Ridiculous: Southwest Shames Passenger For Not Being Large Enough To Book A Second Seat

Filed Under: Southwest

Most airlines have a procedure in place for passengers of size (those who can’t comfortably fit in one seat). The policy varies by airline, though virtually all airlines encourage such passengers to book an extra seat to be sure they’re comfortable. What differs by airline is:

  • Whether you can earn points for the second seat
  • How expensive the second seat is
  • What the process is for booking the second seat
  • What happens if you don’t book a second seat but don’t comfortably fit in one seat

If you want more details, CheapAir.com has a good rundown of how the policies of different airlines vary.

Regardless, you’d think airlines would be happy when passengers are proactive in booking two seats so that everyone is as comfortable as possible. Reader Andy emailed me to share an experience he had booking a second seat on Southwest, which just leaves me floored. Here’s the email he sent me (it’s fairly long, but I don’t think I can do justice to this without sharing the whole thing):

Thought I’d share a very interesting story about a bizarre Southwest experience I had traveling this past week from Las Vegas to Houston Hobby. I don’t recall seeing much blog traffic on this particular topic so I figured I’d share the story as I was pretty flabbergasted as to how this played out.

I’m a bigger size passenger (not your standard passenger of size but at 6’2″, 250lbs it’s not hard for me to be uncomfortable on a flight), and I typically go out of my way to avoid discount airlines or coach seats for longer flights. Of course not always the case, but more often than not I’ll pay for a first class seat if I can’t get an upgrade.

I had to take a Southwest flight from Vegas to Houston and concerned about the flight length I decided to call the airline and inquire as to purchasing a second seat. The agent was helpful and accommodated me, and my reservation was made. I paid about $690 for my first seat in business select and the second seat cost a little under $200.

When I got to the Vegas airport and went to check in, I had to see an agent. I went to the counter and the woman greeted me, asked about my issue checking in, and when she noticed my second seat booking she stepped out from behind the counter, looked me up and down, and said she needed a supervisor.

Her supervisor came over, looked at the computer, and informed me that I wasn’t “big enough” to qualify. I explained to him that I reviewed their policy, which was vague and only defined the policy as the boundaries of the armrest, and he informed me he had the discretion to refuse my ticket. I offered to sit in a seat and demonstrate my concerns but he told me he would be canceling my seat and I could fly with one or not at all. I asked the agent what gave him the right to deem me “not fat enough,” and he said his “20 years of experience.” He even went so far as to point to another much larger passenger to show me what he viewed as a true passenger of size.

After the flight, I contacted Southwest and informed them of both the humiliation of having two different agents judge me and reject my seat, but also the inconsistency of their policy and the discretionary enforcement. As I explained to the customer service agent, shouldn’t the airline be appreciative of customers willing to pay for two seats to avoid discomfort for themselves and others?

Southwest has been pretty apologetic but this issue apparently got elevated to senior leadership. I was given a lousy $100 apology voucher and a refund on the second seat I purchased, and I was told the issue is being “reviewed in the monthly executive meeting given the sensitivity”.

My gut tells me they did something very wrong here, based on the quick elevation.

This may be an interesting case for the blog. Of course it’s a sensitive topic for me, but I can’t help but think Southwest should revisit their policy and maybe find a less humiliating, discreet way to “enforce” it? Shouldn’t a customer be able to pay for two full seats if they’re concerned about comfort? Isn’t this better for the airline; they get the revenue for the seat without the additional fuel burn or snack consumption, too.

I’m sort of in shock here. While Andy might not be a “traditional” passenger of size, I think he did the right thing by looking after not only his own comfort, but the comfort of those around him. With airline seats constantly shrinking, one really has to wonder how small you have to be to fit “comfortably” into economy seats nowadays. So for a Southwest employee to judge him in this way seems ridiculous.

I had a look at Southwest’s policy on this, and it sure is vague:

What is Southwest Airlines’ policy for Customers of size?

Customers who encroach upon any part of the neighboring seat(s) may proactively purchase the needed number of seats prior to travel in order to ensure the additional seat(s) is available. The armrest is considered to be the definitive boundary between seats; width between the armrests measures 17 inches. The purchase of additional seats serves as a notification to Southwest of a special seating need, and allows us to adequately plan for the number of seats that will be occupied on the aircraft.  In turn, this helps to ensure we can accommodate all Customers on the flight/aircraft 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 cost of additional seating after travel.  Customers of size who prefer not to purchase an additional seat in advance have the option of purchasing just one seat and then discussing their seating needs with the Customer Service Agent at their departure gate. If it is determined that a second (or third) seat is needed, they will be accommodated with a complimentary additional seat.

How do I know if I need a second seat?

The armrest is the definitive gauge for a Customer of size. It serves as the boundary between seats; the width between armrests measures 17 inches.  Customers who are unable to lower both armrests and/or who encroach upon any portion of the adjacent seat may proactively book the number of seats needed prior to travel or receive a complimentary additional seat.

The rules suggest that if a customer encroaches on any part of the neighboring seat they may proactively purchase an additional seat. This is vague on many levels, and especially in this case it seems crazy to tell a passenger (who paid extra for a second seat) that they won’t encroach on another’s seat in any way.

Southwest was way out of line with this, in my opinion. If they’re not going to have a clear policy, it can’t be up to individual customer service agents to decide who is large enough to pay for an extra seat.

Really I don’t get why airlines don’t let people buy extra seats across the board. You’d think they’d love to have people paying for extra seats. Their rebuttal would be that inventory management is complicated, it would cause low fares to sell out faster, skew airfare, etc.

However, it sure seems like the current system is a bit broken.

What do you make of this situation? Should individual customer service agents be deciding who isn’t big enough to purchase an extra seat?

