Airline seating rights

I had a recent flight on a regional arm of a major Australian airline with 2 seats a side. The man sitting next to me was both very large and grossly obese. His body wasn’t contained by the seating arms and spread out through them into the aisle and well into my seating space pushing me against the wall of the plane. His body was of such a shape that his head could not touch the headrest and so he fell asleep sitting forward in the seat , and in doing so his arm pushed right across my chest to the far side of my body and restricted my ability to breathe.

I woke him up to pull his arm back but 10 minutes later it happened again. when the drinks cart went past he had to turn sideways and compress hard into me to clear his body from the aisle. It was a short flight and all seats taken so I just put up with it. As soon as I got home I found a way to actually contact the airline by email on their system to ask about their policy and my rights. Over 3 weeks later I received acknowledgement of my email and a day after that a soothing letter that did not answer my question. Do others have similar experiences, has anyone got a response, and should there be a regulation. The reason I asked them is we have a series of overseas trips coming with the same major airline and this would just be impossible to live with on a flight to Europe.


@yoda1, I feel your pain! I’ve had a similar experience on what turned into a 16 hour flight from Dubai (thanks to some delays on the tarmac at both ends). Flight was 100% packed and I was overlapping shoulders with the two gentlemen beside me, and while I certainly feel bad for the guy beside me, unfortunately there was a pretty terrible odour situation happening for the trip. The airline staff were as accommodating as possible, but ultimately there’s not much to my mind that could be done other than frequent walks around the plane.

Interested to hear if anyone in our @Travel-Campaigner group have similar stories, and what solutions they might have found.


I have had similar experiences flying regionally from Brisbane on Bombardier Q400. While the Q400 is one of my favourite short hall aircraft, they have tight seating. Many a time I had to sit beside a big miner returning home/to work. I am tall (192cm) myself so having to sit beside someone who is either very tall as well or obese and taking up more then their seat is very uncomfortable/challenging.

I don’t blame the airline as they are not responsible for the size of their passengers. I blame the passengers as they could be a lot more considerate and think about others when purchasing tickets (namely buy premium economy or above if they can’t fir into a standard economy seat) or selecting seats (say exit rows or bulk head seats where there is significantly more legroom relieving some of the pressure on neighbouring passengers).

As I am relatively slim and tall, for long haul flights I try and get seating that I am more comfortable and also often make requests when booking tickets/checking in. Sometime it mean trying to check in as early as possible or turning up to the airport very early to try and see if more suitable seats are available. I tr and be considerate of others and won’t protrude my body parts into their seating space (unless I am travelling with my family to which I often do to stretch out - it is not often to have us all sitting in exit row or bulk head seats so we tend to travel like the other economy passengers so that we can stick together).

I have noticed that some airlines such as Turkish Air and Southern China mark me automatically as a tall passenger when checking in at the airport…this marking automatically flags me as a tall passenger for other (connecting) flights on the same booking. I am yet to see an Australian Airline do the same.

Anyway, it is the responsibility of passengers to be courteous to others and if one is big or extreme tall, one needs to factor this in when making ones own bookings and seat selection. If it mans paying slightly more, it will mean that not only fellow passengers will be more comfortable, but one will also be as well.


A few years ago I was seated next to a quite large gent on a long haul QF flight in economy. He was as good about trying to contain himself in his seat as he could as well as apologetic, but. The fight appeared full but I asked the cabin crew if there was anywhere else I could sit. They got me the single empty seat - that was apparently ‘booked/ticketed empty as a couple’ (!!) so someone had a guaranteed empty seat next to them (still less cost than premium economy) and they negotiated with the single flyer holding two ticketed seats who was kind enough to give an OK under the circumstances. I am sure the airline did something nice for that really nice traveller in return. Probably a once in a zillion outcome.


