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Flying large: air-travel tips for the big and tall

While the average person is getting taller and heavier, airlines continue to make their economy seats smaller. Still, there are some things you can do to make you, and your seatmates, happy.
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If we live in a world where the average person is getting taller and heavier, then why do the airlines continue to make their economy seats smaller and smaller? The obvious answer is that more seats generate more income. But who do you feel more sorry for: the passenger who barely fits into his seat, or the passenger whose seat space is taken up by the person next to him?

For weight and balance purposes, the average airplane passenger was once assumed to weigh 165 pounds. After a few incidents, the Federal Aviation Administration upped the average to 190 pounds, but it seems the airlines are taking no notice of this change when it comes to seat comfort. And they won’t, either — not so long as travelers choose their flights by price.

Southwest Airlines got blasted by the media a while back for requiring extra-large people to buy two seats. Right or wrong, at least Southwest did something about the problem, instead of ignoring it or hoping it would just go away. Most airlines still do not have a policy addressing the large-passenger issue.

I am 6 feet 2 inches tall and weigh 195 pounds, and I have space problems when I fly. Can you imagine what somebody twice my size goes through? I also find it tragic that on just about every flight, three large people are wedged into one row while one smaller passenger is enjoying three seats to herself. But since the airlines may not discriminate by size, and computers do most of the seat planning, the big guys’ bad luck just continues.

Here are some tips for flying large more comfortably.

One major airline got itself into a heap of legal trouble when its supplier of seat-belt extenders experienced a small design oversight. This item is generally classified as a “Technical Service Order” or TSO, and the Federal Aviation Administration is often abbreviated as FAA. Since the supplier printed FAA on one side of the belt and TSO on the other, when it was buckled it read FAATSO. By the time the problem was spotted, the supplier had already manufactured several thousand extenders, so I guess you could say it was a BIG problem.

If you are a passenger who is sitting next to someone who is encroaching into your seat, you too have rights. You can use some of the above tips yourself, but please do so as courteously and sympathetically as possible. There is nothing worse than making a scene with a large seat mate and then having to sit next to that person for hours on end. I warn you, I have seen this happen many times, and it is never pretty. If everyone would just practice common courtesy, flying could be a happy adventure for all of us.

James Wysong has worked as a flight attendant with two major international carriers during the past fifteen years. He is the author of the "The Plane Truth: Shift Happens at 35,000 Feet" and "The Air Traveler's Survival Guide." For more information about James or his books, please visit his Web site or . Want to sound off about one of his columns? Try visiting .