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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Never have a read so many hateful comments on this topic. Both issues regarding the large passenger and the one who’s space was violated are truly important but calling people names such as “blob zilla” or getting angry over a passenger that was disabled is something we did in the 2nd grade. I am condoning the overweight passenger’s behavior or life style but lets be ADULTS and refrain from personal or childish comments. Also political party has nothing to do with this situation and to be honest there are plenty ” LARGE MARGE’ Trump supporters.

  2. Addressing Jim… airlines may have reduced pitch (legroom) but they have not reduced the width of seats… doing so would increase the width of the aisle. Has anyone noticed that?

  3. This happens to me on every other United flight! I usually am in the Exit Row, and United allows this to happen constantly. I have actually ended you with bruises from having a POS (passenger of size) press me so hard against the wall. Something needs to be done, but it never will.

  4. @Jim – Seats have gotten shorter (pitch) but not narrower.
    Americans have however gotten much fatter.

  5. I was seated on a Delta flight and comfort plus. The same thing happened to me. The day after I got off the plane I had bruises down the right side of my leg where I’ve been shoved up against the window and armrest.
    Now, I am not a small person by any means but I fit in my seat. The woman on the other side of this passenger was about my size. It was a nightmare. The airline attendance wouldn’t even look at us in the row, despite trying to get their attention. Behind us at three rows, there was someone sitting in a row of three and they were the only passenger there. They could easily have moved one of us to that row and given this gentleman more room as well as us the room that we paid for.
    I contacted Delta complaining about this and just asking that I be compensated for the cost of the upgrade to comfort Plus. I explained that they had an opportunity to move one of us to the other location having noted the situation we were in. I thought this might be a learning point for them. Instead, they wrote back and said I was entitled to nothing and basically implied that I was being “sizist” – which if they saw me they would know is completely untrue. They then went on to say that I was not to contact them again about this issue – implying some kind of repercussions if I did. I haven’t flown Delta since. They used to be a terrific airline. Their bottom of the barrel now. These airlines need to get their crap together. I think the problem starts right at check-in. When they see someone like this coming, they need to know what seat they’re in and whether or not they are going to fit. If they deem that this person is not going to fit, it needs to be addressed right then and there. They need to offer an upgrade to a larger seat if it’s available they need to move them to a new seat where no one is sitting in the next seat, it needs to be taken care of at the beginning not when the person is boarding the plane. If it does get that far you know you don’t even have to address that person.

  6. 100 comments on obesity and pets way to go Just tells us we need a pax sizer. Your arse needs to be less then this wide like at disney

  7. Screw this. It has been going on all my adult life. I am a smaller person that avoids economy like the plague. But sometimes you cannot. Earlier this month seatmate was the amazon Brunhilda, whilst spilling over also gave me a BIG dose of her covid. Twenty days later I still can’t taste or smell anything. I have lost weight and reached such an angry state regarding individuals that choose their “freedom” of fat and virus over the rights of others. So screw you all and may your plans be derailed by your selfishness.

  8. The wonderful customer service that made America great and different simply disappeared. The companies do not care about the rights of the customers and do not redirect any complaints. They solve everything with a long: “How sorry I am”….and that’s it!
    How sad it is to know that Americans have assimilated to countries where customers are more of a nuisance than a benefit. Why don’t they ask instead of sex, what is your height and weight? That way the system would take you directly to buy 2 tickets. Or not!!! That’s discrimination!. And isn’t rights not respected also discrimination?

  9. Flying on any airline is to avoided at all costs. They all suck. Cust service sucks, flight attendants are miserable, and fellow passengers are mostly rude. This former frequent flyer is remaining grounded as much as is humanly possible.

  10. Taking off or landing with the armrest up is not allowed. Seatbacks, tray tables and armrests must be in their locked position. The stewardesses are remiss.

  11. I would much rather sit by a large person than one who smells bad. Apparently I’ve been lucky because I’ve never felt squished by someone next to me on a plane.

  12. Airlines are strict about the size and dimensions of carry-ons – it must fit in the little box, why not make the fats do the same?

  13. Oh, I’m with you on the support animal thing. I’m not large enough where I need 2 seats, but I am 6 foot 1 and have a bum knee that if it doesn’t get to move around and stretch every once in a while, it gets extremely sore. I had a flight to somewhere once, I think Las Vegas, and I bought and paid extra for a bulkhead seat for the extra legroom. A vet (hey, I’m a vet too) brought his service animal on board and it was a German Sheppard. This dog wanted to lay down and sit on MY feet. Look man, if you got mental issues where you need to have a dog around otherwise you might freak out, you probably shouldn’t be on an aircraft at all. Whatever your issue is, a “need” on your part does not equate to an obligation on someone else.

  14. American doesn’t care what the issue is, you’re getting the canned letter.

    They just suck as a company and an airline.

