Airline Creates An ‘XL Class’ For Overweight Passengers

Tiny Samoa Air was the first airline to charge passengers based on weight, and now, the company is creating a special “XL class” for larger passengers.

The controversial “pay what you weigh” airline is now creating a wider row on its aircrafts to comfortably seat passengers who weigh more than 130 kilograms (286 pounds). The new row gives larger passengers an extra 12 to 14 inches of space, alleviating the discomfort large people often face when sitting in small airline seats.

“Quite often the access is difficult, and even the space between the seats is enough that even when you’ve squeezed into the seats there’s no room for your legs. That’s where the XL has come in – we do it with shirts and clothing and other things where we have different standard sizes,” Chris Langton, the airline’s head, tells Business Insider.

Samoa Airline’s efforts to accommodate larger passengers make sense in Samoa, a country with one of the world’s highest rates of obesity. When flying on the airline, passengers pay a fixed price per kilogram for themselves and their luggage that varies anywhere from about $1 to $4 per kilogram, depending on the length of the route. Samoa Airlines seems to believe other carriers will follow suit and soon develop similar methods of calculating rates for passengers.

Customer service slams airlines in overweight passenger policy enforcement

Airline rules for passengers who take up more than one seat are neither new nor surprising. Forget about passenger comfort (the airlines already have, of course), it’s a financial issue. A passenger who takes up more than one seat is consuming a scarce resource (in the economic sense): seat 42A on Flight ABC123 on July 29, 2010 can only be sold once. If it doesn’t bring in any revenue, it never will. So, charging bigger passengers extra is a prudent financial move. Yet, this is only part of the problem.

Goodwill on the planes, in an effort to make overweight passengers more comfortable and avoid embarrassing situations, is resulting in uneven policy enforcement, which costs the airlines cash and makes instances of seemingly unfair treatment even worse.

And, the prevailing attitude in the marketplace seems to support this thinking. Even passengers affected by this policy are on board with it, so to speak, as one passenger noted in a letter to USA Today’s “Traveler’s Aide”. The problem is enforcement, which tends to be a tad uneven. The passenger noted in his letter:

The flight attendant had moved another large man to the outside seat in that row so there was a space between us. The agent told me I could either pay for a second seat or get off and wait for the next flight to New Orleans. I opted to pay and go home. The gate person embarrassed me and asked for my credit card, but didn’t require the same from the other large passenger.

The passenger was upset with how the Southwest flight attendant handled the situation. Of course, this airline is no stranger to high-profile gaffes with big passengers. Some passengers are able to get away with spilling into a second seat, while others are stuck shelling out for an extra ticket. And some simply don’t bother, and they invariably are seated right next to you. For the airlines, the challenge is in figuring out who should have to buy an extra seat. According to USA Today, “That means Southwest agents end up eyeballing those arriving passengers and guessing whether they comfortably fit into seats-without actually seeing them seated.” An overweight passenger may slip through the cracks on one flight but could have to pry open his wallet on another.

And, there is a bit of awkwardness involved:

“Without question, approaching a customer with unique seating needs who is unaware of (or has ignored) the policy is incredibly difficult,” says Southwest representative Christi Day. “However, with the use of discretion, tact, and genuine concern for customer comfort, approaching those with a clear need for additional seating is critical for ensuring that another customer is not subjected to an uncomfortable flight.”

Perhaps the greatest problem for the airlines – and I can’t believe I’m actually writing this – is that they’ve been too eager to accommodate. Customer service … good customer service … leads the airlines to give away an extra seat instead of charging when possible, or at least trying to misjudge in favor of the passenger. Or, maybe they just don’t want horror stories winding up in the hands of travel bloggers. Whatever the motivation, trying to help passengers is what leads to uneven enforcement. The inequity, of course, makes the slip-ups look worse than they are.

The solution is simple: stop the goodwill. When in doubt, charge for a second seat. It’s really that simple.

[photo by Willie Lunchmeat via Flickr]

Overweight man barred from flight, misses uncle’s funeral

Okamoni Fa flies a lot, and says that despite weighing 400 pounds he’s never had to buy a second seat like some overweight passengers.

Until, that is, he really needed to get somewhere fast.

The San Jose man bought a last-minute ticket from Southwest Airlines to attend his uncle’s funeral, but when he arrived at the ticket counter the agent looked at him and told him he needed to buy a second seat. The problem was, the flight was fully booked, and apparently there were no alternative flights. That left Mr. Fa stranded and he missed the funeral.

There’s been a lot of debate about the policy of charging overweight passengers for a second seat. Southwest says that if a passenger can’t put down the armrests without encroaching on their neighbors’ space then they need to buy another seat. If the flight isn’t oversold, Southwest says they refund the extra charge.

In this case, Southwest has said they will refund Mr. Fa for the one seat he did buy, but wasn’t allowed to use.

That’s cold comfort for him. He wasn’t able to join his family in their time of mourning and must now be wondering what the ticket agent will say the next time he tries to board a plane.


Galley Gossip: Be kind to your fellow passengers. Yes, that does include the ones who are overweight!

What I’ve learned about the world working at 35,000 feet is that you can’t please everyone, no matter how hard you try. Another thing I’ve learned is regardless of where people come from or where they are sitting on the airplane, most of them have one thing in common – lack of empathy for their fellow passengers. It seems as if a passenger is not experiencing (or has experienced) something first hand, they have little regard for what other passengers may be experiencing.

Take for instance the last row. It never fails, whenever I’m standing at the back of the airplane watching passengers board, I’ll notice a group of people getting closer and closer to me as they walk down the aisle squinting at the seat numbers on the armrests, and as they get closer and closer I can see the look of horror grow on their face as they realize just how close to the back of the aircraft their seats really are.