  1. Im 6’2 and about 270lbs. That may sound quite large to most people, but I probably wouldn’t fit your idea of a nearly 300lbs man. I am big, and former military, so I have a bit of muscle, and a bit of after service weight, Im what I would call somewhat fit, and work out regular. Anyways, yeah flying coach for me is quite uncomfortable, and probably uncomfortable for the people next to me. I have never considered an extra seat. I am an unusually large person just by genetics, and my lifestyle. When you are big everything is uncomfortable, and you make things uncomfortable for other people. I think if the man feels that way he should be allowed to lighten the burden on himself and those around him.

  2. I have trouble with claustrophobia and have often wondered how SW would handle my request to buy a second seat (I’m an average size female). Although this could have been handled better by SW I also understand the airlines concern regarding possible abuse of the second seat option given the discounted price. I image a number of readers would jump at the chance to pay $200 for a guaranteed extra seat on a long haul flight meaning SW looses the chance to sell it for $695. Would love to see SW create a policy that anyone can buy two seats.

  3. If 250 pounds isn’t large enough, what is???? My guess is they had somebody else ready to pay full price for the second seat, and it wouldn’t have mattered what size Andy is. Although… why do you have to prove you’re large? What if you’re claustrophobic or have anxiety and don’t like strangers too close to you? Why isn’t that good enough? He bought both seats, they should be his, even if he bought the second seat for a stuffed rabbit.

    Some stranger’s twenty years of experience standing at a podium doesn’t give them any qualification to know whether or not the flyer will be comfortable in a seat. The flyer is the best judge of that.

  4. I once watched two guys who were both in really great shape with very broad shoulders sit next to each other (aisle and middle) on an AA 737. They were both pretty uncomfortable and would have been better off with an empty seat between them. They both hated it and so did the person in the window seat.

    It’s not always about waist size. Southwest should consider the armrest like an NFL goal line, crossing the space above it counts.

  5. first thing, why is he paying 900 dollars to go from vegas to houston, that seems like highway robbery to me, aren’t there some other cheaper options, is this guy bill gates or a multi-billionaire or something?

  6. It’s Southwest’s fault for having a vague policy, but I also think the guy is being a little sensitive as it pertains to being “judged.” Ultimately he was judged to be not overweight, so …

    The interesting question to me is that if Southwest /requires/ passengers who infringe onto the seat next to them, can canceling an extra seat reservation be interpreted as denying boarding? By their own rules, he can’t sit in one seat, so by not allowing him 2 seats, they’re effectively denying him boarding … or violating their own rules and whomever sat next to him has cause for complaint.

  7. Somebody was a fathead (are we allowed to say that anymore?), and it wasn’t Andy. Thumbs down the Southwest employees in this instance.

  8. here’s the thing – from the quote above, we didn’t get a sense of what Andy’s true size is and whether he remotely qualifies for the program.

    This isn’t body shaming, but whether someone is attempting to abuse a perk designed for someone else, then trying to use the media channel to bully corporations into doing their bidding when their attempts fall flat in their face.

  9. The policy sure sounds like this is a revenue loss for Southwest, which may explain the behavior. If one books a second seat ahead of time, one can get a refund after travel. If a second (or third) seat is deemed necessary at the airport, it is complimentary. Am I misreading this?

  10. Lol. Pretty simple. As a seller which one would you prefer?
    A). Selling 2 seat for $890 (690+200); or
    B). Selling 2 seat for $1,380 (690+690)

    What about comfort? Lol…. who cares about comfort? Especially if it is not concerning my comfort.

    What about courtesy to judge people? Lol…. I have authority. You don’t like it, fly another airline.

    Its common in land of freedom. What else do you expect?

  11. “the humiliation of having two different agents judge me”

    The humiliation of being told you’re not obese, boo hoo.

  12. I imagine part of the problem for Southwest is their seating policy. Given that there are no assigned seats on Southwest, I could see it being hard to enforce this two seat reservation, especially if to most passengers he’s not going to appear as the sort of person they think would need an extra seat. They might just wanted to avoid slowing down the boarding process or to prevent conflict as they would have to likely have to help him defend his seat throughout.

    Personally, I would have a hard time believing someone who told me they had purchased an extra seat on Southwest. I probably wouldn’t make a big deal out of it (and hopefully I wouldn’t be boarding so late that only middle seats are available) but I could see someone else doing so. We have seen fighting on airplanes over less serious conflicts.

  13. Based in Houston, I hate flying Southwest. I inevitably get seated in a middle seat next to an obese person when making the connection at DAL. It’s okay in a return trip but horrible for an outgoing trip. Texans need to lose weight, for real.

  14. this was part of the failed empire–a lack of empathy, respect, courtesy, and simple-good manners. It was a hustling, huckstering, corporate fascist state in which nastiness and lack of empathy was the aim. Phone diddling and trying to suss each other up for the “deal” (hustle) was their narrative. Sorry to hear about this incident–however, nothing shocks us. Do NOT fly if you have to on an us/american =based carrier. They suck. Reality-not empty mission statements and “aims” to appease the PC crowd.

  15. I side with the passenger on this one. He did everything that the airline required him to do, yet he was humiliated in the sense that the employees made an issue of it. I’m wondering why airlines are going to realize that all of this negative publicity is not worth a few hundred dollars.

  16. It should be that anyone that isn’t comfortable in the seat should be able to purchase a second one without a problem. It’s good for not only the passenger but fellow passengers and the airline.

  17. It’s the discount that’s the issue here. If he bought two full priced seats no problem.

    But the discount has specific stipulations here that you must be large enough to encroach on the other seat via the armrest test.

    Great that the pax is considerate enough to buy a second seat, but at a steep discount SW is in the right here.

  18. Before I continue reading the article HOW BIG IS THIS GUY WE’RE TALKING ABOUT? DO YOU HAVE A PHOTO?

  19. This happened to me once as well. Granted, I’m 6’1″, 215. My 32″ waist is only 14″ across at the widest point, but my shoulders are 23-24″ across, which is well beyond the 17″ measurement for a second seat.

