What happens if you're too big to fit within the confines of the typical economy class airline seat, which measures about 17 inches in width? Airlines have begun enforcing "passenger of size" rules, requiring the purchase of an additional seat. Or they might even refuse to board you. Here's what we found by searching airline websites and asking our industry sources. Keep in mind that these rules are observed on a case by case basis.


Stated policy


Potential for refunds on below-capacity flights

Air Canada

After a much talked-about Supreme Court ruling, the airline must offer passengers of size a free seat, but only after receiving an approved doctors note.   

Those without medical approval may expect to be required to purchase a second seat at a cost to be determined by the airline.

Not specified.


If a customer cannot lower the armrest, they will be required to purchase an extra seat. If none are available, they may not be able to fly.

The airline will sell you the seat at the lowest available cost.

Yes. Passengers on below-capacity flights can request a refund for the cost of the second seat.


Passengers must fit within the 17 inches between armrests or purchase a seat in advance. Those who do not cannot be guaranteed boarding.

In advance, the second seat is the same fare as the first. At the airport, the lowest available fare at the time will be offered.

Yes. As long as there were empty seats on each leg, you may request a refund after your trip.


Customers must fit in the 17.8’ space between armrests; if seated next to friend or family, fine, otherwise second seat required.

Seat can be purchased at same price as the first in advance; otherwise lowest available fare at time of booking will be offered.

If open seats are available, there is no charge for a second seat for those who want to wing it – however, no guarantees and no compensation if you are bumped.


Customers  who are unable to fit into a single seat, unable to properly buckle their seatbelt with an extender or unable to lower both armrests without encroaching must “address their seating needs when booking the original reservation.”

Two adjacent seats will be offered at the same rate in advance; if you have not handled this when you arrive at the airport, see an agent before proceeding to the gate – if empty seats are available, you may be able to snag one for free.

None specified.


Passengers are NOT required to purchase additional seats based on size, but you may be asked to move or wait for the next flight with additional seating space.

The airline does recommend that you purchase an additional seat in advance if you think that you might need one and cannot afford to wait around for a flight with empty seats.

None specified.


If staff determines that you will not fit into one seat, it can require you to purchase one.

The seat will be offered at the lowest possible fare at the time of purchase.

Refunds will be available for those who purchase a seat and find that their flight has one or more open seats.


The airline does not officially require the purchase of a second seat; armrests are 17.8’ apart, good news for many larger customers.

Passengers do have the option to purchase a second seat, regardless of size, at the current fare offered.

No refunds are offered.


No publicized policy.

Passengers that do not anticipate fitting in the roughly 17” between armrests might like to  preemptively purchase one of Spirit’s Big Front Seats, with 18.5 width and 36” pitch – six extra inches of legroom.



Customers who encroach on any part of a neighboring seat should proactively book the needed number of seats prior to travel. (The armrest is considered to be the definitive boundary and measures 17’ in width.)

The seat will be offered at the same price as the first one at time of booking – it is not recommended to wait until you arrive at the airport; Southwest is known for being particularly inflexible on this issue.

Contact for a refund of the cost of additional seating after travel, provided the flight is not entirely full or has not oversold.


If you cannot demonstrate that the armrests can go down and stay down – regardless if you are seated next to a friend or family member – you must purchase a second seat.  Those who decline to do so or upgrade to larger seats risk being refused at the gate.

A second seat may be purchased for the same fare as the original seat provided it is purchased at the same time – those who do not risk being charged walk-up fares later on.


US Airways

Takes it case-by-case, offering extra space when available – may require waiting for a later flight.

If the passenger will not change flights, they will be required to purchase a second seat at the gate.


Virgin America

Larger guests are asked to purchase two seats in advance; no specific policy regarding those who choose not to.

For pricing, contact a representative at the time of booking.

If the flight departs with one or more empty seats, they are “happy to refund the cost” on request.

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