“We’re sitting in the last row! (Insert curse word here!)” That’s what I’ll usually hear as they sling their items into the empty overhead bin and slam the mother shut.

Hey, it’s not my fault! Anyways, someone has to sit there, why not you? I mean if it’s not you, who should it be? You do know that people are sitting there when you’re not there, right?

Passengers are always complaining about the bad attitudes of flight attendants, but what I’m sick and tired of are passengers with the same bad attitude. I’m not talking about the way they treat me, I’m talking about the way they treat each other! It’s gotten out of hand. For example, a lot has been written about overweight passengers on the airplane recently and what I find interesting are the comments people have made to these posts. They’re actually quite shocking. Seriously, what is it about the airplane that seems to bring out the worst in people?

One large passenger who is the inspiration behind this post wrote…


I am one of those large passengers. I fly to Europe more than I fly on domestic flights. I fly in coach, usually. I have learned little lessons to try to fly more easily. I fly on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, when there will be a larger chance of there being at least one empty seat in coach. Anytime that I HAVE to go to Las Vegas, I purchase two tickets.

The flight attendants have always been very helpful. I have only had one awful experience. On a flight from Houston to Albuquerque, I was in the window seat up front and the person beside me insisted on sit with my right hip up. I did not fit. I was in pain for a couple of hours. I had a terrible, huge bruise on that hip by that evening. Yes, I know, many people look at me as just an “obese person,” but I am a kind, caring, intelligent (Masters Degree) person and I have feelings, too.

The best service and care I have ever received is with Lufthansa. As usual, I flew either a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. At the gate, the gate attendant would, without any request from me, block out three available seats. I know that is extremely unusual, but trust me, it was extremely appreciated.

On a flight from Cancun to Houston, the male supervisor at check in took my boarding pass from me. He could not explain what he was doing because he did not speak English and I did not speak Spanish. He fixed and gave me another boarding pass with a flourish and a big smile. I smiled back, not knowing what had just happened. When I
boarded, I found that I was sitting in first class. To you sir, whoever and where ever you are, GRACIAS, so very much.
Random acts of kindness are greatly appreciated.

I hope that the normal sized or thin people who see a person like me will remember that we have feelings. If I am in a situation where I am intruding on another person’s space, I do feel embarrassed and I apologize. I cannot always afford to purchase two tickets. I try to drive rather than fly, if at all possible.


Can you imagine being the person who walks down the aisle that everyone is wishing not to sit next to? As they’re walking down the aisle, some of you are not even quiet about it! While I know it’s not comfortable traveling beside an overweight person, it’s not right to bash and judge them, just like it’s not right for me, your flight attendant, to bash and judge you in the galley with my fellow coworkers based on the way you travel. Everyone deserves a little kindness. Even on the airplane.

And now I’d like to leave you with a few kind words from Frank and Bob, two people I hope to find myself working with on an airplane one day soon…


I realized many years ago that my uniform didn’t make me “human” to many passengers. And, at times have been treated as if I didn’t have feelings/emotions either. You are NOT the problem. A 17 inch seat can not accommodate a lot of passengers, yet that is what the airline sells to you, is the problem. First and business fares are astronomical. That’s not the solution. As I walk down the aisle and see passenger’s of size, I silently think to myself……… hard it is for you to sit there so uncomfortable. You may be large, Jeannie, but you also have a BIG HEART. I’ll take
that any day, over the passenger with the inflated sense of self importance.




Thank you so much, Frank. You know, I have never treated flight attendants as though they have no feelings. I suppose that is because any flight attendants I have ever come into contact with have always been very pleasant, have smiled and have taken the time to say hello, have a good flight, etc. I would say that 99% are very thoughtful and proactive in being helpful to me (like getting the seat belt extender for me before I can even ask). As far as the issue of a person’s weight, the fact is people aren’t overweight because they want to be. Obesity isn’t a decision one makes for ones self. There are a lot of circumstances that contribute to a person being overweight or obese. This common idea that overweight or obese people simply don’t take care of themselves and constantly eat Burger King for dinner is absurd and proves ignorance in so many of us.



Jeannie & Frank,

In this day and age, when the average person needs or wants to get from point A to point B and there is great distance involved, we are going to have to stuff ourselves into the big metal tube with a lot of other people who are in the same situation. It is going to entail unusual closeness and maybe crying infants. I know that it is only going to be for a few hours and I try to make the best of it. It is much easier to do when flight attendants like you are on duty, Frank.

Bob, the singing pilot.

Derrie-Air, an airline that’s just a dream

A few days ago, Grant posted about Derrie-Air, a new airline that is to charge passengers by the pound–not just the baggage weight, but the passenger weight as well. “The more you weigh, the more you pay.”

As Grant noted in his post, and Daily Travel & Deal, the L.A. Times travel blog, reported yesterday, the airline isn’t real, but was created as an ad campaign study by Philadelphia Media Holdings to see how effective print advertising can be. There was enough of a buzz that it’s clear that people, in general, have problems traveling on the same plane with people who are overweight. Feeling squished in an airplane seat next to a person who is taking up more than his or her fair share of space is annoying at best and anger producing at its worst.

When I read about Derrie-Air, before I caught on to the hoax, I flashed to my high school friends who wrestled in the lower weight class. They barely ate for the season and told tales of how they worked on getting their weight down before they stepped on a scale before a meet to see if they qualified. If people did have to pay for their airline ticket according to their weight, I could see there might be some who would do the same thing wrestlers do about a week before their travel date. There they would be in their neighborhoods wearing sweatsuits, walking around the block over and over again, just to loose the water weight.

I also imagined the arguments couples would have at the airport, blaming each other for the extra weight one of them packed as their souvenir money was eaten up by the cost of the seat. “If it wasn’t for you we could have that extra day at Disneyland.”