Your story is not unique. My wife was unfortunate enough on a flight from the US to Germany to have a grossly obese man next to her. She suffered the bulge issue you mentioned as well as unbearable heat and sweating. A miserable time for around 7 hours.
Airlines appear to be a law unto itself. They do not police this but should because weight is very important on an aircraft and especially how the weight is distributed. THEY SHOULD BE WEIGHING PEOPLE as well as luggage. Of course the civil libertarians will go into overdrive about the rights of people. Apparently the rights of victims matters not. It should
Another issue with airlines is carry on luggage. Seeing people come on with what is essentially checked luggage and taking a whole overhead locker is wrong as other passengers then have to go source a locker which sometimes is nowhere near where they are sitting. Hostesses NEVER enforce this.
Last thing is free seats. Passengers should stay in their allocated seats unless there is a free row as some travellers book seats according to non occupancy. Great for longhaul flights as one can get a bit of shut eye.
I guess airlines are not perfect but they could do much much better…but they care not.


The first time I flew from UK to Australia in 1975 everyone was weighed with all their baggage so their total weight was being used re loading of the plane. This decided if the person could take all their luggage or not, and if they were allowed to take their hand luggage in the cabin or if it had to be put in the hold. I see no reason why airlines could not return to this system. My experience of small planes is that you always have to declare your personal weight when booking a flight and recently I also had to hop on the scales at check in.


A little more to that story and not sure how they do this today.
Maximum weight is critical but also so is how this weight is distributed. I cannot see how they do this other than using some sort of algorithm to equally place passengers on the plane and then locate luggage ON the centre of gravity. Seems to work.
Yeah…they need to go back to weighing passengers. The civil libertarians will have a field day about rights. If nothing else weighing people would allow airlines to exceed luggage limits, but of course they want to charge for that so don’t expect any concessions.


… which gave me a mental picture of the national sumo wrestling team all being packed in at the rear of the plane …


It’s logical that passengers should be weighed and their weight added to their total luggage weight. When purchasing their ticket there should be an overall combined allowance for luggage together with their personal weight, as there is now just for the luggage. If they are assessed to be over the allowance weight they should have to pay extra.
It can’t be too hard for airlines to roughly assess whether the seats they provide are then suitable for the person making the booking. If the person’s weight is too much for the available seat it can be sorted out before the flight. They would need to know that they will have to pay a reduced amount for a second seat in economy or upgrade to business class.


It then follows you might be in line to demand your refund if you and your luggage are under the allowance, or do you mean ‘pay by the kg’?[quote=“london, post:9, topic:15522”]
They would need to know that they will have to pay a reduced amount for a second seat in economy or upgrade to business class.
If ‘I’ am going to have to pay by weight I am also going to expect more seating options, eg sm, med, and lg seats in economy, as well as other classes since I am already going to be paying extra! Now about my mate who is 195cm tall. The airline could have sized seats and install them just before the flight after the weights are done. – most thing can be solved, but at what cost or troubles?


so having started this topic a few days ago there has been lots of interest and views. There are some themes appearing. For safety reasons it is necessary for airlines to balance/trim the weights of passengers and cargo and it seems they do this visually for the big airlines. Hence my grossly obese fellow passenger was close to the wing and in the aisle. I was probably next to him as I am male and not all that heavy. Another theme is people proposing being weighed with their luggage and being charged/positioned/limited in luggage depending on their weight. Sounds fair if you are light but no doubt discriminatory in the eyes of obese people. Another theme is what options are actually available once the plane is in the air - which are often but not always bugger all despite cabin crews helping when they can. Another theme which is less discriminatory perhaps is that obese people might have to show they can contain their body inside their allocated seating position, or if not buy 2 seats or a larger seat. I’m all for this option which would have solved my problem. So how to get someone who can change things interested? In my case if there was a need to evacuate the plane no one could have gotten down the aisle past the obese person, and absolutely I could not have gotten out of the plane past him so there is a genuine safety issue. CASA is much more interested in things that bring a plane down rather than passenger comfort , so it comes back to airlines, the public , and our Federal politicians. Is this something Choice could use its influence to question the airlines about and get the " can’t fit within the confines of the seat" issue more prominence?


