pillows and blankets, free headphones, food and drink (the budget airlines are an exception).

    The problem is that airlines are too gung-ho about punishing their larger passengers. The fat passengers are the first to be kicked off the plane if it’s full. The airlines are also starting to push people to buy two seats who in reality can sit perfectly well in one seat, with the arm rests down and with or without a seatbelt extender. A genuine requirement for a second seat is rare and can often be accommodated at no extra cost to anyone if the flight isn’t full. This should be the default.

    Economic forces have driven down costs and services but I think there will have to come a tipping point where it starts to go back the other way. In many cases airfares probably should cost more. – Caitlin.

  16. When I was a kid I was often not allowed to ride certain rides at the amusement park because I was not tall enough. Next to the line for the ride there would be some sign with a cartoon character holding their hand up to their waist with the words “You must be this tall to ride.” It was humiliating to have to be measured and then denied access to the ride while my friends got on. But the theory behind it was that it was for my own safety. Although I am still quite petite, I eventually passed the the height requirement and it was no longer an issue.

    I think weight can also be a safety issue. Several years ago I was in the window seat on a flight and a very large man had the aisle. His legs were wedged into the seat in front of him and the tray table and arm rest could not be put down. Even my tray table was impeded by his knee. During the flight (three hours) I needed to get up and it took him several minutes to dislodge himself from the seat so that I could pass by.

    His health or size was none of my business but my own personal safety was. I realized that had there been an emergency I would be impacted by his inability to vacate the seat quickly.

    I’m not suggesting that there be height and weight requirements on airlines, but I do think the airline does have to consider passenger safety with regard to how people are seated. Some one suggested above in this thread that there be family seating sections, maybe plus size seating sections in economy would be a good idea as well.
    .-= Marcy Gordon´s last blog ..The Best Women’s Travel Writing =-.

    Thanks, Marcy. Airlines definitely need to consider safety but I think they also often hide behind the safety argument. They have also helped create the situation by reducing seat size, leg room and aisle width. Mary Jo is a flight attendant and she has commented above that it’s not about safety. Plus-size seating in economy would be something to consider, though I don’t think it should cost more. The process for determining who gets the bigger seats would also have to be both sensitive and fair. – Caitlin.

  17. A well reasoned piece, Caitlin – I think your observation on the mathematical law of averages is very pertinent.

    On a related note, I recently interviewed some manufacturers of ergonomic seats who had some valuable insight into the rate of expansion of the average American derriere (and the rest of the world): Airline seats should really be updated every ten years, yet clearly they’re not.

    Ultimately, when you’re in the business of dealing with averages, you will not please everyone.

  18. Here’s an airline going the other way. Qantas is reconfiguring its cabin to fit more seats onto the plane. Sounds like bad news? It’s not – they’re achieving this by getting rid of first class cabins on all but two routes, and they’re actually going to make economy seats wider! Sounds good to me.

  19. I think the “plus size” seating thing is a faulty model. I’m not a plus sized person, but you can bet I want a plus sized seat if it’s an option. And I want it for the same price the plus sized person paid. There’s nothing to stop me from buying pants that are too big, either, if that’s how I’m most comfortable, right?
    .-= pam´s last blog ..Valentine’s Day =-.

    Yes, like the exit row seats, they would be pretty desirable seats for anyone, regardless of size. I think all seats need to be a bit roomier because too many people are getting caught out right now. If you did have some extra seats (either extra-large seats or blocks of two) available, the airlines would have to find some fair way to allocate them. I’m sure it could be done! – Caitlin.

  20. I feel a strong urge to e-mail this to every airline representative I know! The size of seats these days is ridiculous. I’m 5’6″ and not a big girl, and I find myself severely squished on every flight I’m on in economy.
    .-= Camels & Chocolate´s last blog ..Photo Friday: San Sebastian, Spain =-.

  21. “Would you pay extra to have a flight that was guaranteed not to have any screaming babies? I know I would, and I bet a lot of other people would do the same.”

    I think that’s the point, actually – the corollary to the baby scenario is that if you want to ensure you don’t have to be smashed up against anyone else YOU buy two seats.

    I don’t fly often anymore – I have an artificial hip which makes just getting through security a wand-waving nightmare, and rather severe arthritis which means that no matter what size the people are around me, if they even lightly brush up on me, I’m in pain. Even buying two seats wouldn’t do it because they cram the seats so close together front to back that my legs can’t take it for the length of time even short flights occupy. The point is, my issues are not the responsibility of my fellow passengers to deal with – nor even the airlines, although I think they are seriously moving into unhealthy territory in their effort to squeeze an extra seat or two out of each flight. My accommodation needs and your accommodation desires are ours to deal with.

    Here’s a nifty secret – trains cost about the same, have nice big comfy seats and you can get up and stretch when you need to without having to look out for roaming drink carts or security signs telling you no. And depending on where you’re going, you can even get comparable travel time estimates once you account for that ‘arrive two hours early so we can strip search you’ routine.

    Thanks for your comment. I love trains and I used them extensively in Europe. Unfortunately they are not quite so practical here in West Coast USA. It takes 21 hours to get from San Francisco to Seattle; it takes 14 hours to travel the same distance in Australia by train (Sydney to Brisbane); and it would take four hours on a European high-speed train. – Caitlin.

  22. wow, this really is an emotive topic judging by the responses here. I agree with Camels & Chocolate that the seats are too small even for slim passengers. I’m 6′ and rarely have enough leg room to be comfortable.

    Unfortunately, as Kevin Cheung says, the seats are built to accommodate an ‘average’ person. It wouldn’t be financially viable for the airlines to make all the seats bigger so it will probably remain a problem.
    .-= Thomas´s last blog ..Holiday Makers Warned About Possible Hire Car Shortages =-.

    Thanks for your comment. I believe Kevin was picking up on my point about averages in the post. In fact, seat sizes can vary by several inches among airlines yet still fit the same number of seats in a row, so it doesn’t always affect profitability. So it would be easy for them to make life more comfortable for the majority of people without affecting the bottom line (except for the cost of replacing the seats). However, the problem of extra-large people who genuinely can’t fit into one seat still remains. – Caitlin.


  1. [...] Roaming Tales, Caitlin posts an open letter to the airlines: Dear Airlines: Humans come in all shapes and sizes. She says: If you … want to be in the passenger airline business, then you need to quit [...]