How to get an airline seat you can actually fit into

Feeling the squeeze at 30,000 feet? You're not alone but there's something you can do.

Feeling the squeeze at 30,000 feet? You're not alone but there's something you can do.  (AP)

How was your last flight? Chances are you didn't have much room to romp at 30,000 feet. 

If it was a tight squeeze, here’s some good news: More and more airlines allow you to pay just a little for a roomier seat or at least a more comfortable experience.

The big freebie.

Southwest: Not only does Southwest offer free bags, they also offer free seats for large passengers but there’s a minor catch.

If you are what the airline calls a “Customer of Size” who can’t fit in a single seat, you must book two and pay for both. However, once the trip is done, contact Southwest and you will get a refund even if the flight oversells. Check out the airline’s policy on how to book and how to reserve that second seat here.

Pay a little.

American: You can pay extra during the booking process for a better-placed seat (such as an aisle or window) starting at $4 and up. No extra legroom but if you’ve got to have an aisle, and can’t find one otherwise, it can be worth the money.

Southwest: Another example of finding a preferred seat can be had with Southwest’s EarlyBird boarding. This gets you on the plane sooner so you can pick your spot (and find an overhead bin that’s not already stuffed with carry-on bags). The cost rose last month from $12.50 to $15 but it’s still a bargain.

Delta: Bigger seats with extra legroom can be expensive but they can be cheap, too. Delta offers up to four extra inches for as little as $19 but the price can rise significantly depending on how far you’re traveling. 

JetBlue: Prices for the carrier’s Even More Space seats start at just $10. Too much? JetBlue already offers comparatively roomy 18-inch wide seats so you could be sitting pretty for free.

Pay a little... or a lot.

Spirit: Pay nothing extra when you fly this ultra-discounter and you get no choice at all (a computer chooses for you and there’s a big risk you won’t sit with your traveling companions). Pay $1-$50 to choose your own ‘regular’ seat. Or pay up to $199 for the more spacious "Big Front Seat." But if you snagged one of Spirit’s recent $24 deals from Boston to Vegas, you may not care what you pay for a seat.

United: Book the cheapest flight you can find, then add an Economy Plus seat that goes from $9 to $299. If you fly all the time for business, they have subscriptions for bigger seats from $499 to $1099. Look for Economy Plus packages, too, if you’d like some extra goodies.

Look for best seats yourself

SeatGuru: Want the best seat possible but not sure which it is? SeatGuru offers info on every aircraft flown by every airline and it’s pack with details like seat widths and inches of legroom. They make it possible to book a flight based on what plane you’ll be in; the only thing is, airlines have been known to switch at the last minute.


Rick Seaney is an airline travel expert and the co-founder of, an airfare comparison shopping site