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, 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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  1. Airlines should use a similar system as they do for carry on bags – an aluminum ‘rack’ in the boarding area in which your bag must fit. If it doesn’t, it goes in the cargo hold.

    Same thing could be done with a seat. Put an aluminum cage in the boarding area. If an individual can’t fit in it, and fasten their seat belt, they can buy a second seat, go in the cargo hold, charter a jet, buy a bus ticket, rent a car or stay home.

    It’s not my problem that they have issues with their diet, exercise regimen or hormonal balances. It’s theirs. If they’re ashamed by their weight, they should be.

  2. The armrest goes down all the way, if you spill over into my seat, someone is gonna move and go sit somewhere else. Its not my fault you are fat, if you cant control your eating habits, buy two seats. I don’t wanna hear about how your fat cause your thyroid doesn’t work. Your fat cause you eat too much, period. So be considerate of others, eat all you want, just don’t let it effect other people. I had this happen to me one time, got stuck in the middle, obese passenger next to me was taking up more than 1/3 of my seat. I left and took a later flight. I’m not subjecting myself to being uncomfortable for hours. Yeah, I know people here will call me an An-$ole but I paid for a seat, not 1/2 a seat, not 2/3 of a seat, the whole seat, I also take care of my health. I also just got up and spoke to the flight attendant away from the passenger, explained the situation and grabbed my things and left when there were no other seats. Actually haven’t flown economy in years and always use miles to fly upfront so i don’t have this issue.

  3. If your carry-on doesn’t fit in the sizer, they take it. The same should be true if you don’t fit in the seat.
    Being fat is not a disability – it’s a lifestyle choice. Your poor decisions shouldn’t affect me or other humans. Stop shoving fast food, Doritos and ice cream down your pie hole. Take a walk instead of riding in a cart.
    The other issue that compound this situation is that half the gate agents are ridiculously overweight. Especially in the South.
    The major issue that no one addresses is safety. If there was an emergency and it became necessary to egress the aircraft through the emergency exit, these people would either become stuck or fall on someone. The end result is mayhem and a poor outcome.

    Perhaps they should have a fat section on the plane – fat people make other fat people miserable instead of those who actually take their health and size seriously. You get NO sympathy from me if you allow yourself to get to the point that you can’t even fit in a chair and feel entitled to the point that you make other’s lives miserable.

  4. Disrupt D0. We have no choice. The FA that catches the demerits can have their union use your video which documented the situation in their hearings with management if they choose.

    Remember, the CoC only guarantees _travel_ per the PDX lawyer’s litigation. We are not entitled to the seat we purchased, but we ARE entitled to TRAVEL SAFELY.

    To the FA and the GA who will catch demerits for breaking D0, just tell them it’s not about them and it’s not personal and record that on video. Have a card in your wallet with your personal email on it and hand that to the FA or GA when you offer to make your video available for their own use if needed.

  5. I just refuse to raise the armrest and it becomes their problem. Claim social anxiety and respectfully decline.

  6. I just got back from Walt Disney World in Florida and noted the surprising population of morbidly obese people waddling around the parks. Most rides with two ignore the issue, but some like the Pirates and the Small World with boats in shallow waterways are an issue. One had a massive person in the back who insisted on seating to the outside and had the boat dangerously tilted.

    I hate discriminating against folks because of physical characteristics, but on an aircraft with today’s seating designed for 120 pound passengers it is time to give flight attendants the power to demand dual seats for chronically obese passengers or (as the rule states) wait for a less full flight.

  7. Always choose an aisle seat. If you do get stuck next to a spillover seatmate, it is a little better.

  8. You are allowed to carry an aluminum clipboard. They are cheap and light, go right in your carry-on, and are perfect for this situation.

    Put the arm rest down and put the clipboard up against it on your side, vertically sticking up past the arm rest. It blocks them from spilling into your space both above and below the arm rest.

    If the other person complains, the FA won’t do a thing – it’s on your side, in your space. You lose access to the arm rest, but you weren’t going to be able to use it anyway.

  9. Unless and until airlines get sued and have to pay up big bucks in damages for a passenger being squeezed by oversized seatmates to such extent that it results in documented physical harm, the airlines will dump this problem onto customers and disempowered employees who are empowered to punish customers but not empowered to go out of their way and above and beyond in delivering for wronged customers.

    And the airlines are a major contributor to this problem since they have squeezed in the seats to maximize the number of passengers per plane and flight attendant.