I sympathize with your dilemma. There is nothing worse than sitting in a plane hoping that the large/fat or enormous person coming down the aisle may sit next to you. My solution, as I am large myself is to fly business class. Yes I know it is expensive but, as I fly fairly often - these days for holidays only - I don’t want to have an unpleasant flight experience plus there are a few perks as well. I do fly economy for flights up to 3 hours. SouthWest Airlines in the US try to get their “passengers of size” to purchase 2 seats. Their sizing is that you have to fit within the armrests, which are 17" or 42.5cms.

Unfortunately if the airlines had to weigh you it would cause lots of problems and arguments besides the time it would take. Air Samoa do weigh their passengers and Hawaiian Air does for people flying between Hawaii and Samoa - it seems that Samoans are the biggest people and flights to Samoa usually involve relatively small planes, so weight is a real issue for them. I believe Uzbekistan Air also weighs passengers, but at this time doesn’t charge more.

I believe if it really bothers you then you need to consider paying to select a “better” seat or upgrade to premium economy. To get really cheap air tickets the airlines make their seats as small as possible, to fit in as many as possible. I usually look up Airlinequality to check out the size of the seats and the legroom and if there is a choice of airline for your flight use that to help choose which one to fly with. Of course you may find with more room there is more price.


If one is seriously inconvenienced or worse because of someone else’s ‘over-size’, why should they have to pay 2 (premium economy when offered) or 4 times (business) the fare to ‘escape’ the problem?

I would think (but know better) the airlines should have a duty of care to assure each pax has their own space, however minimal they want to make it, but that space is sacrosanct.


Having flown multiple times on domestic flights in the US I can say we have it pretty easy here. The number of US citizens who are morbidly obese is huge and on many occasions I have been sandwiched between two of them. On the one occasion I complained as I could not even lower my dinner tray the steward upgraded the fat guy next to me to business class. Surely I should have been the one upgraded asa it was my personal space being invaded on both sides.


I agree with you, but I cannot see the airlines doing anything in the short term. I am not prepared to put up with being squashed and uncomfortable and so rather than wait for the airlines to do something I fixed my problem myself. I think the only way you will get more space is if the pricing increases and if you do not want to even pay the premium economy amount, can you see people paying more for a slightly larger economy seat?

I think one of the problems today is that most planes are full or very close thereto. When I used to fly in the 70’s and 80’s they were not. Quite often there were spare seats and there would only be two of you in a bank of four seats, so you could spread out. Now with computers and code sharing and “deals” the planes are filled. I have seen on occasion where a flight is sparsely booked, they cancel it and move you to another time.

Economy prices are really cheap particularly compared to what they were even a few years back. More people can afford to fly and they do. Consequently the planes are full and if you get put next to a “fattie” there may be no other seats for either of you to move to.

I cannot see this problem being fixed anytime soon.


Yes, ‘we’ already are willing to pay extra for a few cm of leg room[quote=“frsampson, post:15, topic:15522”]
I cannot see this problem being fixed anytime soon.

Yup :frowning:


heh heh … and I bet none of you would say a word !! :wink:



which reminds me of the plane in germany full of spirits merchants flying home from a conference with the carry on luggage compartment overloaded to the gills with schnapps …


Scary story. I’m starting to think booking two seats for short jumps and going business for long-haul might be worth it as a rule of thumb.

I know someone who is obese and they mentioned in passing once that they always “have to book two seats”. At the time I assumed she meant that it was an airline regulation for weight/size/safety reasons but I guess it was actually just that she was polite and thoughtful of others.


The challenges the airlines face is that the Australian Human Rights Commission, whether one agrees or not, classes obesity as a disability.

As such, it would be very difficult for an airline to impose through its own policies or practices, additional costs or requirements on overweight persons flying with them. If they did, an obese person could claim discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and the airlines could be sanctioned under the DDA or the person discrimated against, compensated for the discrimination.

It also doesn’t appear that the major airlines have applied for exemptions under the DDA.

To allow changes, like some of those outlined in above posts, the airlines would need to apply for an exemption (which would need approval by the Human Rights Commission) or the Federal Parliament would need to amend the DDA to specifically exclude the airlines or other modes of transport (buses, trains etc).

On the other foot, a person who is obese could also complain under the DDA that an airline has discrimated against them as the plane economy seating is unsuitable for those which have this ‘disability’.