    I bought two seats on a flight out to San Jose since Southwest was the only nonstop. The agent said the same thing: “You’re not big enough.” I pointed out that my shoulders absolutely encroach on the next seat, and volunteered to show her. “Nope. That privilege is just for people who need seat belt extenders.” She did use the word “privilege,” which I found amusing.

    I really detest this Southwest policy, as other airlines (AA, AS, UA – don’t know about DL) are only too happy to sell me a second seat.

  20. I’ve had a similar experience with SW. I’m about 230 lbs and when sitting my shoulders and arms are 21 inches across (compared to SW 17 inch width between armrests). I used to book ‘customer of size’ tickets since I was only comfortably sitting in their seats if I’m leaning forward or have my arms crossed for the entire flight time.

    I was also told I wasn’t big enough and had the extra ticket canceled. Regardless of the width of the 250-pound passenger mentioned in the article Southwest’s policy is in place to “ensure that all Customers onboard have access to safe and comfortable seating”.

    It’s a really shitty feeling to let someone know (in this case SW) that you need additional space for comfort and to be dismissed.

  21. In the end, it’s up to Southwest’s discretion whether someone needs an extra seat or not. When that determination differs from the passenger’s own determination, then the passenger is going to be offended.

  22. We use their policy all the time with no problems as we are customers of size. They lose money to accommodate us. The second seat is always refunded and they are the only airline that does this. I think it makes total sense that they don’t let people that don’t “need” a second seat buy a second seat as it’s just lost revenue for them.

  23. Southwest usually does the right thing, but this is shameful.  Glad to see that it’s being elevated to senior management so they can clarify the policy.

  24. @W. I agree. Anyone should be able to purchase two seats on Southwest in order to have an empty middle seat, but this is against the airline’s policy.

    @Ray – you never have to end up with a Middle Seat on SW. Just purchase the “Early Check In” option for an extra $15 and you’ll be in the A boarding group.

    You can do it on JetBlue — just make the reservation with a phone agent and assign the second seat to the name “Empty Seat.” Once flew with my wife from SFO-BOS in their “Even More Legroom” section. We bought out a section of three seats — and with 38″ of leg room and plenty of elbow room, it was practically as comfortable as First, though without the meals. (Now, of course, I could book Mint). I wrote a blog article about it that I called “80% of First Class at 20% the price: http://travelhorizons.ourismantravel.com/2008/05/jetblue-80-of-first-class-at-20-price.html

  25. As someone who regularly buys a second seat when flying in sardine class, I want to point out one thing : some of the taxes and fees airliners pay are per passenger, not per seat. Ergo, if you have to pay full price on the second seat, the airline is ripping you off.
    That been said, this case sounds to me more like they had oversold the flight by way too much and were trying to minimize the compensations they were facing.

  26. There’s something missing in the story and discussion: no info about whether this was a completely full flight and SW needed the seat for a passenger. Probably it was and somebody wanted to pay to ride that flight, in that seat. His rhetorical question of whether a person should be able to pay for two seats is misleading. If he had bought two regular priced seats SW would be wrong unless they offered significant compensation, but that’s not what he did. I say this as someone who has a good friend who stresses about size issues with economy seating, so I sympathize with the discomfort physical and mental.

    No doubt the change should have been handled with discretion and without size comparisons. There’s just nothing wrong with what SW did. Only with how they did it.

  27. Some people have said the second seat is discounted. It doesn’t seem to be a discount. It is probably just the wanna getta away Fare class. The first seat is the business select fare as stated in the email. Of course the above is a presumption. Poor form by SW to take away a seat that has been fully paid for and planned in advance. Don’t see how it’s lost revenue for SW.

  28. he wanted two seats. he bought two seats.

    it’s southwest’s fault they charge a stupid price.

    i’m gonna buy a whole row next time and tell them my doctor says my service dog needs to cuddle with me laying flat across the row or else i get triggered.

  29. It sounds like this guy just is not that fat. 6’2″ and 250 pounds is a BMI of 32. That does count as “Moderately Obese” (anything over 30), but more than 35 percent of Americans are “Moderately Obese.” To put it in context, if this guy lost just 20 pounds, he would be just “overweight” — 75% of Americans are overweight. So if he were just 20 pounds lighter, he’d be a pretty common weight given his height.

    Most people at his BMI will fit comfortably in the airplane seats without causing any discomfort to passengers seated next to them. It’s really when passengers are in the “Very Severely Obese” category (BMI over 40) that you need two seats. He’s pretty far short of that. Indeed, he acknowledges that he’s not a “standard person of size.”

    So on some level, while it is weird to have Southwest agents “judge” who qualifies under a vague policy, it sounds like this guy clearly is not someone who would need two seats. By invoking a policy meant to protect passengers from the very severely obese, he managed to get a second seat at a cut-rate price.

    I do think Southwest should have a clearer guideline in terms of waist length or BMI — this guy clearly would know he doesn’t qualify for a second seat if they had that. Obviously they can’t start taking out measuring tape and weighing people at the airport, but it’s clear from his post that if there were a published guideline, he would have followed it. So Southwest needs to somehow make clear that this is really for very severely obese people — not the 35% of Americans who are a little bit beyond the overweight category.

  30. I agree its a legitimate concern and trouble for the passenger. I guess the grey area is due to the 2nd seat price being lot less compared to a regular seat (200 vs 690 etc) and the airline might be trying to make sure the speicific case is valid for them to loose that extra revenue. It would be fair to both the airline and passengers to price the 2nd seat same as the 1st one. Either way the airline staff for sure should have handled it lot better and not give surprise or cauase humiliation to the passenger like this.