  10. I experienced AA Indifference to customers’ right to adequate seat space when my economy seat became a nightmare when the passive-aggressive, small stature male in the seat ahead reclined his seat against the knees of my 6’3″ frame. I looked across the aisle where passengers seemed to have a normal pitch. I asked a cabin attendant to move us or help get the stubborn passenger ahead to not recline fully. He refused, and the attendant said that was his “right” and she had no other seats available. She became hostile to my complaint about my equivalent right to comfort. I endured hours of sitting spread-legged or with knees pressing firmly into the setback cushion below the table to “share” my knee discomfort and his back discomfort. Upon declining, I did a quick check of the pitch between our D-F seats and the A-C seats opposite – the latter had 4″ (!) more space, contrary to the attendants assertion that all rows are equal. Those four “missing” inches likely continued to plague these seats with unequal space until AA made a correction and squished the opposing seats to match. Because this is what AA is.

  11. Get used to this. Like in Russia in 1917 they came to people properties and asked to share, we see similar tendency here. Soon big brother will ask to share your property with less fortunate. Thank you, progressives!

  12. Overweight/oversized people should always be charged for a second seat. Regular people already suffer enough the consequences of the morbidly obese epidemic we experience in the U.S due to the rising costs of healthcare.

  13. For years on every airline I have traveled if a large person has his flesh and body into my seat I have written and requested airline points and never been denied. I’m not talking about touching but really occupying my seat space.Whether I’m in middle or on aisle or window. The large person next to me often called obese is a pandemic now. Let that person buy two seats for him or herself and not abuse me or my allotted seat space. Not perfect solution but at least some milage.maybe 10,000 per incident.

  14. By their own regulators and by the rulings of mandatory arbitrators, airlines are systematically given “get of jail free cards”. For strange reasons, industry standards, laws, and contract language don’t apply. It’s bizarre.

  15. Safety issues should take the forefront (and there are many!), and that would take care of many of the seat adjacency problems. Is the person able to go down the slide? Will they collapse it and put many other people in jeopardy? Will they block the isle because they are not ambulatory, and further imperial others? Are they able to get through an emergency exit door? These factors should be the governing parameters as to whether they should be allowed to fly.

  16. When two morbidly obese passengers sit across the aisle from each other in the coach section of the plane, it becomes difficult for flight attendants to maneuver a beverage cart down the aisle. Accordingly, do the flight attendants have the authority to suspend their beverage service to the coach cabin in consideration of passenger safety?

  17. Flight attendants do sometimes stop beverage service in the cabins in consideration of safety or security concerns for passengers and/or themselves.

  18. The airlines do provide seats big enough for humans. It is called First Class or, for international, business. The thing that drove me to desert flying economy after doing a fair amount of it for work was not really to get a better seat, service or food (though I have grown to appreciate those), but the belligerent drunks, oversized people, smelly people and people complaining about reclining (on overnight flights!) that kept making economy awful. I know it can happen, but I’ve never had a bad experience in F or J. Every bad experience I had in economy was due to another passenger.

  19. It amazes me how some hate Southwest’s “sit anywhere” policy – this allows you to find a better seat if needed or as appropriate. It is too bad that bad behavior (fake preboards, seat savers) is turning their policy into a frustrating situation, but I love it! Otherwise, with assigned seats, you have no choice of seat mates. Bad BO? Can’t move. Spillover mass? Can’t move. Squirmy, crying kids? So sorry….but on Southwest, such things are more in your control.

  20. I pay for my whole seat, not to be assaulted for profit. I have learned to stand up, literally, and politely say you don’t feel safe sitting in your seat next to the passenger for egress concerns in an emergency. I sit once the issue is resolved.

  21. I’m surprised no one wrote that this is a Liberal problem caused by welfare and the 2,000,000 illegals who cross the border every hour. We should allow guns on planes to to manage this catastrophy. Maybe Dumpy will ban them.

  22. @Bob Eubanks

    That is brilliant! I was trying to think of something like that, aluminum clipboard it is!

  23. The comments on this post are either overly cruel or inappropriately political. Good times!

  24. The Woke management would have suspended the crew for kicking the obese passenger off the plane, not unlike the flight crew who were suspended for removing passengers who chose not to take a bath before boarding. Shame on AA.

  25. This shouldn’t be complicated

    Just like baggage policies that require you to purchase the space and weight you need to accommodate your luggage

    If you need more than 1 seat to accommodate yourself then you should be required to purchase the additional seating space needed

  26. This is why I usually book an exit row seat. They cost more, the seats don’t recline and if a person can’t fit in their seat and comfortably buckle their seatbelt, I’ve seen flight attendants offer to move the person. The rule is you have to be ready, willing, and able to assist in case of an emergency. 2nd option in a post Covid world is to get a violent coughing fit or sneeze a ton. If the obese person next to you asks you to stop, say once they get out of your seat space.

