Skip to Content

What Size Is Too Big To Fit In An Airline Seat?

Flying is convenient, and it can definitely be fun, but it can also be stressful and uncomfortable. Airline seats are also notoriously small.

When you’re looking to reserve a seat, you may wonder how comfortable you’ll be or whether you need to buy a second seat for additional room.

Taking a few things into account can help you make an informed decision.

What Size Is Too Big To Fit In An Airline Seat?

Why do airlines have a size limit?

Some airlines have a size limit for their seats, and they can either refuse to allow passengers to board, or they can request that passengers either upgrade their seat or purchase a second seat.

There are two main reasons why these rules are enforced.

  • First, fitting easily into your seat ensures your safety. If you can’t fit into your seat or buckle your seatbelt, you could be at risk for serious injury not only in the event of an accident or crash but any time the plane experiences normal turbulence.
  • The second reason is that airlines want to ensure that you and all of their other passengers are as comfortable as possible. If you or your friend or family member can’t fit easily into a seat, you’ll most likely be uncomfortable for the entire voyage.

If the seat is too small, a passenger of size can also infringe on the personal space of the person sitting next to them, making them uncomfortable or cramped.

airline seats

What size is too big for an airline seat?

You can feel too big for an airline seat if you’re tall, overweight, or both. There aren’t any hard and fast rules about how tall or large you can be before flying is restricted, however.

Some airlines have no size rules, while others are quite strict about when you need to purchase a second seat.

The best option is to call ahead to double-check on seat restrictions and make accommodations for your personal comfort.

Although there aren’t any regulated size rules for every airline, you can get a feel for when you might need to make other accommodations.

First, many airlines have a rule that if you can fit into a seat and still put the armrests down, you’re not too big.

airline seat row

This, of course, varies from airline to airline, and even different planes from the same airline will have different seat sizes.

In general, seats in the main cabin measure between 16 and 18 inches wide.

Seats in first class are usually a bit roomier, often measuring between 19 and 21 inches.

Most North American and European airlines have slightly larger seats, while Asian airlines, which cater to smaller people, have, in general, small seats.

Height can also be an issue when you’re flying. If you’re over 6 feet tall, you might find that there’s not enough room to accommodate your legs.

People who are tall can often ask for an aisle or emergency exit seat, both of which offer more legroom and more room to spread out.

airplane exit row seats

What happens if the seat is too small?

If you’ve purchased a seat and have found that the seat is too small, there are a few options. First, if the seat itself isn’t too small, but the seatbelt won’t close, you can ask for a seatbelt extender.

Flight attendants almost always have seatbelt extenders available, and this can help you stay safe and comfortable throughout your flight. Remember that it’s against the law not to have your seatbelt engaged and secure when the seatbelt sign is on.

flight attendant with seatbelt

In some rare cases, if the seatbelt doesn’t fit and the seatbelt has flotation devices in it, a seatbelt extender can’t be used for safety reasons. In these cases, you may be upgraded or downgraded to a different flying class, where the seatbelts don’t have flotation devices and an extender can be used.

If there are no seats available without flotation device seatbelts, you might not be able to board the plane. You can often choose a different flight on a different plane style that can accommodate you.

If you can’t fit in the seat or you’re impeding on the person next to you, you may be asked to purchase a second seat. The seat next to you will then be left empty, and you’ll have plenty of room to stretch out and be comfortable.

You also most likely be asked to purchase a second seat if the seatbelt doesn’t fit and the extender doesn’t make it long enough.


The average airplane seat is 16-18 inches wide.

Call Ahead to Double-Check

In order to ensure that your flight is comfortable and that few or no adjustments will need to be made once you arrive at the airport and board, it’s a good idea to call ahead and discuss your flight options with the airline.

By calling ahead, you can get a solid feel for the airline’s policies on size.

You can also ask about the flights you’re interested in and inquire about the size of aircraft you’ll be flying on.

Airline customer service people can also help you choose roomier seating.

airline ticket agent

Purchase a Second Seat or Preferred Seating

If you’re concerned about being comfortable on your flight, especially if the flight is a long one, preemptively purchasing a second seat isn’t a bad idea.

This helps to alleviate the stress of guessing whether or not you’ll be comfortable, and it ensures that you have plenty of room. If it’s an option, upgrading to first class can give you a little bit of extra room to make your flight much more comfortable.

Most first-class seats are two across instead of three across as well, which gives you even more room to move around.

If you’re flying on a small plane that has seats arranged with single seating down one side, it’s also a good idea to consider purchasing one of the single seats. This helps to ensure that you won’t be impeding on the personal space of the passenger next to you.

You can also look at a seat map to help when choosing seats. Most airplanes provide maps that offer information on how large each seat is and which seats have flotation devices in their seatbelts.

When you’re buying a ticket, you can also try to choose a seat where the seat next to it is vacant. Some airlines let you switch your seat numerous times prior to boarding, and this can help to ensure that you have a roomy flying experience.

If the plane has empty seats available but you end up next to someone, you can always ask a flight attendant to switch seats so you and the passenger next to you both have plenty of space.

airplane first class seat

Sharing is caring!