American Airlines Nightmare: Man Forced to Share Seat With Obese Passenger

An American Airlines customer flew beside an obese passenger. It was a full flight and they could not move. They did not get to use their entire seat, because the other passenger spilled over into theirs. Does American owe them compensation?

I flew within the past week and the person in the middle seat next to me was very obese. They weren’t able to pull down the arm rest because of their girth and over half of my seat was taken up by this person with their body pushed up against mine. It was a completely full flight and the [flight attendants] weren’t able to offer anything. This was a rather uncomfortable flight.

The passenger wrote to American “but their response was a canned letter which didn’t even address my complaint nor offer any solutions or compensation.”

American’s position is likely to be that this isn’t their problem, but that’s wrong.

  • This passenger bought a specific amount of space on their flight from American Airlines. They did not receive the space that they purchased.

    Now, American Airlines has taken the position that a passenger isn’t entitled to a seat and that if they actually fly (even without a seat!) there should be no refund. That’s wrong.

  • American actually violated their own rules! The gate agent should have required the passenger who doesn’t fit into the seat to have two seats or an upgraded seat. If none is available on the flight, they shouldn’t have been allowed to board.

    If a customer needs extra space outside a single seat to travel safely, another seat is required. We encourage customers to address all seating needs when booking.

    • When you call to book, Reservations 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.

  • This passenger should file a Department of Transportation Consumer Complaint over American’s failure to follow their own policy.

I need to be consistent. I don’t believe that other passengers should bear the burden when someone brings on a support animal. The person bringing the animal should have to buy enough space on board to accommodate it.

Similarly, a person should have to buy enough space to fit in their seat, or require the airline to provide it (I do not endorse this), but certainly their size shouldn’t mean taking space that has been purchased by someone else.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. It happens. Airline gate agents are just not going to police their airline’s own policies re: Obese passengers (it’s not like it’s something life crucial as carry ons! :))
    Best way to try to avoid it is trying to fly upfront as much as possible., but still it can happen.
    I had only one time in my life thus far this happened to me, but it was a doozy…Flew JFK-ORD, and flight was full. I was flying coach that one, and sat next to a very large man, who was also wearing one of those scratchy sweaters. I was wearing just a short sleeve T-shirt, and his scratchy sweater burned my arm the entire flight.

  2. I have had similar issues on AA before. The obese passenger could not even pull his seatbelt on – I told the FAs, and despite the safety violation, they refused to address the situation with either removal or a seatbelt extender. In cases of rough turbulence a la the recent Singapore Air case, having a morbidly fat man hurled around the plane and onto fellow passengers could be very dangerous. I take it with a bucket of salt when FAs insist that they are here for our safety but refuse to take into account and engage basic safety rules.

  3. This happened to me on an hour flight. I was in the window seat. Two morbidly obese people were together. Aisle and middle seat. The middle seat woman spilled into my seat over the armrest. Her legs were crushed against mine. There was really no escaping. Were there to be a reason to deplane, I would surely die. The issue was her body heat and sweat. My clothes were wet from the contact. I had a scarf with me so I draped it over my head and tried to meditate. The smell was quite pungent. Apparently, AA only ejects African American/Black passengers for alleged body odor. I paid for my seat space. There is a “right to the quiet enjoyment of the premises” law for rentals.

  4. Writing to the DOT is a waste of time — that will only result in a form letter sent from their CR department with a lot of blather that doesn’t even address your complaint — (is their CR Dept now just robots using ChatGPT?).

    When I worked for United and a “person of size” was taking up two seats we would solicit a volunteer to yield their seat in exchange for a “Switch in Time” ticket. It cost little, everyone was happy, and the flight will have left on time. But AAL is not known for civilised behaviour and since this was policy 40 years ago probably not to-day’s UAL either.

  5. The real issue is that gate agents look the other way and pretend they don’t see it so they don’t have to deal with it and instead have YOU deal with it. Because now if you call morbidly obese people fat then you’re fat shaming. I’d be flying off the handle if that happened to me. Either lose weight or buy two seats. People who only eat normal portions don’t need to deal with your bullshit.

