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.
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 would 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.