Meeting The Need for Wider Seats (Guest Post)

I thought this made for a very interesting guest post. How wider seats could find their way on to airplanes…

The most difficult part of traveling for someone who is fat is in fact the traveling itself. I’m no small person, but thankfully I’m not OVERLY huge. But I still dread getting on an airplane if my upgrade doesn’t clear, or there’s someone in the middle seat. I stand at 6’1 and clock in at just over 300 pounds – so I’m someone you probably wouldn’t choose to sit by (which makes flying Southwest Airlines a bit more comfy for me). I’m also a frequent flier and spent 14 years in the business so I’ve been able to experience being fat on both sides. Airlines are squeezing us in with each new seat design or aircraft as we, in general, get wider.

So how do I fly? Carefully. I’m normally apologetic to the person next to me, even though I really don’t spill over too much. I move my arms so that my larger build doesn’t spill over on to their seat, which means I look like a human pretzel for 3 hours. When I was a Premier Executive with United, it meant the middle seat was blocked unless they absolutely needed it. Nowadays I find a safe haven in Alaska Airlines emergency exit rows, where the middle seats tend to be the LAST given out… and its worked out well. As someone who has spent hundreds of hours in the air, my only saving grace are airlines that put 2 seats next to an exit instead of 3, such as on Alaska and Southwest 737-700s – I then snag what is normally the middle seat, and have open ‘air’ between me and the door. This allows me to put the outer armrest up and as an added bonus, I now have a 2nd tray table for my laptop.

Two Seat Exit Row

I’ve done every diet out there, I exercise on a regular basis, I’ve tried my best to reduce my sugar intake but my weight has just been slowly weaning off. My office job certainly doesn’t help, nor did spending 5 years on the road working for the airline in sales – which meant sleeping in hotels each night and enjoying their ‘free’ breakfast or finding the nearest fast food since I probably had to be on the road after waking up.

But I still get that ‘LOOK’ from people when I board. That ‘LOOK’ also makes it easy to spot my seatmate during boarding … they’re typically the one looking for their seat and getting wide eyes once they spot me at the aisle or window – knowing I am now their teddy bear for the next 5 hours. Fortunately I still fit in a seat per all of the airline Customer of Size policies, and don’t need a seat belt extender. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to get healthier. I just wish the airlines could offer something better, outside of fighting with the other 50 elites for a free upgrade.

So after reading a story about a 50 year old person who died in Hungary, my brain started getting into creative mode. This passenger had tried to fly back to New York but was denied boarding by 3 airlines because she physically couldn’t fit in the seats, or it took too long to get her in the seats. She got big from a medical condition and was seeing a doctor in her home state of New York for treatment – but she was maybe 5’5″ and 425 pounds. She never made it to New York and passed away in her native Hungary.

My airline job function was always one of creativity, so I’d like to offer my service for FREE to anyone listening: consider a Big Comfort seat. Yup. Something you can sell, and something myself and thousands of travelers would pay for. And the airlines won’t even need to remove other seats to make it work.

The Big Comfort Seat
Those 737 seats I just mentioned, row 16 on Alaska – why not redesign those seats to be 2 inches wider at the armrest? That would give the seat a 19″ width – which is normally plenty for someone who is 300 – 400 pounds. You could also install these seats on Airbus A321 and Boeing 757 aircraft where there is only a set of 2 seats next to the exit door.

FAA rules presently have requirements that exit row passengers cannot use a seat belt extension for safety reasons, so this isn’t a perfect solution. There A330 Cabin Taperwould have to be a limit as to how big a person could be in these rows, but there are other options.

Many widebody aircraft taper off in the back and end up having one less seat in each row back there. Why not have a transition of 4 seats to 3 seats become 2 rows of 3 wider seats with the same concept? Right now, that’s wasted space.

As airlines have upgraded their business class products, it has left quite the gap between Economy and Business – to the point where most middle and even lower-upper class American’s can’t afford business class. My trip to Dubai last year was in Emirates Business (and First) – would have cost $12,000, while an economy class ticket in a 3 x 4 x 3 configuration hovered around $1,300. That’s $11,000 for more comfort, not something many can afford. However, I’d pay a few hundred for a wider seat on long-haul flights and maybe $100 more on domestic flights.

Unfortunately premium economy isn’t quite the answer as some airlines are doing it with more legroom and some are going even a step further and making them more like business class with enhanced service. Many of us just want more width!