  6. Did the passenger complain? How would anyone know he was uncomfortable if he didn’t complain? He doesn’t need compensation because it sounds like he was perfectly fine to sit thereunder wanted to sit there to play victim. I wish we didn’t live in a society where everyone was looking for a pay day.

  7. Thanks for printing the American Airlines policy document, Gary !!! Not sure where or how you got it, but it’s now on my iPhone so that I can speak with the Gate Agent or FA if this happens to me on a future flight. As with virtually all issues, this should always be addressed between the aggrieved pax and AA, and not with the other pax.

  8. 100% the armrest goes DOWN and stays DOWN for the entire flight. If they still continue to “touch” me, I advise them that they are touching me without my permission and will take any further contact as assault. Then I call on the crew, pilot, etc and whatever else it takes to enforce my rights, including the right not to be assaulted by another passenger on their flight. If they throw me off the flight so be it, because I will be 110% polite but firm the whole time, and of course will be recording the entire episode as evidence for both media shaming and a potential lawsuit.

  9. I guess it’s on us to create a fuss and delay the flight. Refuse to sit down and stand in the aisle.

  10. First let’s call a spade a spade. They are not “people of size” they are fat, and obviously too big for one seat.

    I have been on a flight where a fat (pre boarded of course) person sat in half my seat. I refused to sit as there was no room for me. It caused a queue in the aisle, so the FA had to intervene, fat person was removed, (Full flight) for not booking two seats when needed.

  11. This happened to me on American Airlines from Vegas to Charlotte February 10. He sat in the middle seat morbidly obese couldn’t put the arm rest down. Squished me out a half my seat and I was leaning into the aisle and I got hit by the flight attendant cart a couple times , with a 4 1/2 hour flight. Then he chose to sleep with his mouth open and it was as if an animal had died inside of his body. The smell was so bad. I should’ve spoken up, but I didn’t wanna cause a scene. I just wanted to get home..

  12. A small teenager sat next to me on my last flight, proceeded to get out her crochet project and elbowed me repeatedly the entire 2:50 flight. I don’t call the FA or complain to the airline. It just takes tolerance – and LESS DRAMA! Recording bad behavior and posting it – is BAD BEHAVIOR – STOP this! I have a 50” chest and a 30” waist and I am very willing to purchase a second seat, but I’m inhibited by policies; where the second seat can’t be bought as the same price.

  13. This happened to me years ago on a UA regional jet from Rochester to ORD. The missing link had the aisle seat and his fatness was such that I sat next to and behind him!
    Plus, the wife beater, combined with massive amounts of body hair, sweat and a VERY hot cabin made the flight truly “memorable!”

    I have never worn a short sleeve shirt on a flight since this unpleasant incident.

    In addition, I am NOT trading seats with you so your child etc. can sit next to you or like kind bovine residue.

    Buy your seats together. If you cannot afford to do so, take AMTRAK.

  14. Reminds me of the time I was stuck between two obese people in the middle seat of the last row of a Delta MD80. No windows on that row as well. Fortunately, it was a relatively short hop from CVG to ATL. This was 20 years ago, I was young and quite new to the world of constant business travel, so stayed quiet.

  15. You think obese seatmates on the flight are a problem? What about drunk lechers that deservingly get American Airlines sued for sexual harassment and sexual assault of a female passenger on the plane?

    https://us.yahoo.com/news/woman-sues-american-airlines-over-100000800.html

    For what it’s worth, I have seen just as awful behavior on board SAS flights to the US, but in those cases it has typically been American men in the energy industry coming back from Norway.

  16. I had a situation sitting next to a large person where the first thing he said this isn’t going to work as he lifted the arm rest. He took about half my seat. Luckily it was short flight so I stood in the galley and told the fa’s my situation. I squeezed in during landing but it was a miserable flight.

