How Do I Know If I Will Fit In An Airline Seat? may earn a small commission when you use one of the links on this page to purchase.

how do i know if i will fit in an airline seat

With all the advancements in technology, travel is easier than ever.  More and more people are able to visit new countries.  Everyone should be able to experience international travel.

If you intend to travel internationally, you will most likely need to fly on a plane.  While this is exciting, it might lead you to ask,

How do I know if I will fit in an airline seat?

For bigger people, this can be a huge turnoff from traveling by plane!  But, I’ve got you covered!

The best way to know if you will fit in an airline seat is to do your research in advance.  While most standard seats have a width of 17″-18″, they all vary.   Every airplane model has different seat sizes and layouts.   In addition, every airline will have a different policy for seating plus-sized passengers.

Let’s talk about some of the challenges you might face and what to expect when flying.

Are Airplane Seats Smaller Than They Used To Be?

If you don’t fit easily into a typical 21st-century airplane seat, don’t feel bad!  The seats on commercial airplanes keep getting smaller and smaller.

If we take a look back in time, we can see that as flying became more popular, seats became less spacious.  From a purely financial standpoint, this made sense.  The more seats you could squeeze onto a plane, the more fares you could charge.  Back in the 1950s or the “Golden Age” of flying, you could enjoy a lavish meal and a comfy, wide solitary seat, even while sitting in economy class.  But now things are different.

Many planes have evolved to add extra seats to rows, add extra rows, and decrease the overall space for passengers.  So we know that these seats now are SMALL!  But how small are they, and how do you know if you will fit into one?

How Big Are Seats On Most Airplanes?

I am always surprised when I get on a plane!  It seems like no matter how many times you have flown with an airline before, they always seem to be changing their seats!

But, there is a reason that I feel this way.  The seats on the airplanes aren’t related to the airline as much as they are related to the airplane itself.

That means that even though you might fly United a lot, you could easily get a different model plane each time, with a different seating layout.

How Are Seats Measured?

Seats on airplanes are measured in two different ways, width, and pitch!  With these two measurements, you should be able to get a pretty good idea of which seats you will fit into best!

Width or course measures the distance between the two armrests of a seat.  Pitch is probably a less familiar term for you!  Pitch is a measure of the distance from one seat to the same spot on the seat directly in front.   So this basically describes how much room you have when you sit down and lean back in your seat.

As you can imagine the width is a very important number to know!  Many airplanes have armrests that move up and down, but some seats have stationary dividers.  When the armrests on the seats are permanent this can be a big problem for big people!

How Do You Find The Seat Sizes?

Most commercial planes will have a seat width of anywhere between 17″ and 19″.  The best way to know for sure what size your seats will be is to do your research ahead of time!

This table shows some of the most commonly used aircraft in the U.S.  You can see that the width and pitch vary a bit.

Aircraft Economy Seat Width Business Seat Width Seat Pitch
McDonnell Douglas MD-80  17.8” NA 31”
Embraer ERJ-145 17” NA 32”
Embraer ERJ-175 18.2” – 19.3” 19.9” 32”
Canadair RJ900 16.55” – 17.33” 19.6” 30” – 31”
Airbus A319-A321 16.5” – 18” 21” 30” – 31”
Boeing 737-800 15.9” – 17.3” 20.4” – 21” 31” – 32”

If you don’t see your aircraft on this table, calling the airline directly is a sure way to get accurate information.

I don’t know about you, but to me, these seats don’t seem very big.  Even the business class seats are about 1 inch wider.  And then you might still have to worry about your seat belt not buckling!

How Long Are The Seatbelts?

Just like with seat size, seatbelt size also varies by airline and aircraft! And I’m always a little stressed when it comes to getting something to fit around my waist- whether we’re talking about a fanny pack, a pair of pants or a seatbelt!

Unfortunately, seatbelt lengths are extremely variable.  On average, seatbelt lengths fall anywhere between 40″ and 55″ in length.

There is good news for us though!

