Is there a weight or size limit for airline passengers?

Senior Q&A
by , SmarterTravel Staff
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on June 14, 2005. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, legroom, Molly Feltner, Senior Q&A, senior travel.

Dear Editor,

Is there a weight or size limit for airline passengers?

- Reader

Dear Reader,

There is no set weight limit for passengers on commercial flights in the U.S., but some airlines, most notably Southwest, require customers who cannot fit in one seat to book a second. Southwest uses the armrest as a gauge: When a passenger cannot lower the armrests on a single seat, he or she is required to purchase another, regardless of his or her actual weight. If the flight does not oversell, the airline will refund the price of the second seat. These rules are controversial, but Southwest has stood by its policy despite several unsuccessful lawsuits against it. Guidelines for this policy are listed on the Southwest website.

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If you're booking an economy seat on any airline and are worried about not having enough room:

  • Call the airline you wish to fly and ask about passenger size regulations.
  • Request an aisle seat, and ask the airline to leave the adjoining seat empty if the flight does not fill up.
  • Fly at off-peak times (midweek and midday), when your chances of getting on a flight with some empty seats are better.

If cost isn't a major issue, consider flying in first or business class, where you'll find significantly wider seats, not to mention more legroom.

 
 
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