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Obese passengers on United flights may now need to buy a 2nd seat*

By Kate Appleton
updated February 21, 2017

Effective today, United Airlines has a new policy for obese travelers: they must buy a second seat on a subsequent flight if the plane is full, or agree to move to a pair of empty seats (at no additional charge) if the plane has ample space available.* United's new guidelines are similar to those already in place at Delta, Southwest, and other carriers, as reported by Bloomberg News.

Who are these "passengers requiring extra space"? United defines the obese as being unable to fit into a single seat in the ticketed cabin; unable to properly buckle the seatbelt using a single seatbelt extender; and/or unable to put the seat’s armrests down when seated.

Any obese person who refuses to comply will not be allowed to board the flight. The fare for the second seat will be the same as the fare paid for the original seat—even if the second ticket is purchased on the day of departure when, as United notes, fares are normally higher. Find out more about just how United's policy works by reading the FAQ section.

Robin Urbanski, a spokeswoman for United's parent company, told reporters that the Chicago-based airline decided to introduce this policy after receiving hundreds of complaints annually from passengers.

Sharing cramped coach quarters with the obese has been a touchy subject among Budget Travel readers—an earlier blog post asking whether obese passengers should pay more to fly generated 371 comments.

What do you have to say about United's new policy?

*UPDATE on 4/16: Differing news reports and reader Fat Flyer's comment prompted me to follow up via email with Robin Urbanski to clarify how the policy is being implemented. She outlined the following steps in response to an obese passenger:

1) Check to see if there are 2 adjacent available seats on the flight.

2) If there are no available coach seats, but there are empty business or first class seats, give the obese passenger the option to purchase an upgrade, or offer the upgrade to a frequent flier on the plane who has the status to be upgraded and would then make an additional seat in coach available for the obese person.

3) If the upgrade is not available/not desired, the passenger must deplane and will be bumped to a subsequent flight with 2 available adjacent seats—still at no additional cost.

4) Purchasing a second seat is required when there are no available adjacent seats on a subsequent flight and/or if the customer wants to guarantee that he/she will be on a flight.

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