  17. The armrest should go down and stay down. It is usually required to be down for takeoff and for landing. Nobody said whether the middle passenger had bought an extra seat which was taken away by the gate agent to get more people in the airplane. The fine print allows this when you buy an extra seat for comfort. The ticket price for that seat is returned later but that doesn’t solve the comfort problem. Part of the problem is that American Airlines has some very narrow seats on some airplanes. The person complaining doesn’t help their case by stating that over half of their seat was taken. Even with 18 inch wide seats that would leave less than 9 inches which only a small child would sit in. So that person’s story has exaggeration in it to gild the lily, so to say.

  18. No way I’m getting squished by a fat person invading my seat. If AA will not give me a full seat then I’m deplaning (after politely complaining to crew incl pilot) and taking another flight. This nearly happened to me on a Jetblue flight ten years ago. Fortunately someone failed to show up for the full flight and I took their seat.

  19. I am not a frequent flyer but I recall one flight. I was in the middle seat and a very tall gentlemen was in the aisle seat next to me. He placed personal items under the seat on front of him and then moved his feet under the seat on front ME! I told him he was in my space but he told me he had no where else to put his legs. I told him not my problem and he spent the flight with his knees in his chest. Hold your ground. You are not required to sacrifice your comfort for a stranger.

  20. You know it’s so funny that the only airline I ever had trouble with was American. They are the rudest and the worst airline to deal with. Flying back from Australia, a friends tv screen didn’t work. The old grumpy flight attendant checked it and then replied “yeah it doesn’t work. Sorry.” Then walked away. Now the old female flight attendant let some stinky young guy with unbelievable BO take the seats in front of us. We paid extra for our seats and that whole flight back my friend had no tv and his friends, also really stinky, came up to sit in front of us. And no they were not dark skinned color but they were young and I guess the older than Moses flight attendant liked that. One of them even took their shoes off and I thought someone had puked everywhere. It was totally disgusted. I complained and was belittled by the old flight attendants for the rest of the flight. I no longer use my AA credit card and got a Delta credit card. The professionalism they have shown makes me fly Delta. American is the worst!

  21. You people complain too much. What do you want, let’s jail fat people? I bet most of you all are plenty fat yourselves.

  22. Lots of hateful comments here. When did we get so entitled and nasty? People enjoy drama, obviously.

  23. Well now that AA thinks they can board with onky 1 gate agent required: THAT’S THE PROBLEM. No one wants to be filmed and yelled at and get a group of people upset with them. There should be 2 there at least to ask the others opinion and to back up the agent. Obese and Morbidly Obese people who in fact “spill over” into someones area should be required to buy additional space. Period. THEY made themselves bigger. Body Positivity and all this “big boned DNA” crap is over. Be an adult and stop blaming/making everyone suffer for your actions, actions that have consequences.

  24. This is most definitely a safety issue which should be addressed by the Airline staff. If the event of an emergency landing serious injury could be caused to both passengers on either side of this man. I was once on a flight from San Diego to Chicago and seated next to a huge man in the middle seat. I was on the aisle and was pressed against the armrest for the entire flight. I ended up with bruises all up and down my right side as I could not move. Thank heaven there was no emergency landing there.

  25. @texastj we can’t post URLs on this platform however this is the page with the fat policy, copypasta to google and in place of the spaces type a backslash

    /

    and at the end add

    .jsp

    i18n travel-info special-assistance special-assistance

  26. If somebody spills into my seat that’s an IDB situation unless rectified immediately. That will delay the flight but not my problem. And I will take photos.

  27. This happened to me last night. I was on an Alaska flight from Seattle to Denver. I was the window seat in their premium section but row 6 which has fixed arm rests with tables on the side due to the seats ahead being first class.

    The obese gentleman who sat down, sat as if he was on a recliner…back on the chair and his giant arms hanging well over the arm rests. I ended up either leaning on the wall or forward to avoid sticking to him. To top it off the plane was hot.

  28. Other than small island countries in Polynesia, guess which country has the highest obesity rate?

    Turns out it’s Kuwait. But we’re next…second fattest country outside of the south Pacific.

    “Fat drunk and stupid is no way to go though life son”…Dean Vernon Wormer, Animal House.

