How can I avoid the “Kevin Smith” treatment?

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    Some members of our SeatExpert staff are also passengers-of-size, and we definitely understand your concerns.
    It is frustrating that there is not a standard policy amongst airlines, and the rules of individual airline are not applied consistently, leaving a lot of discretion to the agents at the airport. That said, Southwest Airlines is probably more consistent in dealing with this issue, as their policy indicates that oversized passengers are required to buy two tickets, but if the plane flies with an empty seat, the cost of the second ticket is refunded.
    In general, if a passenger can fit between the arm-rests in their lowered position, without any parts of their body beyond the space defined inside the arm-rests, then there is usually not a problem flying on any airline. Of course, in borderline cases, that is where the gray area and rules come in.
    If a passenger is significantly oversized, intruding into the space that belongs to the adjacent passenger, then a second ticket, and in some cases a ticket in First Class, is probably the best alternative. In some situations, a First Class ticket is actually a reasonable cost option.
    One of our staff member encountered this exact same issue flying over the 2010-2011 New Year holiday, and she bought a First Class ticket on Virgin America for less than $200 one way from San Francisco to Los Angeles. When all of the fees and taxes were included, this came out to just a little more than the cost of a coach ticket on the same route. And, with the First Class ticket she was allowed two free checked bags. So in this scenario, the First Class option could be had for a very small additional cost.
    Of course, on other airlines and other flights the cost difference could be significantly different.
    Here are more suggestions that can help mitigate any potential problems:
    Work With, Not Against, the Gate Agent
    If there are multiple gate agents, choose the one that is likely to be more sympathetic. Identify yourself as a person of size and offer to take the next available flight if the agents feel that there is a problem. By offering to be a part of the solution, you make yourself an ally, and head off any potentially embarrassing moments.
    Sample dialogue:
    “Good morning, how are you?”
    The agents are usually not expecting to be greeted nicely, so you already start with a positive note.
    “I am a bit larger than normal, but I have been able to fit safely within my seat on previous flights. If this flight is completely full and you think there is a problem, I am willing to work with you to confirm a later flight that is less full.”
    Saying this tells the agent that you are considerate, an experienced traveler, and willing to work with them.
    Gate agents have enormous power, and can really make your life miserable if they decide you are an adversary.
    Choose Your Flight Carefully
    Try to book an early flight on an airline that has later flights to the same destination, and when possible, book non-stop flights rather than flights with connections. This makes it easier to find reasonable options.
    Most early morning flights or red-eye flights are full these days, as people want to avoid hotel expenses, and/or want to get to their destination and still have time to get some work in. Mid morning flights probably work best for your needs.
    Try to determine the actual equipment used for your flight. You will tend to have more issues with flights on smaller regional jets that have a narrow cabin. Also, Airbus narrow-body jets (A318, A319, A320, A321) tend to have about half an inch more seat width space than the Boeing 737 and 757s. Boeing 767s, while used infrequently on domestic US flights, are another good option. Their coach cabins are typically configured as 2-3-2 (two seats, aisle, three seats, aisle, two seats). A large person is less conspicuous in a larger cabin
    Manage Your Seat
    Most larger passenger dislike window seats, as it is difficult to get to the aisle. However, the window seats do have a bit more shoulder room available, and slightly less leg room due to the curvature of the fuselage. You will have to decide what works best for you.
    If possible, choose a seat toward the back half of the plane so that you can board sooner. Boarding sooner will mean more overhead bin space available. Stow your bags overhead and give yourself as much space as possible within your seat.
    If you have a seatmate, tell them they can have the arm-rest. This lets them know you are considerate and concerned for their comfort. Once you are onboard, the most likely person to raise an issue is the adjacent passenger, not the flight attendant. By getting your seatmate on your side, you are likely to have a reasonable flight.
    If First Class is not a viable option, consider paying extra for an exit row or bulkhead row. By paying the extra fee, you are making it less likely the airline will work against you. Most agents automatically look at the seat assignment.
    Keep in mind that bulkhead rows usually have the trays in the arm-rest, making the seats somewhat narrower.
    If you do not need a seat-belt extender, mention this at the appropriate time, hinting that you are actually not that big after all.
    Dress for Success
    Most agents do not admit to this, but a neatly dressed person that carries a smile will more likely get what they ask for. As the saying goes, it is easier to attract bees with honey than vinegar. Business casual will probably work the best. Think of something you might wear to an interview, and it will probably be reasonable. No need to really over-dress, in fact, it might actually do more harm than good.
    If possible, do not check any bags, BUT don’t overpack your carry-on luggage either. If you don’t check bags you can switch to a later flight and the airline won’t have to find your luggage and remove it, saving you the chance of having a lost bag. An efficiently packed carry-on also projects a neat image. And in keeping with the neat appearance, refrain from bringing food or drink onboard.
    Do not carry any shopping bags, backpack, or shoulder bags. The most professional luggage is a standard size rollaboard (9x14x22) and a matching smaller bag that sits on top of this rollaboard. It projects neatness as well as seasoned traveler
    Nothing else in your hands, except your boarding pass. No coat, nothing. One hand to hold the handle of the rollaboard, and the other hand your boarding pass, that’s it.
    Always keep your calm, do not raise your voice, do not make threats, and you will diffuse any volatile situation before they become a problem. We have talked to a number of airport police officers about this. Usually when they are summoned by gate-agents, the passenger is the one with the most to lose.
    Our staff members have used many of the above mentioned techniques sucessfully for years.


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