How Wide Are Airplane Seats? Plus Size Travel and Fat-Friendly Airlines

Traveling as a plus-sized person can be an extremely anxiety-inducing venture. Will the seats be wide enough for me? Will the seatbelt fit around me? Will my seatmate be a jerk about the armrest? The best way to deal with the fear and anxiety you might feel when traveling is to have all the information you can, about the best airline for overweight passengers, about seat size by airline, and about which airlines have the widest seats. Hopefully, if you’re armed with information about the airlines with biggest seats (and airline obesity policies), you can figure out what you need BEFORE you board the plane, so you don’t have to worry about it!

How Wide Are Airplane Seats?

There are two measurements you’ll want to consider when thinking about airline seats for plus size travel: seat width and seat pitch. The seat width is, unsurprisingly, how wide the seat is. Generally, commercial airline seats are somewhere between 17″ and 19″ – the majority are between 17″ and 18″. Seat pitch is the distance between the seat and the back of the seat in front of it – so it’s sort of a measurement of legroom.

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Try a free 30-day trial of Kindle Unlimited, a service you can stop and start whenever you want, and a free 30-day trial of Amazon Prime to have access to an almost infinite library of movies and TV shows on the go.

Seat Size by Airline

The actual size of the seats will depend on the model of airplane you end up traveling on, so these sizes are approximate.

Alaska Airlines – all seats are 17″.

American Airlines – seats are 17.2″ to 18.5″, with domestic US flights generally on the smaller end.

Delta – seats are 17.2″ to 18.1″,with domestic US flights generally on the smaller end.

Frontier – most seats are 18″, with a few 17″ seats for selected flights.

JetBlue –  seats are 17.8″ to 18.25″

Southwest – all seats are 17″.

Spirit – regular economy seats are 17.75″, and “Big Front Seats” are 18.5″.

United – seats are 17″ to 18.25″.

Virgin America – all seats are 17.7″.

The best airline seats for overweight passengers, then? You’d do well to try flying on JetBlue or Virgin America if you can, or if you don’t mind flying on Spirit Air, the upgrade to the Big Front Seat might be worth it.



Best Airlines for Fat Passengers

Knowing which airlines have the widest seats is a good first step, but airline obesity policies can also contribute to anxiety for plus size travel. Knowing what each airline’s policy on larger passengers is can help you figure out which is the best airline for overweight passengers.

Alaska Airlines

Passengers who cannot fit comfortably in a seat with the armrests down must purchase a second seat. Those customers that choose not to purchase an additional seat cannot be guaranteed boarding. If you purchase the second seat at the time of original purchase, the second seat will be sold at the same rate, but if you buy it later, you’ll get the lowest current price. If all legs of the flight have at least one empty seat, the second seat cost may be refunded post-travel.

American Airlines

If a customer’s body extends more than 1 inch beyond the outermost edge of the armrest AND a seat belt extension is needed, another seat is required. American recommends that passengers purchase a second seat at the time of booking. If you do need a second seat, American also recommends calling to book instead of booking online. When you call to book, American will make sure you get 2 adjacent seats at the same rate. If you didn’t book an extra seat in advance, ask an airport agent to find out if 2 adjacent seats are available. You may be offered a seat in a higher class of service that may provide more space; in this case, you’ll be responsible for the fare difference. If accommodations can’t be made on your original flight, you can buy seats on a different flight at the same price as your original seats.


Delta’s policy says “If you are unable to sit in your seat without encroaching into the seat next to you while the armrest is down, please ask the agent if they can reseat you next to an empty seat.” Delta does not require passengers to purchase a second seat, but they do reserve the right to move you to a different seat OR a different flight if you do not fit in a single seat.


Frontier’s policy says “Customers who are unable to lower both armrests and/or who compromise any portion of adjacent seat or aisle should book two seats prior to travel.” Passengers who have purchased an additional seat and then travel on a flight with one or more empty seats may have the price of their second seat refunded after travel.


JetBlue does not require passengers to purchase a second seat, but you have the option to. However, you will not receive a refund if the flight isn’t full.


Passengers who “encroach upon any part of the neighboring seat(s) may proactively purchase the needed number of seats prior to travel in order to ensure the additional seat(s) is available,” according to Southwest’s policy. Because Southwest’s seats are not assigned, you may luck out and end up with an empty seat next to you, but Southwest has been shown to be very strict on what “encroaching” entails. If you are on a flight that’s not full, you can contact Southwest to try to get a refund for your additional seat.


The policy says that a passenger “who encroaches on an adjacent seat area and/or is unable to sit in a single seat with the armrests lowered” should purchase a second seat. However, because Spirit has the option of the “Big Front Seat,” which is 18.5″ wide, that may be sufficient for some passengers.


Passengers have to be able to PROVE that the armrests will go down and stay down while they are seated, or they must purchase a second seat. If you purchase a second seat at the same time as your first seat, you’ll pay the same price for both seats, but if you wait and United makes you purchase a second seat at the time of boarding, you’ll pay the lowest price available that day (so, probably more than your original price) AND you may be charged a walk-up fee. If you’re on a flight that’s not full and purchase a second seat, United does NOT offer refunds.

Virgin America

Virgin requires passengers to fit in a single seat, though their specifications about what that means aren’t very clear. They will refund your second ticket if you purchase one and the flight you’re on isn’t full.


Best Airlines for Fat Passengers

The best airlines for fat passengers based on their policies, then, seem to be Delta, because they will simply place you in a seat next to an empty one (if there is one), and Frontier, Virgin, and Alaska, for their relaxed second-seat refund policies. If you are able, a seat upgrade on Spirit may be the way to go. JetBlue and Virgin America are the airlines with biggest seats.


Be Comfortable on Your Flight

Flying sucks at any size, but the added stress of unfriendly airline policies and shrinking plane seats doesn’t help. If you have to – or choose to- fly, here are some products that can help you be as comfortable as possible in flight:

I own these cute Levi’s jeggings and I love them for flying. When sitting for hours in an uncomfortable plane seat, the last thing I need is a tight waistband digging into my waist. These jeggings are great because they have the soft stretchiness of leggings but they look like real Levi’s skinny jeans and even have sewn-on pockets. They come in a dark or a light wash.

PajamaJeans are another great, comfy option, this time with a stylish bootcut.

PajamaJeans also makes a version for men, thank goodness.

These wide calf compression socks can improve circulation while sitting for long periods of time in flight.

These cute compression socks have fun designs so you can feel stylish while also protecting your circulation.

This soft memory foam neck pillow has some of the highest reviews of any neck pillow online.

This travel neck pillow comes with a sleep mask, earplugs, and its own bag.

This inflatable neck pillow is great for traveling light.

This unique travel pillow was the British Invention of the Year in 2013!

This stylish neck pillow provides great support while looking like a fashionable scarf.

These slip on shoes are specially engineered for diabetic feet but work well for anyone who wants a comfy shoe with extra support. The great thing about these shoes for air travel is that you can step in and out of them easily in the security line and they’ll keep your feet toasty if you tend to get cold on planes.

These comfy shoes are designed to be stepped in and out of easily, which is great for busy airport security lines. The last thing I want to do in a hectic security lines is try to bend over and struggle with shoelaces and there are often aren’t good places to sit down. I also love that these shoes come in wide width.

And before you leave on your trip, don’t forget to get travel insurance and look for the best deals on airport parking.