Day in the Life: Buying Plane Tickets

Vacation planning can include flying, and this year we’re flying about 6 hours each way.   Coach seats tend to be 17″ across.  First class can be up to 23″ wide, but  I have 68″ hips.  Now, I am an apple, so a lot of that 68″ is depth not width.  Still, even first class is a tight fit for me.  On a 6-hr flight.

The man of the house has other issues.  He’s not as fat as I am, but has broader shoulders and is taller, and is very aware that coach rows are 4 or 5 inches closer together than first class.

Solution: We purchased 3 coach round-trip plane tickets for November, seats DEF in a row with moveable armrests.  Officially the extra seat is mine, but in practice we’ll share the extra space.  Making the actual reservations involved a call to Alaska Airlines, because the website balked at letting me put the same name on 2 seats.  I also learned a few things that may be of interest:

  • Because I am a person of size buying an extra seat due to my size,  about $26 in taxes were waived for the extra seat.
  • Because I am a person of size buying an extra seat due to my size, if there is at least one unused seat on my flights, I can get the cost of the extra seat refunded.

For me, this is a good solution.  It’s a solution I’d consider if the coach seats were 24″ wide, actually, as long as the armrests go up.   6 hours is LONG time.

  • We’ll have more room to move around.
  • I’ll have two seats to put bags underneath.  (Not all cities have stores that stock clothing in my size, which adds an extra horror to lost luggage. The man of the house wears a readily available size.)
  • I can maneuver between the narrow coach rows, so if he needs the aisle to get in/out that’s okay.
  • Fewer surprises at the gate.  We bought the extra seat already; if they try to split my seats I can bring quite the moral outrage of how we paid extra to have the space required.  If it does come to that, the fact that I’m superfat is in my favor.  I’ve overheard gate attendents discussing  “This person has 2 seats, do they really need them?”  before I check in — and then suddenly it’s “No, those 2 seats must stay together….”

This does require the money to buy an extra plane ticket.  Not everyone does.  It requires some research.  This might not work as well if I had children to sit with or more serious mobility issues; if we both needed aisle seats, for example.

As always, SeatGuru is very helpful in looking up seat sizes.

35 thoughts on “Day in the Life: Buying Plane Tickets

  1. I fly this way every time; I love having the extra space. And 7 out of 8 times I’ve flown recently, I got the extra seat refunded. And with Southwest, I get to pre-board. I call this old-fat-lady-privilege.

    • Yeah. I’ll miss some of the first class perks this way but not enough to pay the extra $500 or so it would take to have 2 first class tickets instead of 3 coach.

      See also: “It’s amazing how much mature wisdom resembles being too tired.” ~ Robert Heinlein.

  2. I can more or less fit into a standard seat, but on my last cross-Atlantic trip I bought two seats. I called it “poor man’s first class”.

    • And, you know, it’s the ones who can fit into a standard seat (but tightly) who can end up with the most hassles. Sure, I get glares for daring to venture into a plane (I’ve gotten some of the worst in first class). But an inbetweenie is going to get a lot more subjective treatment, depending on the type of day the other persons in his or her row have had, how attractive they think the inbetweenie is, and so forth .

      • Yep… I’m more inbetweenie and my husband is large but not fat (very wide shoulders, but very slim waist) and on two occasions when we’ve tried to purchase 3 seats to share between us the gate agent has taken the third seat away. Then we took shit from the flight attendant because my husbands shoulders were sticking out into the isle when she tried to push the cart by… well, duh. The only time it ever worked was when I was walking with a cane due to an arthritis flare up and made it clear that I absolutely could not keep my knees bent for 8 hours. Frankly, even then it was a major hassle… Sometimes it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t with the airlines.

        I’m glad it works for you and it’s certainly worth a try for anyone who can afford it and would rather not spend the whole flight being treated like some evil space hog.

          • Yes, we got a refund. One flight was overbooked and our seat was “reassigned” to a person who had also bought a seat that didn’t exist. We had the option of taking a later flight, but since they weren’t bumping two people, they would charge a change fee for two of our three tickets. In the second case a person who was unable to fit in a seat, but had not purchased a second seat was basically forced to buy our seat or get bumped (we fit, we’re just damned uncomfortable, this gentleman could not fit at all). We weren’t happy about it, but… well, basically he needed it more than we did.