    Oh one other teensy detail…guess which states are the fattest? Yep, the same geniuses who vote for Trump

  29. notice the fat policy says TRAVEL SAFELY

    it says forkall about traveling within the confines of the purchased space, making other passengers experience living hell if they attempt to use the space they purchased next to you, or RE-ACCOMODATION of the passengers facing assault by you for the entire flight due to your failure to deal with your personal situation in advance

    in other words, the policy is useless and as stated above your only recourse is to disrupt D0

    turn your camera on, ring the call button, and point the camera at your seat

    do not capture the face of the whale

    when the fa arrives, state for the record you are recording but are not capturing faces or names, only the conversation and proof of the inability to travel safely

    YOU can’t travel safely as you had scoliosis in childhood and must sit upright with your shoulders square to the seat and therefore you request american follow it’s own policy, which gary cites above, which you carry on a card in your wallet so you do not have to disrupt the recording of the conversation to locate, and which you then read to the FA

    do not address the whale

  30. commercial air travel is personal hand-to-hand combat

    everyone for themselves

  31. I’m technically obese I think 30+ lbs over weight, I can barely fit comfortably in my regular cheap seat under 200 lbs’ish, how in the world is someone 275lbs 6’ tall or Disney world scooter type fat fit?!? 2 seats in exit row or not flying, it’s that simple

    My friend buys suits and slacks at big & tall places because of his size, he regularly pays 2x more for everything on average, can’t squeeze a big guy in a regular seat, it’s torture, like regular people in kid size play sets, Plan B is doing a 1 way car rental for emergency (I need to get there parents are sick in Florida)

  32. I have long had people spillover into my seats when flying domestically. Part and parcel of the chronic obesity epidemic in the country is that those of us flyers on the healthier side of the spectrum end up paying the price for the overall health situation of others anyway. One of those ways we pay is with people spilling over into other people’s seats.

  33. I had this on Iberia the other day in business. The man next to me was so large that his body spilled over into my seat and over the armrest. When the flight attendants began their on board service, I had to move his body out of the way to get my tray table. He didn’t even bother moving and just looked down at me. It was an absolutely horrible flight.

  34. Let’s put this in perspective of the ground crew and cabin crew.
    There is extraordinary pressure to get everyone on board as quickly as possible. Do you really want to be “that guy” and stop an obese passenger? Or would you rather just let this be self-regulating among passengers? After all, what are you going to do?

    I recently had the misfortune of an adjacent passenger taking up about one-third of my seat. She was a “passenger of size” with an exceptional amount of hand luggage (on her lap during takeoff.) What was I going to do? It was a two-hour flight. It was uncomfortable. But what would I do? Should I ring the call button and ask that the woman next to me lose weight? Delay the flight? Shame her for her hand baggage? No. I put on my noise-cancelling headsets and tried to think of happier times. I also planned how to get out in the event of an emergency. It’s like a crowded underground/subway in the summer: what are you going to do?

    As for animals. I have a service dog. I do ensure that he fits exactly in front of the seat, and I often pay for extra legroom or a premium cabin. Since the airlines make too much money selling extra legroom, there is no way they will ever “comp” that for people with disabilities. Remember, people with disabilities (rightfully) cannot sit in exit rows. Being disabled sucks; I do not like paying more, but I take enough sneers for travelling while disabled. I get to be sick and judged for it; it’s not a privilege.

    What are the long-term answers?
    1. Evacuation testing. The airlines and A4A will complain bitterly, but it’s time. The evacuation tests were conducted with university students decades ago. More people have the ability to fly, which is fantastic. It is exciting to know that people with illnesses and disabilities can travel independently. But can we evacuate in 90 seconds with half of the exits blocked?

    2. Obesity treatment. The obesity epidemic is changing. Amid cost and controversy, we now have highly-effective medications for obesity. Likewise, bariatric surgery has become quicker, safer, and less expensive. We can now (finally) treat obesity as a treatable disease.

    3. Better access to premium economy and premium cabins. With a shift toward higher-revenue leisure passengers, premium economy and discounted business class have become more common. This isn’t always financially viable, but passengers can now explore more options to fly with extra space. It is imperfect, sometimes too expensive, but more airlines offer these options.

  35. If they ejected the passenger it would have delayed the flight. The gate agent would be punished for impacting American on time metrics. It was better for the gate agent’s career to look the other way.