All airlines provide seatbelt extenders for plus-size passengers.   These seat belt extenders can do a lot for your comfort level during the flight!  Alaska Airlines, for example, offers a seat belt extension that adds on a whopping 25″ of length!  Combine this with their 46″ long seat belts, and you have a belt that can reach up to 81″ of length.

How Do You Get A Seat Belt Extender?

If you already know ahead of time that you would like a seat belt extender, the easiest thing to do is ask right away.

As you’re boarding the plane, and the flight attendants greet you, just let them know you would like an extender.  They might give you the extender straight away, or they might come give it to you after you’re seated.  Either way, it’s no problem to ask up front!  Even if you don’t end up needing it, it will save you some trouble in the long run, and you can always give it back.

There are some seatbelt extenders that you can purchase before flying, so that you have your own, comfortable version on hand.  In this video you can see an example of a personal seat belt extender and hear about how this woman used it!

This is a cool idea, but there isn’t actually any guarantee you can bring your own extender on your flight!  An airline has the right to deny your extender for safety reasons.

With all of these rules, regulations, and measurements, it can feel really daunting to even think about booking a flight!

So, what if you’re a size 20, 22, or 24?  How will you even fit into one of these seats?

What If You Don’t Fit?

My worst nightmare is getting on a plane and finding out I don’t fit into a single seat.  The way that I am able to avoid this is by doing extra research ahead of time.

Measure yourself while sitting down and decide if you could comfortably fit into your seat.  If you’re not comfortable or you are encroaching on the other passenger’s space next to you, you just might not fit into a single seat.

If you find out you won’t fit in a single-seat, there are a few things you can do in advance.

Some airlines will allow you to purchase a second seat in advance under your name if you are considered plus-sized.  United, for example, has a policy for passengers who require extra seating.

Seating Policies Vary By Airline.

When booking with United, you can purchase a second seat at the same price as your first seat, as long as they are booked together.  You should make sure to book these seats ahead of time.  Otherwise, you will be charged for the one-way fare on the day of the flight, which might be very expensive.

Hawaiian Airlines, on the other hand, will do its best to accommodate you if you don’t fit into an individual seat.  This means that with an empty flight you might be able to have two seas for the price of one if you need.  If Hawaiin Airlines isn’t able to accommodate you, they offer free flight transfers.

Southwest makes a valiant effort by offering to refund the purchase of the second seat if your flight isn’t full.  This means you would still need to purchase two seats in advance, but you could possibly receive a refund for that extra seat!

Do Policies Vary By Country?

At this point, I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that plus-size policies also vary by country!

The U.S. seems to leave policy decisions up to the airlines themselves.  Other countries have more optimistic solutions for bigger bodies!

In Canada, you can expect to receive no extra charges for taking up a little more space than a smaller person.  Canada airlines consider obesity in the same way they consider a disability.  Because of this, you might need to provide a recent Doctor’s note and exam.  But, you are not punished for the extra eight you carry and will fall under the country’s “One Person One Fare” program.  This will ensure you only pay for one ticket, even if you need two seats.

In Australia, it is illegal to charge a person a higher fare because they take up more space on a plane.

Will Flying Fat Ever Get Easier?

I have high hopes for the future of commercial flights!

Recently, a TikTok went viral of a woman experiencing emotional damage while on a flight.  This TikTok was created by a plus-size travel blogger and seen by millions of people.  In this video, you can see how the bathrooms on her flight are too small for her to use, the lap tray doesn’t go all the way down, and she doesn’t fit into the seat well at all.

I hope that experiences like these can encourage airlines to take a good look at their seating options and at the very least, stop downsizing them!

Until that happens, make sure you always do your research ahead of time but that’s not always easy. While places like Universal Studios and Disney theme parks are ahead of the curve with tester seats for bigger folks, airlines are a bit behind which makes the entire process more stressful.

You can save yourself some stress and potentially some money by doing this and by flying with a fat-friendly airline.

Camila R.

Camila is a body positive blogger and fat activist that's focused on helping people of all sizes live life big! That means accepting yourself at any size and just enjoying life! She lives in New Mexico with her husband and two chihauhuas.

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