  31. …my mom had this exact issue not only did they take her seat away from her, they did not refund her money, and when she called customer relations she basically got am “i’m sorry, but the agent has the discretion, and there’s nothing we can do”…no voucher, refund, or anything…

  32. First off, pass along a big thanks to Reader Andy for such an informative complaint letter. In reviewing countless complaint letters on social media, I find the short posts usually leave out 1 or more salient facts that could explain the situation further.

    I agree with the Southwest Supervisor and checkin agent assessment, the Customer of Size was not big enough to meet their policy.

    I this case the complainant paid $690 for the first seat but only $200 for the second. IIRC, Southwest Customer of Size passengers get the second seat discounted to the lowest Get-away fare less certain facility and other surcharges. The problem for Southwest, do you offer a discount on the second seat so as not to be seen gouging obese customers; or do you allow anyone to buy two seats for the regular price?

    There is a third option (which was indirectly mentioned in the OP), create a defined metric for allowing discounted second seat purchase. However the Air Carrier Access and Americans with Disabilities Acts allow passengers to self identify and limit the ability of the airline to question or otherwise validate the claim. In Canada, the third option is legislated. Customers of Size that meet physician verified metrics get the second seat for free. The problem in Canada is the metric is only about weight and waist size; length and shoulder measurements are not considered. Furthermore, passengers who don’t meet the metrics cannot purchase a second seat.

    Getting back to the question at hand. I could see a scenario where passengers who are not Customer’s of Size purchase second seats as a way to improve their inflight experience. Example: September 18th 9:30am WN1605 LAS-HOU, Biz Select is $600 and get away is $50. If I’m travelling with co-worker and the company is willing to pay BS fares, then for $25 both of us can guarantee a better experience equivalent to European narrowbody first class.

    The other aspect applicable to only Southwest, Customer of Size can get the second seat refunded if the airplane is not otherwise fully booked. In the example above, the two coworkers could apply for a refund of the middle seat on September 19th, so they are not out of pocket.

    There is a huge operational problem for Southwest if the example described above catches on and the airline allows the practice of anyone buying a second seat to continue. Southwest’s open seating policy would mean that A list passengers who purchased a second seat would force the split up of most B and all of C list passengers.

  33. I don’t think any airline has an obligation to discount their seats just because you feel uncomfortable in one of their seats. Am I also owed a business seat if I bought an economy fare on a ultra long haul, and my legs feel uncomfortable, therefore the airline must sell me a discounted upgrade to J?

    Southwest’s policy is not very well defined (for reasons expressed by Kris above), but the extra seat IS a “promotional” price, and if Southwest feels you do not qualify for the promotional discount, I don’t see why the customer is “entitled” to the additional seat, just because he/she is “uncomfortable”.

  34. I think there’s a big thing being missed here. I’m definitely a passenger of siZe and routinely get 2 seats on SW. Their policy allows you to call after the flight is over and get refunded the 2nd seat. It’s a very generous policy and one I have used but wondered if there might ever be abuse of. Sounds like that may be the case if they are cracking down. Not saying SW was right in this case, but it gives a clearer picture of their motives. Hopefully this policy doesn’t change as it makes SW an option for me, without that it would not.

  35. I am surprised by this. I always thought that whether I was a passenger or size or not, I could always book a second seat if I was so inclined just to get the extra space. A friend of mine and I nearly did that on a Southwest flight a couple years ago with super cheap fares just so we could have a row to ourselves.

  36. IF You go to a Doctor they would consider you obese. Why they gave you a 100 voucher once you accept it you cannot sue. My question they are discriminating against heavy weight individuals and should have depending on what type of airlines a handicap seat for large people. Why has no body complained to the Gov. Orget attorney to do a class action law suit against all Airlines.

  37. You don’t have to be large to be uncomfortable in economy. At 120 pounds and 5’7″ my knees have frequently hit against the seatback in front of me. I’m glad the airlines have a policy for passengers of size and in this case perhaps the policy needs to be more clearly defined. Not saying that this particular passenger was treated properly but I could see how this could easily be gamed and making it even more difficult for those passengers who really need the extra seat. Before the airlines had the passenger of size policies these folks either didn’t travel by air or they were sandwiched in amongst other passengers, making everything more difficult for everyone involved.

  38. The policy needs to be clearer but the agent should absolutely have the discretion to make the call or else everyone will be booking extra seats for 1/3 the price.

    In general, SWA needs to be much more clear on their policies (or lack thereof) including 1) saving seats (shouldn’t be allowed in the front or exit yet it happens often) 2) Forcing bigger passengers to purchase an extra seat, meaning if you need a seatbelt extender, you should always have to pay for a second seat (never enforced), and 3) All the “handicapped” people boarding first. I get on any flight out of FL and I’m boarding 40 deep even with Business Select. Either create a disincentive like putting them in middle seats or further back on the plane, or step up verification. Being over 60 shouldn’t automatically qualify you.

    I’m 6’5″ and fly most weeks on SWA. There are 7 decent seats for guys like me: bulkhead aisle/window, and three in exit row. The above policies need to be enforced, or allow guys like me to purchase them. Most flights I’m ok, but when I’m not, it’s usually the above things that cause problems. These are easy things for SWA to fix, yet they won’t do it.

  39. Dear god, people, if you’re interested enough to be posting about this stuff in your free time, then know that Southwest is abbreviated WN, not *SW!!!!

  40. Pedant: You aren’t very pedantic. WN is the IATA code for Southwst Airlines, not an abbreviation. SWA is the ICAO code for Southwest. And in every imaginable walk of earth, SW is the only abbreviation for Southwest.

