Travel | April 24, 2023 2:46 pm

Will a Petition Force Airlines to Finally Make Planes More Accessible for Plus-Size Passengers?

"Air travel should be comfortable and accessible for everyone, regardless of size"

Interior of airplane with people sitting in seats. Passengers with suitcase in aisle looking for seat during flight.
It's time for airlines to have a universal policy for plus-size travelers.
Getty Images

Flying is uncomfortable. In fact, by president of FlyersRights.org Paul Hudson’s estimate, only 20% of the population today can reasonably fit in normal airplane seats. Yet, despite the fact that some airlines are accounting for amenities like bunk beds in newer models, wider plane seats — and more accessible planes on the whole — don’t seem to be a top priority.

Per a report from Thrillist, one person is seeking to change that with a petition. Jae’lynn Chaney has launched a Change.org petition to the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation and Travel Security Administration calling for more comfortable and accessible seating for all, but especially for plus-sized passengers.

“Air travel should be comfortable and accessible for everyone, regardless of size. As plus-size travelers, my partner and I have unfortunately experienced discrimination and discomfort while flying. During a flight from Pasco to Denver, my fiancé was subjected to hateful comments, disapproving looks, and even refusal to sit next to them, amounting to discrimination. Similarly, on another flight, I was forced to occupy only one seat with immovable armrests that caused me pain and bruises,” Chaney wrote in the petition.

“This mistreatment of plus-size passengers is unacceptable, and it highlights the urgent need for better policies that protect the dignity and rights of all passengers, regardless of size,” she continued. “Unfortunately, plus-size passengers often experience discomfort and discrimination when flying. The lack of a uniform customer-of-size airline policy is unacceptable and must be addressed.”

The online resource iFly lists the various policies among different airlines but it states that, “In general, obese passengers on airlines who require a seatbelt extender and/or cannot lower the armrests between seats are asked to pay for a second seat on their flight, unless there are two empty seats together somewhere on the plane.”

This policy isn’t the same for every airline, and Chaney is right that the lack of clarity is objectively problematic, having resulted in several examples of plus-sized passengers being targeted in viral tirades for having the audacity to fly at all. In one particularly vile instance involving an American Airlines flight, a traveler went so far as to pen a weeklong public screed on Twitter fat shaming two passengers, eventually referring to them as simply “the fats.”

The answer to all of this feels obvious: more accessible planes. Despite legislation and being given years to establish a standard, as well as years of pleading from airline passenger advocacy groups, the issue has gone largely unaddressed by the FAA. Maybe Chaney’s petition, which even outlines examples of policies that could help remedy the problem, will be the thing that finally does it. It has 8,300 signatures at the time of writing.