Airlines must deal with larger travelers

Q&a

March 05, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

On a flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Detroit in June, an extremely large man lifted up the armrest, sat down and occupied at least one quarter of my space. Would it have been possible to have someone from the airline tell him that he must purchase an additional seat?

Passenger bulk has become an issue for passengers and airlines. Southwest, for one, requires "large people" to purchase a second seat for "safety and comfort."

Some travelers suggest airlines should adopt a total weight system, under which passengers would be weighed with their baggage. It makes sense when you think that airlines have to compute the total weight of passengers, crew, baggage, meals and fuel in their cost-efficiency calculations.

Belinda Fogg, a reader in Tokyo, agrees. "On a flight from Auckland [New Zealand] to Tokyo, my baggage weighed in at 10 kilograms over the limit; but the carrier waived a $300 excess fee, probably because the plane was only half full. However, as I weigh only 53 kilograms, if you added 10 kilograms to my body weight I would still be lighter than many of my fellow passengers. Why don't airlines devise rules whereby they weigh people and their bags together?"

Let us not forget the plight of tall, thin passengers. M. Massimo in New York writes, "I am 6-foot-2 with a back problem, and cramped seats in economy give me a lot of pain. So is it possible to buy two or three economy seats as an alternative to an expensive business class fare?" British Airways, Continental, Delta and Virgin Atlantic confirm they accept such bookings. ("As many seats as you like," a Continental spokesman says.)

But make sure that your seats are pre-assigned -- and together. I've heard of one wide-bodied traveler who found that the two seats he had reserved for himself were on either side of the aisle. It is also wise to book directly with the airline and check on the aircraft type. You will have one ticket for all the seats you book. You can check seating plans and get an advance assignment, online or through your travel agent. Seat pitch, width and angle of recline vary according to which carrier you choose. Some seats offer more legroom than others (especially in cattle class). Airline sites are often less than forthcoming. Check with Skytrax Research, www.airlinequality.com, which offers seating tips for 325 airlines. Flatseats.com compares first- and business-class "lie-flat" beds and (nearly horizontal) "angled flat-seats." At seatguru.com, you can learn which seats you should avoid on many major airlines. The site also has links to seat maps provided by some airlines.

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