  41. I think the real problem is that Southwest refunds the extra seat most of the time. I can see their need to police abuse of that system if they end up giving away seat 2, but there needs to be a middle ground where you can buy a second seat (only refunded if you cancel the matching seat as well) for personal comfort. My husband and I (both 6’1″ ~225 lbs men) flew Southwest with a window and middle seat. It was god awful; only one of us could lean back at a time due to our shoulder width. We just flew JetBlue and their website let us reserve 3 seats with a checkbox to mark one as an extra. There’s no refund, but why would I expect one for taking up 3 seats. Those 3 seats cost less than 2 on AA (loyalty has limits) and we we’d be happy to fly them again. Knowing that we’re not “fat enough” to buy, and gladly pay for, 3 seats on Southwest means they will never see us on their planes again.

  42. This has reached the point of disgusting and repulsive.
    Why the hell have we allowed airlines to shrink and shrink and shrink their seats until an average American is uncomfortable. Period. Airlines have no right passing judgement on anyone who is not outside the terms of safe conduct, e.g. carrying a gun, obviously drunk, and so on.
    Presumably this is a law-abiding citizen who is being subjected to the kind of discrimination we in America have worked the past 75 years to eradicate.
    Few would side with an airline that denied boarding to a person because he looked too old and might die on the flight, looked Arab and might pray, was wearing lots of gold jewelry and might scare other passengers, had a huge hairdo that might touch other passengers was covered in unappealing tattoos.
    The airlines have created a lot of this misery themselves. They have pushed the very limited on personal space. I once found flying a pleasure. Now my claustrophobia bells clang even booking the ticket.
    Most loathsome of all are the American carriers. With no ethnic disparagement at all I cannot fathom why American carriers provide seats for tiny Asian women and Asian airlines often provide seat in all classes that are reasonable and comfortable for anyone.
    I really do NOT see why airlines have any “right” to this conduct of business. They offer a necessary public service much as do public utilities and should be controlled by those regulations of non-discrimination.
    This is a shameful experience. The shame lies with Southwest, and should not in any way with the passenger, yet he has been made to bear the brunt. That pretty well sums up the operating conduct of all four major US airlines.
    Making America Great Again? We have a long way to go and need to begin with making America decent.

  43. @Bob: “Please change the “passenger of size” moniker to “fat ass”. It’s more appropriate.”

    Stay classy.

  44. When flying Southwest we buy three seats because I WOULD enroach on someone in a middle seat. It is also very comfortable for my husband who is not horizontally challenged but tall enough to appreciate being able to angle his legs. I have never been treated with anything but courtesy and discretion by the Southwest staff. And, as is their policy, they have always been prompt in refunding the second seat if the plane isn’t fully sold. I’m sorry about Andy’s experience, we also fly business or first when we can–I’m wondering if people are gaming Southwest in the same way many pets have suddenly become service animals?

  45. One wonders if the author would want that “passenger of size” enormous buttocks squeezed up against his diminutive derrière on a cross country flight in Economy? Hmmmm…LOL

  46. Andy’s bigger mistake was paying $690 for Business Select. SWA does not have cabin differences. If you pay $59 “Want to Getaway” then pay $45 for first boarding A1-15 at the gate you get the same seat that Andy paid $690 for!!! That’s what he should be shamed about, not his weight!! I’m 6’4 300 LBS and I travel just fine in one seat on SWA.

    I know he gets a few extra perks, but not worth it folks!!

  47. There is no blanket policy that can be created that would effectively deal with this situation that didn’t either discriminate against fat people, people with broad shoulders, or any other type of individual trait – something would have to give to make progress.

  48. US airlines treat passengers worst than animals. We will soon see them putting those metal frames we see at airports to check if your carry on is under their limits of size but a version for passengers. They will ask all passengers to get inside the frame at check in. If you fit inside the frame you are OK. If you don’t you get a tag written “obese” placed around your neck and asked to buy a second seat.

  49. The phrasing “Customer of size” is clearly written to be politically correct. If they change it completely and offer “half seats” at half the regular price, for any reason that any passenger desires, 3 seats can easily be shared by 2 people. I’m not the only one grateful our flight was only half full SMF-DEN the time my daughter forgot her dramamine and puked her guts out. All involved would be more than happy to give any passenger their space if he said he needed room for his air-sickness-barf-bag activity.

  50. Bottom line: obesity is a disease. Instead of getting a discount, obese people should getting a treatment.

  51. I fly Southwest exclusively for domestic and Caribbean flights. Some remarks here are groundless because they lack full knowledge of Southwest pricing and seating policies.

    A Business Selectseat on Southwest does not afford a wider seat in a special section with extra legroom. It affords one free alcoholic beverage, and a fully refundable fare. It offers preboarding as far as the A B and C boarding groups are concerned but Business does not get first pick at Preboarding. That privilege is first afforded disabled passengers, then those who purchased an extra seat, then families traveling with no more than two adults with small children.

    Being obese, I have bought a second seat for six years now. Three years ago an accident rendered me permanantly disabled. That puts me in preboarding.

    Southwest issues a paper placard that says “Seat Reserved” to second seat purchasers. They are preboarded to ensure they obtain their two seats together, since Southwest has no assigned seating. The placard is placed on the adjacent seat.

    Provided a flight is not overbooked, Southwest will refund the cost of the second seat.

    So if a passenger wants the best odds of getting a seat in the bulkhead or exit row, and is not disabled, then a second seat purchase is their best shot at getting those rows with extra room.

    This is where the potential for abuse comes into play. Getting a free extra seat in order to garner an advantage in boarding. If a person’s body does warrant a extra seat then they are potentially preventing someone with genuine need from sitting up front. In addition they might also be causing the airline to lose money by giving away a seat that could generate revenue.

    In these days of people abusing in-cabin service animals by placing bogus tags and vests (purchased on the internet) on their dogs and pushing for preferential boarding/seating, Southwest does not seem so draconian. More and more people try to present themselves as an exception when they fly. I see it everytime. Southwest personnel are the most accomodating of any domestic carriers I fly with, and more so than some international carriers.

    Lastly before I was a Southwest customer I never purchased an extra seat. I also was never pre-boarded. If my big fat rear end flew, it was always in economy class. I was able to fit into cramped coach. My weight is none of anyone’s business but at 5’10 1/2 it exceeds the writer’s weight, and most of it is from the pelvic reason down. So I can unequivocally state that a 6’2″ man of 250 lbs. might benefit from more legroom but he hardly needs double the width. He should pay the $15 extra for earlybird check in. Combined with Business Select he would easily have scored an exit row seat and maybe even a bulkhead spot.

  52. @ Brent Collins: the FAA prohibits anyone who is preboarded due to disability or extra seat purchase, or even for needing a seatbelt extension, from sitting in the exit row. Your remark that Southwest allows preboards in the exit rows is wrong. As for making handicapped people sit further back or in middle seats so taller passengers can have first pick of the bulkhead, that is absolutely lacking in compassion. A disabled person cannot easily ambulate or get in and out of the row. Yes airlines have special aisle chairs but disabled people try very hard to be as ambulatory as possible. Also should the restroom be needed it is not at all practical for flight crew to be wheeling passengers during a flight. No one who is disabled likes being disabled. Also leg injuries also often necessitate the aisle seat. If you are unhappy that Business Select puts you behind disabled people tben perhaps you should choose a carrier that lets you select your seat. O0r offers Economy Plus with extra legroom. Shoving the disabled in the middle and back is not the solution.

  53. I just tweeted @southwestairlines that is an easy answer… ok fine I’ll give up my seat but when I encroach on the other seat I need your name to give to the poor sole who has to endure a miserable flight due to my size. Obviously for Twitter I abbreviated it…
    Now an unknown fact, you can state you need it for your not so average size which is on your airline a disability… key word is disability which should not be abused but if you truly will be in pain, you do have that option and they must oblige or move you to accommodate.

  54. The weird thing is that if I couldn’t fit in an airplane seat I’d be so disappointed with myself that that alone would cause me to seriously lose weight. I guess that’s why I’m not a person of size–or as they called it in the old days, fat. I don’t blame the heavy people alone, I blame the culture that makes it OK to be unhealthy.

  55. “You may contact us for a refund of the cost of additional seating after travel.”

    Judging from this line it seems to me SW is already willing to squeeze in extra paying passengers if they deemed you not fat enough.

  56. This is BMI vs. USD. It’s pretty obvious, as others have pointed out, that SW, SWA, or WN wanted their FULL fare for Andy’s second seat. I’m 5 ft 8 and weigh 145 lbs and I am uncomfortable in coach. I read this blog and others so I don’t have to endure the likes of Southworst and I can, by hook or crook, go biz class. In spite of frequent bad publicity, US carriers continue to treat their passengers like crap. Recently I flew Virgin America from SFO-JFK with a connection 3.5 hours later on Singapore to FRA. First, my VX flight was delayed for two hours because the crew hadn’t had enough rest, then another 30 minutes because one of the fatigued flight attendants was late, then an hour and a half on the tarmac. Since VX has a codeshare agreement with SQ, I asked the flight attendant about making my flight to FRA. He told me not to worry that my flight was delayed 40 minutes and I’d have plenty of time. I was taking my time getting from B to A in JFK’s Terminal 4 when I got a phone call from a Singapore rep. The flight wasn’t delayed, and they were waiting for me at the gate. When I recounted this story to the Singapore purser, he said, “No, we are NEVER late.” Not ONE of the US carriers could ever hope to match Singapore’s (or a number of other excellent carriers) service. Maybe one day they’ll fly from LAS.

  57. Shouldn’t he be flattered that they thought he wasn’t fat enough? He must be doing something right with his diet and exercise regime!

  58. I don’t blame him for being annoyed at losing the extra seat when a) he was trying to do the right thing and b) he probably did meet the criteria according to their vague regulations.

    However, I think he is going too far to say he was humiliated. It’s not like they came out with measuring rules and started taking his dimensions and I’m sure no fellow travellers were finger-pointing and laughing at him. It may well be fair to say it was a little embarrassing for him but humiliating, I don’t think so. Personally, it’s only just newsworthy because it’s a little unusual but I am with the airline here. For a saving of over $400 a wealthy person of size can book an extra seat for their comfort. I’m 6.0 and 240 pounds so probably very similar in width unless he has legs like a chicken. I don’t tend to have issues unless the person next to me is of similar size and I wouldn’t even think of booking two seats.

    SW should forget about politically correct bullshit and state that passengers who are clearly obese and will infringe on others can book a second seat. However, I believe they should pay full price for both seats. I don’t see why airlines should subsidize seats for overweight people.

  59. If you are fat (say over 250) do yourself and everyone else a favor. Either buy a First ticket or buy two seats.

    After all, you’re assuming and hoping that the person next to you is thin, and not someone as fat as you.

    Also, fat people seem to sweat and smell more, which isn’t much fun for the rest of us either.

  60. I’m a bigger guy at 6″, 200 lbs but not a “passenger of size” according to most airlines (the definition seems to be that you need a seatbelt extender). That said, I have looked at buying an extra seat on small CRJ planes when I am flying economy. Often, I am booking these flights far out, and pricing is pretty attractive. When I did this, airlines basically refused to sell me a second seat. It seems airlines simply don’t want to sell multiple seats for one person unless forced to, which is why Southwest is taking their view…

  61. And that goes for anyone who: uses fragrances, has kids, farts, wears a mask (makes me nervous), talks too much, reclines, gets drunk, brings greasy food on board, farts (did I say that?), speaks in tongues, leaves the shade open during sleep time, clips nails, brushes teeth, gives itself injections, spits, uses mouthwash, puts on deodorant at the seat, burps, Has > 50% BSA in tats, gets up too much, or doesn’t like me. All great reasons for an extra (discount, of course) seat! Aren’t we tolerant!?