Until the airlines get CREATIVE with an idea like the “Big Comfort” seat, then people like me are just going to have to take sleeping pills or something to numb the pain as we slip into our seats, or start dieting a week before we fly, or not flying at all.


Nate Vallier is one of our Cranky Concierges and blogs at EAS Flights.

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49 Comments on "Meeting The Need for Wider Seats (Guest Post)"

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PH
Guest
An easier option that still allows airlines to sell the maximum number of seats is to allow buying a guaranteed empty middle seat as an add-on to your economy cabin seat. This allows very flexible inventory management — no equipment change is ever needed. Even more flexibility exists for the airlines if the expectation can be set that your advance seat selection guarantees you a window or an aisle seat but not necessarily precisely which row. That allows airlines to shuffle such passengers around on close-to-full flights such that very few or zero passengers receive an empty middle seat unless… Read more »
DesertGhost
Guest

This is much of the reason I’ve usually found Airbus or McDonald Douglas aircraft to be more comfortable than Boeings. The seats tend to be wider because there’s more room to work with. That’s why I miss the old Midwest Airlines. For my money, economy plus should or could be about wider seats, not more legroom in a couple of rows of the aircraft. I would pay extra for the comfort, especially on long flights. Most people won’t. And therein lies the rub.

DesertGhost
Guest

The seats at the University of Phoenix stadium are about the same width as airline seats. So narrow seats aren’t limited to airlines. Sports teams want to pack them in, too.

mj625c
Member

Yeah, well try those narrow, no leg-room seats on for size at the Rose Bowl. They are so close together that anyone over 5 feet tall is going to have to put his/her feet in the seats in front of them or else stand. I’m a 5’10” 155 pound woman. Not fat, not particularly tall. But I won’t go to theRose Bowl until they reconfigure seat sizes.

David SF eastbay
Member
I said this last week that with Americans getting bigger if enough start complaining to their elected officials in Washington, the feds may one day pass a law that seats must be a certain size. The airlines don’t like the feds telling them what to do, but if they don’t start getting their act together on their own, one day they may not have a choice. What needs to be done is make a three seat that can be converted to two seats anywhere on the plane. Not saying I know how that would be done, but it’s a thought.… Read more »
jeremy anderson
Guest

Spirit already has this. Its called the “Big Front Seat”. They charged me $15 for an assigned BFS from OAK to LAS. For an hour flight to Vegas no way I would pay first class cost on a legacy. I am a small man at 5’5″ and 120 pounds, but even I find the BFS to be worth $15 extra on my fare.

I think united charges that for an assigned coach seat, and Southwest charges $10 for Early checkin (usually a high A boarding pass).

Oliver
Guest

Naa, United doesn’t charge for assigning a coach seat. Yet.

haolenate
Guest
Jeremy, the BFS is a bit different as they also give you more legroom, plus they these seats are mainly only the 1st row of the aircraft. Only the A319s (the ones that remain) have multiple rows, and at one point they did have a bit different service than the rest of the plane. One of the points I wanted to get across is there’s some unused real estate in airplanes that could be used for “wider” seats for people of width. Look at any 757 with 4 doors – the 3rd set behind the wings – if airlines put… Read more »
Sanjeev M
Guest

Bombardier hinted at this in their CSeries where the middle seat is wider than the rest. Initially it was a “comfort” feature but then they also pushed it as a possible ancillary.

Maybe Americans of size should focus on getting in shape (I don’t mean the people who are large due to medical reasons). There are enough normal sized people for the airlines to not worry about any of this.

BW
Guest

That’s it! Fat people should focus on getting in shape! Why didn’t anyone else think of that?

haolenate
Guest

I know, right?! Not to bait the poster, but Sanjeev, are you overweight or have you known anyone that’s not quite “perfect” sized? Fortunate for me I’ve lost a good chunk of weight but still have a ways to go..