  27. If you are super-sized it is your responsibility to purchase two or more seats.
    Respect yourself and other people, don’t insist your seat mate suffer on your behalf.
    BONUSES: As a super-sized person you will be more comfortable with the extra space on your flight and have the satisfaction that you have done the right thing.

  28. While he does take the opposing view from time to time, I’m really tired of Gary being a Kevin shilling for airlines who have reduced seat sizes and legroom and comfort for Coach passengers.

    He won’t say a thing about peasants in Coach being crammed in like sardines (except to fat-shame in these articles), but god forbid an airline strip a business class passenger of their entitlement of one snack sized Lay’s potato chip bag or change their 20 ounce Aquafina water to a (*gasp*) 16.9 ounce Nestlé water!

    Fat-shaming isn’t the answer, Gary.

  29. I had this happen recently, and learned some important things:
    * Insist on a fix BEFORE departure. Be ready to take a later flight. FAs and gate agents do tend to be sympathetic to these situations and will help you.
    * Argue the underlying issue: It’s not a comfort issue, its a safety issue. Not getting your full seat can wreck your back, etc. And importantly, if there is a problem and immediate egress from the plane is required, this situation can hinder that in unacceptable ways.
    * Why the other person is larger is not for you to judge, it just is the circumstance of the moment. Keep any such opinions to yourself, it won’t help the situation and just makes you look ignorant and bereft of empathy.

  30. Even among airline passengers in the US, there may be a negative correlation between obesity and income level. [Sort of like how the local Walmarts seem to have fatter drivers coming out of the parking lots than the local Targets.]. And so obese people may actually have relatively less means to pay for additional space on a plane than people who eat healthier, work out better, and have a better genetic/epigenetic profile vis-a-vis obesity potential.

  31. Señor Leff isn’t fat-shaming passengers by covering this topic. He has been a consistent critic of the shrinking plane lavatories which even adversely impact the lithe “hotties” on who knows whose Instagram feeds. And there is no getting around the fact that the airlines have been cramming us in like sardines into smaller and smaller seats and with less and less room between the rows applicable to the plurality of passengers.

    The airlines ought to be ashamed of themselves. And so should the government regulators who have allowed and even encouraged so much cramming that it poses an increased safety and security risk to passengers and crew.

  32. My husband and I purchased the middle seat on a South West, to avoid putting someone in this position (and the possible bad looks, or sneers from other passengers). It was a a full flight and were told we had to give it up even though we had paid for it! The flight attendant was very loud and humiliating in her insistence. We did and were given a refund. A humiliating experience.

  33. SWA screwed me good with a professional obese traveler. Here’s the horror story…

    1) I’m sitting aisle early (boarded ligit with my young kids and wife) across from fam.
    2) flight starts to fill, only a few empty middle left
    3) FA comes walking down aisle on walkie-talkie, looks toward me, and says “Row X might work”. Uh-oh.
    4) Blobzilla comes thundering down the aisle, and I realize I’m now the mark.
    5) Blobzilla executes a PRO-MOVE! As it takes the middle IT FLIPS THE ARM REST UP in a quick done-this-before motion, and by the time I’m looking back down, half my seat has disappeared!
    6) By this time, all the other seats are now occupied by the remaining normal-sized passengers, and I’m pushed hard against the aisle arm-rest with my wife watching in horror.
    7) Not even a courtesy, “sorry” by Blobzilla, as it just sits there entitled to 1.5 seats.

    So, if you fly SWA, and are skinny, the FAs may conspire to screw you rather than make the passenger fly using two official seats, and if the flight is full, you got caught playing musical chairs when the music stopped (and yeah, I could have asked for another flight, but that would have inconvenienced the rest of my family as well, so I took it like a man to keep our vacation on track).

    To this day I’ve learned one valuable lession– if flying SWA solo and the flight is going to be completely full, I would rather lock in my row by taking a middle seat near two people near the front who seem normal, than getting an aisle or window and not knowing who is going to be thumping down the aisle. Everytime I’ve quickly explained this to the two other people wondering why I’m so eager to take a middle, they laugh and say smart idea.

  34. This has happened to me 3 times this year alone. Most recently was the worst. DFW-SEA. Last person on the plane, and the middle seat in my row is the only seat open. 3 workers to get her and her belongings on the plane. One to pull the wheelchair down the aisle, one to carry her bags and the third-I kid you not- to carry her Big Gulp and twp breakfast burritos. Without blinking, the gate agent lifted both armrests and it took him and the other guy on the wheelchair to get her into the seat. She was taking up at least a third of my seat. She ‘suggested’ I take the middle so I ‘would be more comfortable’. I had to raise the aisle armrest just so that I could fit in my seat. The uncomfortable irony is the same gate agent that helped load this woman on the plane was being strict with the bag sizer. I didn’t bother contacting AA this time as the previous two times got me nowhere.