            I’m not a fan of the whole concept, but if they’re going to charge per seat rather than per passenger, then I think once they sell a seat it should be utterly up to me what I do with it… including buying three all for myself just because I want to spread out.

            • This is part of why I hate flying – the whole “Our lack of planning is now your problem” part. Ain’t my fault they sold too many seats. And it sure as hell ain’t my fault some guy didn’t plan ahead. :(

              That said, I am fortunate to have a job where if I get bumped? I get bumped, not fired.

              • Yeah, I was actually torn between being PO’ed at the guy who got “our” extra seat for not planning or saying, “well, why the hell should he HAVE to plan ahead just because airlines are too stupid to get that people come in different sizes?”

                To be honest, I’m still not sure where I come down on that one… I mean, if you are far too large for an airline seat, then surely you know it, right? We’re fat, not dumb. Yet… if he wants to make a statement by forcing gate agents to scramble a bit, I guess I can understand that (I don’t think it will work, but I sort of get doing it). Though really I suspect he had just hoped/assumed there would be enough empty seats to accommodate him.

                Also, in this case we weren’t traveling for business, we were travelng for pleasure and didn’t want to sacrifice our vacation tim to the arilines idiocy. And there again is one that makes me crazy that they even ask WHY you’re traveling. What business is it of theirs? Why is someone’s scam of a conference (not saying all conferences are scams, but I’ve been to a few!) more important than my long planned and expensive vacation? Of course, that’s a whole ‘nother rant…

                • Re: work vs vacation, I often didn’t care about being bumped if I’m on the way BACK from traveling for work. But then when I traveled for work it was for a company that would pay for hotel / changes if I DID get bumped ;)

  3. I hadn’t considered purchasing two seats for myself. One of the reasons I cancelled a recent flight plan was concern about hassle at check-in regarding my size. What a simple solution. Thank you for posting this!

  4. I’ve bought extra seats online a lot – you’re absolutely right, the software won’t let you put exactly the same name on both seats. What I always did was use an extension: Myfirstname Mylastname/EXST

    EXST = extra seat

    Went right through, charged me as usual.

    I am so sorry to hear the stories of the extra seat being taken away after you paid for it! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, and that looks like fraud to me.

    My other favorite hint, if you can’t afford an extra seat and you are traveling with someone: when you select seats, choose a row as far as possible towards the back of the plane and reserve the aisle and window seats. Planes are generally loaded front to back, aisle and window first. So the middle seats in the back are the most likely to remain empty if the plane is not full.

    If it is, I have yet to find someone who wouldn’t gladly trade their middle seat for an aisle or a window so you can sit next to your companion. So even in the worst case, you’re no worse off than you would have been, and you might win big :).

    • Yeah, my name is down as “Exst Mylastname”. I think I’ll still call to book tickets, just to be sure it’s correctly flagged in the system as what it is (the agent told me she was adding a note that it’s a “must buy 2 seats” case).

      I’ve also heard of cello players reserving an extra seat for their instrument. That is something I could sort of see separating the “extra” from the “original”, but, um, an instrument that’s expensive enough to buy a seat for? Wouldn’t you want that with you?

      • My husband bought a seat for his cello years ago. A travel agent got the tickets for us (that’s how it was done back then.) We got three seats — one for him, one for me, and one for “Miss Cello”. The name was the travel agent’s idea. I think that Miss Cello had to sit in the bulkhead row because of some rule or other and that we didn’t sit with her.

        Also, the boarding agents kept telling us that we couldn’t take the cello on the plane even though we had a ticket. But eventually we did get on.

        Airlines. We don’t use them unless we have to.

        • And the airline seats were plenty big enough for us back then. It wasn’t rude to recline your seat and we didn’t mind if the people in front of us reclined their seats.