Sanjeev M
Guest
Sorry I didn’t mean to hate on larger people, but unless its a medical condition that’s making them large, its a controllable condition. I feel bad for these people and I do know people who are overweight. I’m very thin but tall (6’2), so does that mean I should get economy plus and exit row seats for free? Granted, it is physically easier for an airline to provide more legroom cost effectively than it is to provide more seat width. Something interesting would be a staggered row configuration e.g. alternating 3-2 on each side of the aisle for Economy Plus.… Read more »
haolenate
Guest
Well for starters, I don’t mention FREE anywhere in the article… there’s an opportunity to pay for it. And sometimes the cost between a premium cabin and economy is just TOO big. Airlines are charging for everything, so why not charge more for some extra waist room?! Regarding First Class, I have bought 5 this year, but as I commented earlier, what happens when I change my flight? Try looking at JNU-ANC/SEA today, tomorrow, or even Saturday and show me where you have F open on all the flights that day. Alaska, like some airlines, tend to dump all of… Read more »
sjc user
Guest
I’m 6′ and 240#, but I have had DVT in the past. So, while seat width isn’t a primary issue for me, seat pitch is and until recently, there wasn’t too much you could do except hope the exit row is available. It’s been nice to see that UA, DL, and soon AA will have seats with more pitch, which is helpful for transcons and other domestic flights. If I was to fly international again, it would have to be on an airline with a real premium economy cabin. There is no way I could sit in coach for 10+… Read more »
CS
Guest

From an egress standpoint; I?d rather not have a 300 ? 400 pound person in the wing exit row.

jonathan reed
Guest

What a great idea to have wider seats when the plane tapers.

noahkimmel
Member
The tough part for airlines is that seats are installed on tracks, anot not sure if different sized seats could be easily and cheaply retrofitted. Additionally, it is beneficial for cost and maintenance purposes to limit the number of different types of seats. I recall Airbus a awhile back publishing something about a32X using its bigger aisle vs. 737 to include one larger seat in the row (I think it was airbus, but might have been a CSeries ad). Doing this across all 20-35 rows would likely allow enough scale to make the idea palatable to airlines (and provide a… Read more »
noahkimmel
Member

Cranky even had a post about it!
http://crankyflier.com/2012/06/05/i-wouldnt-expect-to-see-the-new-wider-airbus-aisle-seat-anytime-soon/

Interesting that 737 avg 17″ wide, while a32X avg 18″ wide. I would have thought it would be standardized by seat manufacturers. But I suppose there is a large enough market for both

djsk
Guest
Don’t beat yourself up. the seats are too narrow and not built for the average person, at least not the average american male. And the 10 abreast 777 bright idea, 6 hour 737 flights, and anything else with 17 inches on long haul is crazy. E+ never made sense to me, I’d take the width over the leg room any day. E- in the back with an open middle is far better than being packed shoulder to shoulder with elites. With Boeing seemingly on a quest to give the 737 tube a 100 year production run, it probably won’t get… Read more »
toliverjr
Member
Ahhh, a poster with above average shoulders, wisdom and reading comprehension (which here seems desperately low). Unfortunately, seats designed for “average” pax may be inadequate in size for us “above averagers”, not by weight and girth, but simply by shoulder width, a problem encountered by an increasing number of folks raised on whole milk and exercise. “IMT”‘s bad enough, but not nearly as bad as “Inadvertent Cart/Carryon Contact” as my broad shoulders are battered by passing FAs and bag-carrying pax. I guess the next time the beverage carts make a dramatic impact with my shoulder, I’ll simply take the blow,… Read more »
JBM
Guest
Wider seats in the emergency exit row are prohibited by federal airworthiness regulatory standards (as with most things airline related, when something seems obvious, check the regs!). In this case, it’s 14 CFR 25.813(c)(ii) – the space by the window must not be narrower than the width of the narrowest seat installed on the aircraft. So you still need the 17-18″ between the seats and the door, no matter the width of the seat pair. As for wider seats where the aircraft tapers, there are a lot of hidden costs involved in having a distinct seat design. Seat track mounting,… Read more »
JUDY NAGY
Guest

Someone who weighs 300 pounds needs to buy two seats on an airplane or fly in first class. What part of this truth is unclear to anyone? It doesn’t matter WHY people are overweight or how they feel about it. What matters is their making other people suffer on a flight. If you encroach on the next guy in any way, YOU have to solve the problem, not the airline, not your fellow passengers.

davidthomson_98
Member

Agree 100% on that!

haolenate
Guest

Judy, actually I have… 5 paid F trips in 2012. One issue we have in Juneau is that Alaska pretty much puts all seats out for upgrade, so any last minute changes throws me back in coach, which has happened. I tried to change a O’Hare – Seattle – Juneau flight, also booked in revenue F, and couldn’t because they had 0 F seats open SEA-JNU the day I needed to get back. So what then? Should Alaska then give me 2 seats in Y? (as stated, I do fit OK)

toliverjr
Member
At 73, although still 6’1″, 240, not that much above my “playing weight”, but an inch shorter, “Y” seat width is anguish for me (and it’s not just the seat itself). With an aisle seat which works best, my shoulder is well into the aisle in most “Y” configurations, leaving me to be inevitably battered by carts, if not carryons. Add the discomfort of those seated next to me, having to put up with a bit of my other shoulder. Tight “Pitch” provides no relief in the form of “wiggle room”, and my only blessing is a petite wife with… Read more »
nicnorris
Member