  15. As a large person myself I do not understand why people don’t buy a second seat to start with. I always do. It is not even really for other people, it is for me! I am much more comfortable with an open seat next to me.

  16. I do feel sorry for large people on planes. I have flown hundreds of times.
    I don’t see them stretching out. But rather pulling themselves in because they know their size and space is limited.
    We have size and weight limits on bags. Why not on people?
    A person who can not reasonably fit into one seat should pay a premium and sit in two.
    The logistics might overshadow the scale of the problem. But it seems to me like a reasonable solution.

  17. Wow! All the above complaints I’ve read about and the lack of help from their employees are really disgusting. I don’t remember the last time I flew with this company, but now I certainly would never fly with them. I understand that people can grow as big or small as they wish but if they can’t fit in regular size chair, they must purchase a more expensive seat or buy two seats. It seems to me that it’s time to make it “legal” for air companies to ask for passenger’s weight and size before making others to be squeezed like sardines in a can. People should take pictures and sue the air company.

  18. Seems to me a quick complaint to the FAA about the seat restraints being rendered unusable due to passenger size is in order. The armrests are considered part of the restraint system and if it can’t be lowered then it may not be occupied.
    Pretty simple, really.

  19. How did AA violate their rules? Their rules say that the passenger of size must book extra space. And sure, they imply that passengers are entitled to not have their space infringed upon. But they do NOT require AA to proactively identify when a passenger of size boards, let alone to ascertain whether they are seated next to a companion who is OK with that.

    The article implies that the customer didn’t complain until the flight was under way, which means the gate agents didn’t have the opportunity to solve the problem by rebooking the passenger of size in 2 seats on a later flight. I realize it’s awkward to complain in the moment, but that’s really what you have to do if you want the problem solved.

    Maybe the gate agents or flight attendants should have identified the problem on their own before departure, but that’s asking a lot.

    I suppose AA should give some retroactive compensation, but that’s hard to demand without evidence that they were at fault, and anyway it’s too late to undo the passenger’s discomfort.

  20. You can send a chat to this tech guru on Telegram via @prompttechrecovery, he can help you recover your lost Bitcoin, fix your credit score and tutor you on the basis of crypto investment as an amateur investor..

  21. If you can’t fit in the area provided by ONE seat you should be MADE to purchase an additional seat. Totally unfair to take what belongs to someone else.

  22. The more I learn from reading and from my own experiences, the less I want to fly with American. Recently, my second flight arrived late causing us to miss our 3rd flight connection. If I had not waited in line to request help, they would have left me in the airport all night till the next flight. Even after waiting, they advised me to check in at the next destination for hotel accommodations. I asked “Can’t you do that for me now rather than I join another line at the next destination?” Luckily, the associate next to him nodded “yes.”

  23. I am a frequent, global flyer. I lost weight and am still doing so. At 77 this is not easy, and I did this for my own health and happiness, but also because I DID feel that I was often imposing on others although I was still not quite into the ‘X’ category. Sitting squashed between others is embarrassing to all. Quiet elbow fights are not fun. Climbing over others to use the bathroom or stretch…ugh! The extra space by the window can often leave you freezing. So deal with your weight or, indeed, pay the price by 1) Higher fee (pay business or 1st class). 2) get two seats. 3) avoid middle seats. 4) understand how others feel, not how they should feel about you. I have not flown AA for a VERY long time and for various reasons. I also avoid ‘cheap fares’ and low-cost airlines unless I have no choice, in which care I keep my mouth shut. We just flew with, connections, two low-cost airlines and one ‘regular’ in the past 24 hours. The differences, in every way, were remarkable but, as always: you do get what you pay for….except those passengers who sit on reclining, oversize furniture at home. They have others pay for their choices. Personally, we have found the ‘old standby’ airlines to have kept their high standards: United most of all US airlines, then the classic ‘standbys’ like KLM, SAS, Lufthansa, Alitalia (Now ITA) , TAP, Swiss, Qatar, Emirates, Turkish and fortunately a long list of others. READ what you do not receive on flights any more, add up the real bill of your choices before you hit ‘pay’ and always read comments…all of them to get a fair average.

    And while I am here, for general safety a REQUEST and message to ALL airlines:
    Do Not Turn the Seatbelt Sign Off! Make it mandatory to wear them at all times except when using the facilities, just like driving laws! Nobody drives without a belt anymore and in Europe all passengeers must wear a belt as well, anywhere in the car (whether on seat 2A of 36C!). SAY it with all the announcements. Play a (funny?) video including with interviews of people who have been injured, INCLUDING attendants who have been injured or traumatized because you’re ‘allowed’ to take your seatbelt off. This is not up to the law, but to your required safety as you already have many. Protrect your passengers, the crew AND the airlines! We should NOT be allowed to ‘fly for free’! Uncomfortable? Stay home. Thank you!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *