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United to Charge Large Fliers Double

April 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Travel News

United Airlines has decided to charge overweight passengers for two seats under certain conditions. The additonal fare would be required if the customers “are unable to fit into a single seat in the ticketed cabin; are unable to properly buckle the seatbelt using a single seatbelt extender; and/or are unable to put the seat’s armrests down when seated.” United isn’t the first airline to introduce this policy as Southwest Airlines, Alaska Air Group, and Continental have similar policies. Several of the airlines, including United, are willing to forgo the charge if there are empty seats on the flight.
united-airlines-charges-double.jpg United Airlines © Steven Damron

Airlines have been on the defensive recently including RyanAir who is thinking about charging for toilet use and Spirit Airlines which was in a battle with their employees over a new apron policy. With consumer frustrations with airline policies, United is likely to take a few hits for their new guidelines. In their defense, United claims that this will policy will “help ensure that everyone’s travel experiences [is] comfortable and pleasant.”

Is United justified in charging certain passengers double the fare based on their size?
gennaro-salamone-photo.jpgGennaro Salamone is the founder and editor of Enduring Wanderlust. Feel free to contact him with questions, comments, or inquiries with reference to contributing a travel article or photograph for publication.


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30 Responses to “United to Charge Large Fliers Double”
  1. Seth says:

    Airlines just can’t stay of the news…in a bad way. Part of it must be the delays and other problem causing customers to react tougher on them. In this case, I’m with United as long as they only charge on a full flight. Remember there are two customers involved here. If someone is taking up more than one seat that will bother the person next to them.

  2. Liz says:

    This is going to lead to some confrontations. How will they approach a passenger to tell them they’re too large. They have to wait until passengers are seated then go around. How else will it work? Pre-boarding? Seth makes a good point about the other passenger who might be inconvenienced. A way around it may be to book late and go with flights that aren’t full.

  3. Gennaro says:


    Good point about the other passenger who might be uncomfortable. That will likely be the other angle that United takes.


    It’s going to be an uncomfortable conversation for someone. There are a lot of flight attendants and personnel that are skilled with dealing with customers. They’ll figure it out. Haven’t seen too much drama over the issue with the other airlines that do it.

  4. Tim says:

    Always a drama with these airlines. That Ryan Air charging for the toilet was way over the line. I can deal with this one though. Another things for passengers with this issue is to fly first class. There are bigger seat and it may be less than double fare. Not to mention saving a little embarrassment of being singled out.

  5. Completely justified and I’m suprised it has taken them this long to enact this. People are in charge of their own weight, why should everyone else suffer when large people decide to travel. Perhaps it will encourage them to be healthier in the future.

  6. I only hope they are not doubling the number of seats in a row to make sure the policy catches as many people as possible 😉

  7. Gennaro says:


    Interesting point about first class versus two tickets. On some flights that might work out.

    @Pete Blakemore

    That’s the strongest point for the airlines. That another passenger’s comfort may be influenced by the situation.

    @Alik Levin

    They probably won’t go to those lengths. Guessing this will be subtle.

  8. Mike G says:

    Two things:

    1. As a passanger who paid for a full seat, I like this policy which will hopefully guarantee I get my full seat. It would be nice if there was a way in the future to charge the guy next to you for “spilling” over a little too much.

    2. I have flown RyanAir for under $40 on flights from Venice to Barcelona, Barcelona to London-Porto-Paris. For $40, I can hold it. And if I really had to pee–I could pay 5 bucks for it. I would rather keep getting those ridiculously low fairs–and just time my bathroom breaks a little better.

  9. Wow! I did not know this, thanks Gennaro. I am a United frequent flier so this is interesting to me. So many things come to mind. I guess airlines are desperate for money and another thing, it is a sad comment on the state of health in the world. I know in America this is a huge issue and maybe it is something like this that will make people realize that we need to have healthier food available or at least, eat healthier.

    As for airlines like Ryan Air charging to use the bathroom, that is stupid. I mean..seriously???? 🙂

  10. Gennaro says:

    @Mike G

    On the first point, you deserve full access to that seat. True that yu also paid a full fare. It’s also true that RyanAir’s flight are usually shorter distances. I guess for a $40 flight a few more won’t hurt the consumer too much. Not sure it’s worth implementing the toilet policy though.


    I’m interested to see if anyone will challenge the double fare in court. Probably not, but it wouldn’t be too shocking to see it. Ryan took a lot of bad press, but in the end passengers want the lowest fares and will still use them.

  11. Nisha says:

    This is a tough one. It’s not right to discomfort someone else by taking part of their seat, but some overweight passengers have health issues that lead to their weight. I think first class with bigger seats is a good option.

  12. Just an FYI, Ryanair charging for toilet use was revealed to be fake, and just part of the their (twisted) scheme to get as much PR as possible. They really don’t care what people think of them, but only that people fly with them.

    Pretty ridiculous really.

    O’Leary Admits Spending A Penny Story Was A Stunt

  13. Gennaro says:


    Business class seats are often more costly than two coach seats, but that would be an interesting option. You present a tough call with someone who has health issues. What about people who are very tall? Legs?

    @Pete Blakemore

    Definitely a unusual PR stunt. I guess they’ll take any attention sent their way.

  14. Nomadic Matt says:

    i support this. if you are going to take up two seats or spill over into my seat, you should pay for the extra room

  15. Venus says:

    This is not as cut and dried as simply charging overweight or obese people higher. I agree with everyone above about making sure they are only doing this on full flights when one traveler may be bothering another by encroaching on their seat. Frankly, I feel bad for anyone who has to pay this because as someone else pointed out some people are overweight due to medical condistions they have no control over.

    That said, I am also glad the airlines are addressing this issue one way or the other because as a relatively slender/small person I have been stuck in one too many uncomfortable flights next to someone who took up half my seat without the slightest hint of concern. I have had people elbow me out of the way even, or fall asleep on me and the last time was on a 10 hr transatlantic flight. So, if this means I actually get to use my seat I am all for it.

    I just wish there is a way to make this fair to most people but I don’t know if there is. Someone may always be left holding the short end of the stick.

  16. Gennaro says:

    @Nomadic Matt

    Seems like the consensus so far.


    It is a tough situation. Is there a great way to make sure both parties (larger paasenger and person seated next to them) are both happy and comfortable? Probably nothing ideal. Bigger seats on all flights wuld be one solution, but that means either less profit or higher fares for all.

  17. Sandy says:

    Well, if they are going to be paying for two seats, they better make sure they are side by side! As I have flown with family members before wanting to sit beside each other and at times we were split up!!

  18. Gennaro says:


    I’m assuming it would mean “larger” passengers pay for and get two seat next to each other giving them ample room. Would be ridiculous otherwise to charge double fair, in my view.

  19. Sire says:

    I can understand the economics of the policy but I feel that the bad publicity they are going to get from making such a decision is going to bite them in their big fat financial ass.

  20. Gennaro says:


    That’s a possibility. Most people just go with the lowest fare on the route. We’ll see if United actual profits much from this.

  21. Carla says:

    I dont know about this one. Just like everyone else, I hate it when someone spills over into my seat, but I dont see how they are going to enforce it. Are they going to measure people when they are checking in?? A guy can be 6’7″ and 300lbs; those he’s not obese, because he of a higher weight, are they going to charge him for two seats?

    I dont see how they are going to enforce this.

  22. Gennaro says:


    That’s a good point. I’d hate to be the person who has to approach a customer and tell them they have to pay an extra fare. I’m also interested in knowing when this takes place. Before or after boarding? When does that person pay for the second fare?

  23. Aaron says:

    Everyone here seems to be assuming that only overweight people will have to pay for two seats.

    @ Carla

    If someone were 6’7 and 300lbs they would not have to pay for two seats UNLESS they spilled over onto another seat.

    People are arguing that United could simply widen the seats to accomodate larger passengers, but wouldn’t that mean that less people would fit onto a plane? If less people go onto one plane, the prices will obviously go up. The average traveller would have to pay MORE to compensate.

    It’s simple utilitarianism because it’s the best possible solution to all concerned. To complain that it’s not fair to larger people is selfish is selfish in itself.

    I’m a very tall person and am prepared to pay extra if my legs make someone else’s trip uncomfortable.

    My two cents.

  24. Gennaro says:


    I think that’s the assumption because the airlines singled out overweight passengers. They didn’t mention long legs. It might be so, but there has been a case of it. Haven’t seen it…if it has happened.

  25. Jill says:

    In my own personal opinion 17 inches in width is barely enough room for an average sized person to sit comfortably. To me, this is another way for an airline to get some extra $ from a passanger. I agree however, that i wouldn’t like it if an obese person sat next to me and their “fat” was spilling in my seat. But what do u expect w/ a seat thats only 17 inches across???? I really think ALL airlines should do away w/ at least one seat per row so they can add an inch or 2 to the economy seats. Most americans are considered to be overweight or obese now days and the airlines should reconize this and make the seats a little wider to accomodate!!!

  26. Gennaro says:

    @Jill – Interesting points.


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