  62. What a rude assertion Martin. The worst scented people are usually those who don’t believe in antiperspirant or regular dental hygiene, or have sweaty socks that smell like Fritos because they don’t use a powder on their feet or shoes yet persist in removing their shoes.
    Also those who are smokers or drink heavily in the 24 hours preceding the flight, or are general ly shower-aversive. Those people
    come in every shape and size. Nearly as bad are those who over apply fragrances.

  63. James,

    I choose a window seat specifically so I can control, the blind. I like to look out of the window,

    If you are equally picky about the disposition of the blind, I’d recommend that you do the same.

    Or pay extra for a private plane, of course. Hell is other people.

  64. SW doesn’t charge for an extra seat for a customer of size,period. Thats why there is an abuse of the policy. People would book 2 seats just because they dont want someone to sit next to them. So no. If you are not big enough,you are not getting a free seat next to you

  65. To ‘Learn The Facts First’-On the SW full website there is an option to select “Customers of Size.” When you click it directs to a page with specific instructions that not only encourage passengers to proactively purchase a second seat in advance, but it also specifically details the procedure for buying a second seat. This is a courtesy to aid the airline in not overbooking flights and ensure no passenger gets left behind.

  66. Yes they most certainly charge for two seats at time of purchase. IF the plane isn’t sold out, the second seat ticket is refunded. I have received refunds 7 out of 9 times, mostly on runs in or out of Kansas City. You do, usually, have to chase the refund but it has never taken more than one call.

  67. The second seat is refundable regardless of whether the flight is sold out or not. Clearly this needs to be monitored by the airline due to policy abuse.

  68. Correct, I was wrong, the second seat is always refunable. Maybe I can find my old paperwork for the seats not refunded. From Southwest Q and A:

    What is Southwest Airlines’ policy for Customers of size?
    Why would a Customer of size purchase a second seat knowing they can get a complimentary second seat at the airport?
    Having a second seat purchased in advance allows us to account for the inventory need and greatly helps reduce the likelihood of an oversale situation (having more confirmed Customers waiting to board than seats on the aircraft). Also, there are a number of Customers who do not want to be approached at the airport or have a conversation with an Agent about their seating needs. These Customers of size prefer to know they have the number of seats they require, and we wanted to give them that choice. We will also refund all extra seat purchases, even if the flight oversells.

  69. Another tip – if you book two seats, you won’t get mobile boarding passes when you check in (you can only print a security document). You can approach a Southwest desk at the gate to get your boarding pass (and the ‘extra seat’ document), but then you have to interact with a human (who might want to question your additional seat). Instead, before going through security, use an automated Southwest kiosk at ticketing to check in and your boarding passes will print without any human interaction required. Then either board during pre-boarding (since your pass will automatically be marked for pre-boarding) or, if you’re A or high B, you shouldn’t have a problem finding two seats together and can just board normally. Of course, if the flight is over-sold, it is possible they might find you to check how big you are too 🙂

  70. The user called “Learn the facts first” is correct — the current Southwest policy is that the price of the second seat always gets refunded, whether the plane is full or not. So, someone who actually *can* fit into one seat might ask for a second seat, just to get an empty seat next to them. That’s what Southwest thought the passenger was doing.

  71. I think the problem is that Southwest lets you pay for the additional seat so they know how many seats are booked, but then they will refund the cost of the additional seat after the flight. So if everyone booked 2 seats and then requested a refund then they would effectively fly the route half full. If there are seats available they give you one complimentary according to this policy. Effectively you could book 2 seats for the price of one on every flight.

    “The purchase of additional seats serves as a notification to Southwest of a special seating need, and allows us to adequately plan for the number of seats that will be occupied on the aircraft. In turn, this helps to ensure we can accommodate all Customers on the flight/aircraft 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 cost of additional seating after travel. “

  72. As someone who has flown at 250, 300 and at 400 (I have weight issues but on the downward push again thankfully) I can attest that while 250 is uncomfortable it is doable on most guys. Where as 400 is damn near impossible. I am very thankful for the policy SouthWest has because while I avoid flying when at my heaviest sometimes you just have to fly. When I get back to 250 I sure as heck am not going to buy the second seat, I look forward to the day when I go to board and they pull me aside and take the extra seat away actually lol.

    Although I will say, shame on all the airlines for forcing people in like sardines.

  73. You guys commenting here are hypocrites. To talk about over weight people and that they should lose weight. It’s not that simple. I’m severely over weight but that’s due to my thyroid problems. I watch what I eat but it’s hard for me to lose weight. You shouldn’t shame people because of their size.

  74. Southwest was in the right here. What the passenger and author fail to mention is that Southwest airlines REFUNDS THE SECOND SEAT purchased by customers of size! They MUST be allowed to use their discretion to deny additional seat purchases based on passenger size because of this generous policy. If they didn’t, it would soon catch on that everyone who claimed to be too large or claustrophobic could secure an empty middle seat. Most of the comments against Southwest have completely missed this fact.

  75. It seems to me since you can request the additional seat fee back that they monitor so that people don’t try to get over by purchasing an unnecessary seat just to be comfortable and then get a refund.

  76. This just happened to my wife and I. I booked the extra seat under my name, which was easier since she is my free companion and pregnant. We’ve had no issues until we flew from PHX to MDW (no refunds ever provided for prior extra seats). The agents at PHX came around the counter and looked me up and down before going back behind the counter to tell me they were canceling my ticket. They just kept repeating that I would be able to get the armrest down. They wouldn’t let my wife rebook the extra seat in her name after canceling mine because she wasn’t fat enough. Then, a large man sat next to me and I couldn’t sit back in my chair for three hours and he elbowed me and encroached on my seat the entire time. I had to raise the armrest and share the seat with my wife. How do they not allow optional purchasing, but at the same time not enforce this for larger people? This created a hazardous situation and if anything, is against their policy of creating a safe and comfortable flight for all passengers.