Are you 100% certain that seat-belt extensions cannot be used in the emergency exit rows per FAA regulations, because, as a flight attendant, I know that my airline DOES allow them. It goes against all good common sense and rational thought, but we’re prohibited from making a scene that would cause someone to be embarrassed or distressed due to their weight. We were told it does not go against the FAR’s and I’d be happy to know the exact FAR and where to find it.

And for the record, I agree with Judy Nagy.

davidthomson_98
Member
Your idea about increasing exit seats a few inches where there are only 2 vs 3 seats wont fly. We all (the FAA too) want nimble quick passengers in those seats and (no offense at all intended) if you´re at 300lbs, you are in all probability not nimble, will struggle to get out of your seat and hopefully don’t have to squeeze to much to get out of the escape hatch, and cause the death of others behind you who cant make it out on time. It may sound cruel but I am just stating facts. I see your plight,… Read more »
JBM
Guest

Chris – there is nothing in 14 CFR 121.585 that prohibits seat belt extensions in the exit row.

It’s an airline by airline decision, but it may be built into the airline manuals as a way of reducing workload on the airport team. Where it’s not prohibited, the airline’s airport personnel have to make decisions on a case by case basis.

Southwest for example prohibits – http://www.southwest.com/html/customer-service/inflight-experience/emergency-exit.html

Kris
Guest
I also agree. Cultural/personal reasons aside, there needs to be a bright-line rule that any weight over a certain figure must purchase a second seat, period. Just as many places ID everyone when they buy beer regardless of their perceived age, weigh everyone, even the lean, and over time, the novelty of it all will, like anything else, wear off. If you fall into that tiny fragment of individuals who cannot control their obesity, that’s the way it goes; life isn’t fair. I cannot see well so I have to pay plenty each year for contacts. The man next to… Read more »
davidthomson_98
Member

Thanks for that Khris. I couldn’t agree more. This stupid political correctness carried to extremes has got to stop. It is not discrimination, ignorance or insensitivity, it is scientific fact and some Americans need to wake up, smell the coffee and drastically change their lifestyle to one that has endured up until the last few decades so they can start enjoying life.

Sally Smith
Guest
I appreciate this guest post from an overweight passenger who is sensitive to the situation. I’ve read hundreds of blog posts where individuals are hostile to those who are overweight or obese. Flying is not fun. I’m a 5ft. 11″ female with very long legs and wide shoulders, but weigh 155 lbs which is about right for my height although I’m a bit thin. However, unless I’m in first class, a bulkhead or emergency row seat, flying is painful. My legs are always pushed into the seat in front of me. Because of my wide shoulders, my arms span the… Read more »
jboekhoud
Member
It’s posters like Kris who make me glad I don’t live in the good ol’ U.S. of A. In most developed countries, people with “inherent disabilities” as you call them are in fact protected from discrimination. Those Swedes you lived with may not approve of obesity, but they’d happily give you glasses for your bad eyesight and provide medication for that man next to you with the chronic illness. In Canada, the airlines provide a second seat free of charge to fat passengers too. It’s kind of a trade – you subsidize my fat ass/diabetes/missing leg, I subsidize your glasses.… Read more »
JUDY NAGY
Guest

I knew my politically incorrect comments would ignite a good discussion. For the record, I am only 5’10” but have the legs of a basketball player. I am super-careful to book large airplanes for all my travels. ButI have spent thousands of dollars re-booking tix if the equipment changes to a small plane, I can’t even get my legs into the seats. And there is absolutely nothing I can do about it; I can’t “lose the legs” like an overweight person loses the weight.

judynagy
Guest

TMO reminded me of a strategy we used to employ … buying 3 seats in coach. Besides my legs, my shoulders are exactly as wide as a coach seat … many of you know what I’m talking about. You have to be a little brazen during the boarding process, as “they” keep trying to put someone in “your” seat, but most FAs get it. The ability to sit a bit sideways duriing the flight makes it acceptable … it’s the wiggle room that really makes a huge difference.

