Southwest Airlines
Photograph ©2022 by Brian Cohen.

Complimentary Extra Seat For People of a Certain Size on Southwest Airlines

A new policy? Fat chance. Just roll with it...

A complimentary extra seat for people of a certain size can be available aboard airplanes that are operated by Southwest Airlines — but it is not automatically assured, as the customer must first discuss his or her “seating needs” with a customer service agent of the airline.

Complimentary Extra Seat For People of a Certain Size on Southwest Airlines

Frontier Airlines seat
Photograph ©2023 by Brian Cohen.

The following statement is from the official Customer of size and extra seat policy of Southwest Airlines:

Customers who encroach upon any part of the neighboring seat(s) may proactively purchase the needed number of seats prior to travel to ensure the additional seat(s) is available. The armrest is considered to be the definitive boundary between seats; the width of the narrowest and widest passenger seats (in inches) is available on our Flying Southwest page. The purchase of additional seats serves as a notification of a special seating need and allows us to adequately plan for the number of occupied seats onboard. It also helps us ensure we can accommodate all Customers on the flight for which they purchased a ticket and avoid asking Customers to relinquish their seats for an unplanned accommodation. Most importantly, it ensures that all Customers onboard have access to safe and comfortable seating. You may contact us for a refund of the cost of additional seating after travel. If you prefer not to purchase an additional seat in advance, you have the option of purchasing just one seat and then discussing your seating needs with the Customer Service Agent at the departure gate. If it’s determined that a second (or third) seat is needed, you’ll be accommodated with a complimentary additional seat.

The armrest is what determines who qualifies as a customer of size, according to the aformentioned policy of the airline:

The armrest is the definitive gauge for a Customer of size. It serves as the boundary between seats. If you’re unable to lower both armrests and/or encroach upon any portion of a seat next to you, you need a second seat.

Although this policy has received a lot of attention recently, it is has been around for greater than eleven years, according to this article at The Gate With Brian Cohen back on Friday, March 22, 2013. “A new policy was announced by Southwest Airlines in November of last year where ‘Customers of Size’ who prefer not to purchase an additional seat in advance have the option of purchasing just one seat and then discussing their seating needs with the customer service agent at their departure gate. If it is determined that a second — or even third — seat is needed, they will be accommodated with a complimentary additional seat or two.”

As seats seen to continue to shrink aboard commercial airplanes in the attempt to squeeze more passengers — and, thus, more revenue — out of every flight, the controversy of passengers of size invading the space of fellow seat mates only becomes more prevalent…

…and, of course, confrontations and lawsuits follow.

Final Boarding Call

Delta Air Lines seats
Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

“I think they should implement the same system they have for the carryons; they don’t allow the carryon larger than certain size on the plane. They should reserve the right to do the same with the passenger of a large size”, according to this comment by priscilla, who is a reader of The Gate With Brian Cohen. “For example the notification ‘if you are a wider then certain number of inches — you will not fit in the seat and may not be able to travel’ should appear at the time or purchasing of the ticket and there should be an option provided to purchase two tickets. If the obese person buys only one ticket — he would be at risk of denied boarding if there are no empty seats on the plane. If there are empty seats, the fee for an extra seat should be refunded just like Southwest does.”

Articles written by me pertaining to this contentious topic over the years include the debate over airline passengers who are obese on Friday, March 22, 2013 and Obese Airline Passengers: The Debate Continues in 2019 on Monday, March 4, 2019 — and readers of The Gate With Brian Cohen have been vociferous in the comments that they posted in response to both articles. I am not obese; but what exactly are the rights which obese people have? Should they receive special dispensation simply because they are unable to fit in the seats in which they are assigned? Should they purchase a seat in the premium class cabin or two seats in the economy class cabin? Like others, obese people should not have to deal with discrimination — right?

Although passengers of a certain size could add weight to the aircraft — thereby theoretically increasing fuel costs for the airline — the real issue is the rights of passengers who are forced to suffer being seated next to a passenger whose girth infringes upon the space for which they paid. I know that I like to be as comfortable as possible when I am seated aboard an aircraft — and I want all of the space for which I paid to be available to me at all times.

I really do not believe that is asking for too much.

Southwest Airlines has long had a policy that is friendly to obese passengers — but should other airlines allow passengers of a certain size to get an extra seat aboard an airplane at no extra cost? Can that be viewed as discrimination against anyone that wants an extra seat?

Can you think of another industry that gives away a product or service at no additional charge simply because the customer is a person of a certain size?

All photographs ©2018, ©2022, and ©2023 by Brian Cohen.

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