  36. There are so many people who are scared to death of the entitled mentality of many other people. Here’s the size of the seat. You must fit in that seat and not encroach on other seats. Thus, if you can’t fit in the one seat, YOU MUST BUY A SECOND SEAT period. This is not “fat shaming” (I love that phrase..it’s so “woke”), it is a fact. With this constant barrage of lawsuits, “Tok Tic” (sic), “Face Crook” (sic), “Instant Crap” (sic) and the like, the flight crews, cabin crews and customer service agents are scared to speak up for fear of reprisal. The airlines could put this “fit in the seat” requirement in the contract of carriage but the DOT & FAA won’t allow or do anything because the ACLU and the DOJ will sue. It is a vicious circle created by the woke mentality. “What’s mine is mine. What’s yours is mine, too or I’ll sue!”

  37. I am obese and don’t travel much. (Long story about how I ended up at this site.) I have no idea if I would overfill a seat or not. I’ll bet many obese people don’t since a lot of us don’t want to subject ourselves to the kind of humiliation that fills this comment section. And the new obesity treatments don’t work for everyone and many can’t afford it. I routinely paid $1k while I tried it.

    You have to suffer for a couple hours, I have to deal with it every day.

  38. flying stopped being fun when I started having to do it … I had the window, he had to have been a former NFL lineman, huge man, 300+, middle seat, boarded at DFW with the biggest bbq sandwich I’ve ever seen, lots of real onions, recently-fried potatoes, (enjoy the smells) finished that, pulled out a big red plastic, the spit cup for his chew-tobacco. Now. Do you think I was gonna tell him I was uncomfortable?

  39. This is totally the fault and responsibility of the airlines who fight any regulation the eats into their profits. They are guilty of selling the same space to a person of wants to recline their seat as the person behind who doesn’t want to be squeezed. In this case they sell your space to you and the large person who invades your space. Only answer IMHO is to attack the airlines to address THEIR problem.

  40. Having spent many years FWF (flying while fat), I was very much aware of policies and booked with SW as much as possible. Otherwise, I was always booking an aisle so that once we took off, I could raise the outer armrest and use the aisle space a bit. The fact is that most Americans are too big for airplane seats. Full stop. However, nobody is too big to have some awareness and decency to not inconvenience others. It’s really not that hard. Happily, I’ve since lost weight and flying is a MUCH better experience now… As is pretty much everything. The comments here are pretty hateful. It’s up to everyone to either accommodate or speak up. Posting rancor online is pointless.

  41. They should have just exchanged seats. So the obese person would have been in the aisle seat. If the obese person purchased an extra seat, then there should have been more than enough room. I can probably guarantee the complainer will get nothing from AA.

  42. Did the passenger who complained have status with American?
    I’ve experienced the same exact situation, luckily it was only an hour flight but I complained and AA gave be a ton of points. I’m an EXP so that may have factored into it.

  43. I flew AA from Ontario, CA to san Antonio, TX with a 40 minutes layover in Dallas. Upon arriving to Dallas I was informed by email that my flight to San Antonio had been canceled due to “adverse weather” which i know is not true because the flight attendants mentioned that our flight was canceled due to the crew calling out, and there was a flight leaving to San Antonio shortly after i arrived but this flight could only accommodate myself or my husband. AA then booked us on a flight that was due to depart the next night at 630 pm. Seeing how AA was not going to help get me to my destination I was compelled to rent a vehicle and drive 5 hrs to San Antonio. My luggage was transported to San Antonio airport forcing me to go get it, after they didn’t hold their end of the travel itinerary. Now, AA doesn’t want to refund me for canceling my flight nor do they want to reimburse me for the car rental. Does anyone know how I can get them to pay for my expenses?

  44. Morbidly obese people need purchase an extra seat or take the cattle car.

    I tried to avoid flying any US airline if I can avoid it.

    The armrest goes down!

  45. Is it too much to expect the airlines to provide seats big enough for humans? Legroom is nice, but the width could be much better. Then we wouldn’t have to fight over armrests.

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