Jeff
Guest

Unless the wider seats are in the last row or ahead of the bulkhead, you would have a different problem. The underseat storage space for personal belongings and/or legroom for the “normal” rows would not be in alignment.

Brian
Guest

Am I missing something? I think the wider seat option is called business/first class. And the guaranteed second (adjoining) seat option exists as well: just book two seats and pay for an advance seat assignment.

I’m not trying to be snarky, but more room costs more money. The amount of money it costs to have that wider space is the cost of two seats or a first class seat. Airlines would charge more even if they sold the BCS solution suggested above.

Kris
Guest
As long as any so-called “revenue opportunity” is optional, the problem will persist exactly as it does now. Plenty of large passengers will choose to just “tough it out” rather than pay more. So no matter how clever the ideas – charging more for wider seats where the plane tapers (what about all the aircraft types that don’t taper?), charging more for two seats, etc. – nothing changes so long as this is the passenger’s decision to make. Once again: you need a bright-line rule across the board or the problem will continue to persist at the whim of either… Read more »
Eric C
Guest

Sadly the 737MAX ensures we’ll have 1960’s width seats well in to the 2030’s.

I think some airlines have a 3/2 convertible seat. The three-wide coach seats can be converted with minimum hassle to a 2-wide “first class” seat. I’m not sure how comfortable such a thing could be made, but it could be worthwhile having a row or two on many planes. Sell them at, say, 1.6x the cost of a single seat for 1, or 1.5x for two.

I wonder if it would cannibalize first class sales?

Kris
Guest
There is a huge problem here: the author takes for granted that just because he and other overweight travelers would pay for a solution that provided them more space, the reality is that many won?t. As long as it is up to the individual whims of the passenger or even airline personnel, the problem will persist exactly as it has. The problem isn?t the inability to dream up clever so-called ?revenue opportunities?; it?s about devising a solution that actually addresses the problem of overweight passengers taking up more than their fair share of the space included on a standard ticket.… Read more »
jaybru
Member
My guess is that what see today as the “overweight” passenger will be the “normal” passenger of tomorrow, tomorrow being sometime very, very soon. (Have you you checked out the size of kids today in elementary school? They’ll be the airline passengers of times just around the corner and almost certainly they’ll be wider than we are today.) The airline industry has been fabulous in getting us a wonderfully efficient and safe aircraft. But, as has been pointed out here, the design of the seats and seat placement is not quite what we believe we need to fly comfortably. Each… Read more »
David M
Guest
Some airlines do have a premium economy cabin that offers wider seats. EVA Air is the example I can think of off the top of my head, though their Elite Class seats are only 1″ (18″ instead of 17″) while pitch jumps from 33″ to 40″. They use 2-4-2 in Elite Class and 3-3-3 in Economy class on the 777. For a round trip LAX-TPE on dates I checked in February 2013, it’s $442 extra to upgrade from Economy to Elite Class. For a pair of flights that end up running about 25 hours in the air, that could well… Read more »
DKmomus
Guest

Hi Nate, love the post! No real comment except to say that I dig your posting handle (‘haolenate’). As someone who spends time in Hawaii, I recognize that term. Love that you embrace it! :-D That is, if that *is* your intention.

B757capt
Guest

Cranky pass on to Nate that he should allow comments on his blog postings. I have been reading his blog for a long time but we can’t comment.

Eric
Guest
Fantastic post Nate! Definitely like the idea of creating wider seats in the back of widebody aircraft. One more idea – on planes like the A320, jetblue took out extra rows of seats to stay below 150 passengers and reduce the number of flight attendants needed. Why not create options of wider seats vs. more legroom seats for an additional cost. The MD80s/MD90s and 717s are planes that are normally 5 across in economy and 4 across in business. Why not create an extra wide economy section with less legroom. There will likely be people willing to pay 25% more.… Read more »
Laurel
Guest
If years ago there had been a standard minimum seat size of 21″ wide and leg room enough for a 6’2 man to comfortably stretch out, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion today. The airlines are all about greed and indifference to anyone over 5’0 tall and 110 pounds when it comes to designing seats. And those numbers aren’t NORMAL. Even what passes for first or business class in some airlines is narrower than 20″ wide. It’s disgusting. I only wish Singapore Airlines flew from LAX to JFK, sigh… It’d me me in first class, finally comfortable on a… Read more »
RaflW
Guest

The Embraer 170/190s often have wider seats than Boeing or (shudder) Canadairs. They definitely do on Delta.

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