  77. Hi I’m really shocked about this from Southwest. I fly Southwest because of my size and how easy it is to purchase the extra seat. It is odd that came about as the last time I flew they announced that it was a full flight. Several passengers being the nice people they are started commenting about the flight being full and I was taking up two seats. The flight attendant overheard the comments and told them I had paid for 2 seats and anyone could purchase 2 seats if they wanted. We booked a trip through American Airlines I had to call in to book my tickets because I needed an extra seat. This led to 50 dollars extra on all 3 of our seats because we called in. Then they put us in the bulk head and the arm rest didn’t move so the rude flight attendant announced she needed someone to change seats because I couldn’t fit in one. On the return flight they bumped out original seats and split our 3 seats apart. It was the most horrific, humiliating trip I’ve ever taken. I’m sad to see that happen on Southwest especially after the flight attendant told anyone they could purchase an extra seat if they wanted. It doesn’t make sense, you pay full price for the extra seat so a sold seat doesn’t make a difference.

  78. Colleen- I am a customer of size who always purchases a second seat, and the flight attendants appreciate it. I wish more large people in denial would get the second seat, and the man you mentioned should have been compelled to get a second seat. Sometimes when I watch the people boarding during regular boarding I am in disbelief at the size of some of them and wonder how in the world they think they can fit. Rainy- I think you have to take the flight attendant’s remarks in the context of the incident. People were making rude, obnoxious remarks out of resentment so she had to let them know that you paid for your extra seat due to the policy for customers of size. I don’t think she meant it as a blanket statement for all passengers. It was a heat of the moment situation where she was defending you and also shutting them up at the same time.

  79. Funny, I just had the same thing happen to me. Obviously, nothing has changed for them policy-wise. I have flown Southwest exclusively for all my business and personal travel since I learned of this policy 3-4 years ago. Before that, I would fly first class on another airline. My size has always induced anxiety related to flying, as I do not want to encroach on anyone’s space, or make anyone else uncomfortable.

    Let me be clear. I am classified as morbidly obese according to the BMI charts. I don’t need a seatbelt extender, but struggle sometimes to get it latched. My hips/thighs most definitely encroach on the seat next to me, although I can lower the armrest.

    For my most recent trip, I booked my ticket and an extra seat (at a cost of $425), as per usual. When I approached check-in at my airport, the customer service person called over a supervisor, who began questioning why I needed an extra seat. They then both looked me up and down and told me that they didn’t see that I “required” an extra seat and that I might not receive a refund.

    This “look-over” and subsequent attitude let me to reach out to customer service before I even went through security. This experience was humiliating for me, and I was appalled at the lack of sensitivity shown toward a good customer who was just trying to do the right thing per Southwest’s policy.

    The next day, I received the following email from Southwest:

    “Thank you for contacting us. We appreciate the loyalty you’ve shown us as a Rapid Rewards Member and as a current Companion Pass Customer. I welcome the opportunity to address your concern.

    I regret your disappointment with your interaction with our XXX Customer Service Supervisor (CSS) regarding our Customer of size policy. As you know, Customers who encroach upon any part of the neighboring seat(s) may proactively purchase the needed number of seats prior to travel in order to ensure the additional seat(s) is available. For future reference, please know that the armrest is considered to be the definitive boundary between seats; the width between the armrests measures 17 inches. As such, if a Customer fits comfortably in the seats and does not encroach on other Customers, our Customer of size policy will not apply, and we do not allow Customers to purchase an additional seat solely for the extra room.

    We have given our Agents guidelines for helping them assess if a Customer is in need of a second seat, and we strive to maintain consistency in our application of this policy. Additionally, we expect our Employees to discuss this policy in a polite and discreet manner. With that said, although the information available to me indicates that our CSS did not feel you met the requirements for our Customer of Size policy, we have honored your request for a refund, and a $423.20 credit will be posted within the next 30 days. Please know that we have tracked your feedback via our monthly summary, which is distributed to our Senior Leadership

    It truly saddens us that you are questioning your future patronage of Southwest Airlines. We would love to see you onboard again soon.”

    What Southwest fails to understand is that this policy has brought them business. I can fly any airline I want to, and am a frequent enough customer to have earned a companion pass. It is because of this policy that I have taken less-convenient flights, or driven from a Southwest city to reach my final destination, all because of the ability to proactively purchase a second seat. I have prepaid thousands of dollars in seat costs to have them refunded after travel – some of these trips have been booked several months out. They also don’t understand that this has very little to do with money and refunds. The tone in the email response seems to think it was about getting my money refunded. It’s not. It’s about being able to have a second seat in order to have a comfortable trip for me and for other passengers.

    Because I simply could not believe the way this all went down, I took several pictures on my return trip, which I plan to send to them today. There is no doubt that I encroach on the middle seat from every angle, and anyone who sat there would have an uncomfortable flight. I also am very interested to know about these guidelines they have provided to agents, as they either need amended to someone wasn’t following them.

  80. I’m 6’5” weighing in at 280 and generally travel with my wife who has a mobility handicap. Under these circumstances we generally fly 1st class for comfort. However when we fly Southwest I’ll purchase 3seats. Unfortunately southwest will book the fare , but when time comes to fly we will be given a hard time and stewards will try to fill the empty seat!
    It’s has happened at least 4 times to us. I don’t get it?

  81. Why not just fly Business or First on another carrier? Is it because it is still cheaper to buy three Coach seats on SW than two Business or Coach on a different domestic carrier? At your height I would think you want the extra legroom. A pregnant wife is not eligible for the exit row, and Economy Plus seats are not wide enough but they do have legroom.

  82. My apology Wayne- mea culpa- your wife is mobility impaired, not pregnant. Exit row rule still applies.

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