  35. Its truly disturbing prices and redemption are at an all time high
    Lavatories are painful for tall and size challenged folks
    Seats are cramped and the planes far less safe than years ago thank to Boingggg Aircraft issues
    I think southwest has it right don’t they require two seats for persons of size?
    Myself other than short haul business I’ve stopped traveling
    When I do I am using Int programs as American Untied and Delta have all basically priced their redemption’s similarly exorbitantly making their programs and currencies undesirable
    I’m sitting n the sidelines but not willing to redeem 50,000 miles one way for a coach ticket for an hour flight.Hard pass.They have killed their golden goose
    Good luck to them

  36. Here is one thing many of you are missing; flight attendants do not begin getting paid until the door of the aircraft closes (look it up). That’s likely why they don’t give a crap about your seat issues during embarkation.

  37. Pax is absolutely entitled compensation, airline is vexaciouslsy .failing to provide the carriage contracted for, and will be making this passenger whole. The fat bastard needs a universal ban until they buy an appropriate amount of capacity to handle the load they have presented. And double shame on the gate crew that failed to catch and correct this overloaded. Simply resolving the issue when first discovered before boarding would have allowed for pleasant safe and enjoyable travel. Fliers either fit in the one seat size gauge, or they need to find a cargo airline. Same with the generously proportioned body positivity advocates calling for entire complimentary rows when their posteriors exceed the capacity of a single seat.

  38. I am in the airline business. Of course an obese person should purchase 2 seats and can legally be required to do so.
    No one has the balls to force this issue for fear of lawsuits. Obese people know they will be accommodated . It is definitely out of control!

  39. If you are obesely overweight and spill into the next seat you are a safety hazard to yourself and everyone else on the plane if there is an emergency that requires immediate evacuation or if you need to be carried off the plane for a medical emergency. There should be a weight/size restriction for seating on a plane. Some obese, business savvy person should start an airline specifically for overweight people.

  40. Attention Large travelers! Southwest will give you a second seat for free!
    All you have to do is ask for one at the help desk near baggage check AT LEAST 1 HOUR BEFORE DEPARTURE TIME. Did I mention it’s free? And you get to preboard so that you can select your seat and get your belt extender before the general boarding – so that you can block the seat next to you. It’s so easy and civil. I only fly SWA domestically!

  41. For all the complaining about Southwest open seating, you can select another seat if you notice a POS is seated already.

  42. The aggrieved passenger approached this in the wrong manner.

    The arm rest should have come down. If it cant come down and the oversize passenger cannot fit in their ticketed seat, that’s the oversize passenger’s problem to overcome.

    They should have bought two seats in advance. As an overweight person and formerly VERY overweight person I can promise you this overweight passenger wasnt oblivious to the idea they were going to spill over into someone else’s ticketed space. They knew when they bought their single ticket they were going to have this problem. Nobody gets to that situation quickly.

    I used to ticket two seats for this reason. I struggled with weight for decades I flew for work, regularly. I paid what was needed so I did not adversely affect those flying with me, including strangers. On the off occasions I got stuck in the middle seat with a single ticket, I rode with both armrests down and usually with my hands hanging on the seat back in front of me so my arms weren’t invading the seatmates space.

    The passenger who is complaining had EVERY right to insist on the armrest being down. No exceptions and no excuses. The fact the oversize passenger wouldn’t have fit would then become the AIRLINE’s problem to solve.

  43. @x-red: Progressivism has nothing to do with obesity nor spilling over. As a general rule, many of the MAGA flat-earthers I see on TV and YouTube are overweight, out of shape, and unconcerned with health. Like their mysogynist leader.

  44. Jim, did you ever fly in the 60s or 70s? The seat width on a 737 has never been wider in coach. A 320 has wider seats. The only case of seats getting more narrow was when 777s went from 3-3-3 in coach to 3-4-3. Legroom? A reasonable question.

  45. Chris Hugo, the person in front has the right to fully recline and you don’t have the right to take it away. You are just likevthe obese passenger, wanting to take away another’s space.

  46. @Bad Take. Other than a 777 moving from 3-3-3 to 3-4-3 (while the interior width has become wider), name a single case of seats becoming more narrow? Has a 737 seat been wider in the past in coach? A MD80/717? The 320 has wider seats than a 737. Why do people want to spread the myth coach seats have become more narrow?

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