  5. I just recently bought a plane ticket, too, and I was really quite concerned about the seat issue, because I’m travelling alone and I am pear-shaped — I kind of *just barely* fit into a coach seat, and it’s uncomfortable unless I can raise the armrest.

    The extra point about clothing, too, is something I hadn’t really considered, though I always travel light and only bring a carry-on.

    As annoying as it is to have to worry about this crap in the first place, I’m really glad to hear tips like this on how you can work around it. The EXST code is brilliant. Also didn’t know you could get a refund if there turns out to be an empty seat other than the extra you purchased.

    Also glad to find the link for Seatguru.

    So, all-around awesome. Thank you thank you. Flying is always a slight traumatic thing for me, entirely due to my worry over getting kicked off or forced to buy an extra seat.

    • You are welcome. Re: clothing, a lot depends on the general availablility of your size at your destination.

      Depending on cut and manufacturer, I mostly wear women’s 4x/5x/6x clothing, or Making It Big size H. I can also make do with Casual Male’s 5x/6x. A size 22 or 24 would have an easier time finding “emergency luggage-lost clothing” than I. ;)

  6. Be very careful booking a 2nd seat online without a real passenger name. You are much better off booking it on the phone or going to the airport to do it. There are new TSA rules about passenger names exactly matching identification. If you get a snarky agent, you might have problems.

  7. Funny story (but unrelated to the main point of the post):
    When I was in my early teens I was flying with my cello between Mom’s house and Dad’s house. My parents bought the extra ticket for the cello because they are so easily damaged and sensitive to temperature changes. After they had let me board and closed the gate, the flight attendant took my cello away because it wouldn’t fit in the seat-belt, and they moved it to the luggage compartment, where it did in fact develop a crack. I tried to fight it, but even though a seat had been purchased the flight attendants won. The guy kept calling it a “fancy guitar”, which made me want to punch him.

    Thanks for the post (and the comments). My partner and I are thinking of taking a trip, and this is helpful info.

    • I traveled with a guitar once in 1973. I didn’t have a seat for it. They wouldn’t let me take it on board with me but they said they would hand-carry it to the luggage. I looked out the plane window and saw them throw it onto the conveyor belt. I spent the flight in tears. Fortunately, nothing happened to it (probably because I had padded it well and it was not a fancy guitar i.e. very sturdy). A cello wouldn’t have survived that, though.

  8. Booking the extra seat works great if you’re not on a package vacation where the airfare is included. I’ll be smashing my 65 inch hips into a coach seat for Baltimore to London then London to Budapest…fun…fun…fun… At least my mother usually takes the middle seat and I take the aisle and we raise the armrest between us.

  9. This was a VERY interesting post and discussion. I am thin and judgmental and I’m looking to drop the latter (I’m judgmental about more than just weight). After Kate was on cnn, I started wanting to learn more about weight acceptance, which lead me to this blog – and I think that I’m less ignorant, thanks in part to many of your posts.
    I am SHOCKED that after making a big stink about how people need to buy two seats if they can’t fit in one they’d have the audacity to take your extra seat away. SHOCKED! “You’re not fat enough for two?!” Makes me wonder how many people have been judged, glared at, for not getting an extra seat when in fact they had purchased one and had the airline take it away. Craziness! AND – if in the past you’d purchased an extra seat only to have it taken away, what incentive do you have to buy an extra seat in the future. If airlines are going to make a big deal about these new rules – they better allow people to follow the rules instead of, as previously said, punish the traveler for the airlines poor business model.

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  13. I think I am going to purchase 2 seats the next time I travel. I am living in Germany under military orders and visit my family in Virginia about once every 10 months. The flight is so long and I am so uncomfortable. I can’t listen to the in-flight movies because my leg is crammed too tightly in for me to plug in the headphones. Actually, the last time I flew, I broke two of the headphone plugs:( It is nice to know that the extra seat can be refunded if there is an empty seat on board. It is also nice to hear that someone knows how I feel when I am traveling. Thank you:)
    ps: I would love your vote in the modeling contest I entered. I am 311lbs and I entered with 900 skinny model-types for fun, but somehow I am in 1st place! I think it would send a great message for me to win. Thanks!

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