Maybe you saw the recent report of an airline announcing its decision to weigh passengers, or the man who is suing Etihad Airlines, claiming a fellow passenger was taking up part of his seat on his flight. Then there are the people that have been kicked off of flights because they were too big.
If all of these stories are making you nervous about flying, relax. Let this big guy reassure you.
Here are a few things to know before you buy your next ticket:
1. Passenger weighing is extremely rare.
There are only two airlines we know of that do this sort of thing. Uzbekistan Airlines (a carrier based in the former Soviet republic) reportedly weighs passengers - with their baggage - it say is on an experimental basis to determine the overall weight loads of planes. If you fly to or from Tashkent a lot, you might run into this issue, but it seems unlikely otherwise.
Samoa Air does charge passengers by the pound for airfare but unless you live in the South Pacific, chances are slim you'll ever fly any of the airline's three planes, none of which hold more than 9 passengers.
2. Airlines want don't really to embarrass customers.
A few years back, film director/writer Kevin Smith was told to get out of the seat he was already buckled into because he was allegedly too fat to fit. His ensuing expletive-laden Twitter rant was one for the ages and let airlines know (if there was any doubt) about the power of social media.
No one likes surprises and that includes airline companies, which is why every carrier's website has a section devoted to "customers requiring extra space" or the current euphemism du jour. Look under "special needs" when searching airline sites for policies and regulations.
Just about every airline offers the same suggestion: Be pro-active, meaning customers who think they won't fit into a single seat should buy two. Not sure if you'll fit in a single? Delta says here's the test (and this is typical for most airlines): "If you are unable to sit in your seat without encroaching into the seat next to you while the armrest is down" you'll need a second seat. Some airlines say buy two upfront; others say ask a gate agent or flight attendant to place you next to an empty seat but that's risky because most airlines fly at near capacity these days and empty are hard to come by.
3. Best deal we've heard of for larger passengers.
Southwest Airlines isn't only good for free bags. If you need a second seat, Southwest says go ahead and purchase it but after the flight, simply apply for a refund. The airline's "Customers of Size" policy also notes if you don't want to buy a second seat online, you can talk to a customer service agent by phone or a gate agent at the airport but again, that carries the risk of you being shut out in case there are no empty seats. Plan accordingly.
Rick Seaney is an airline travel expert and the co-founder of FareCompare.com, an airfare comparison shopping site