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Is First Class Worth the Hype for Plus Size Travelers?

I want the most comfort possible when flying, which sometimes means upgrading my seat.

We can all remember seeing a movie or TV show as a child where the character boarded a plane and was welcomed into the first-class cabin. We watched wide-eyed with our mouths ajar as they were served gourmet meals and endless flowing champagne, while providing heated hand towels, among other lush amenities. As a kid, first class seemed like the lap of luxury to me. In fact, I aspired only to fly first-class as an adult. Boy, have I failed in living that dream. But as both a plus-size and a frequent traveler, comfort is my ultimate in-flight luxury of choice.

Throughout my travels, I have experienced minor inconveniences, such as bruising from having an armrest dig into my side or not having adequate leg space as a plus-size passenger who just happens to be a few inches shy of six feet. These inconveniences are overwhelming and, for many others, can alter their outlook on flying. There are several reasons I enjoy upgrading to first class whenever I can, and it is for reasons you may not be thinking of.

My Needs Are Privately Met

I try to procure a second seat before arriving at the airport, but sometimes it is impossible. In those instances, my typical process for seating is going to the ticket counter or gate agent to ask for a second seat or to ask if it is possible to be moved to a space where the middle seat is empty.

On multiple occasions, despite how quietly I made my request, my question was repeated to me loudly in front of other waiting passengers: “You’re asking me if you can have a second seat?” or “We don’t have a customer-of-size policy.

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Even with having “thick skin,” it is quite an embarrassing ordeal. When I book or upgrade to a first-class seat, that is the end of my seating worries. I do not have to publicly ask for special accommodations or modifications.

The Seat Roulette

Connection planes are the bane of my existence and something I actively try to avoid when booking trips. Of course, this is not always possible. I can recall several occasions when another passenger and I had to be reseated because we were both larger and seated in the same row. On a flight full of people, this is not a fun experience, especially when the flight attendant is not discrete. Being able to be seated and remain in my seat without interruption or bringing discomfort to anyone else is incredibly important to me. Seating in first-class gives me that additional peace of mind and uninterrupted comfort.

No Explanation Required

Southwest has a “Customer of Size” policy that allows a larger passenger to procure a second seat free of charge either by asking upon arrival or through reimbursement if pre-purchased. The passengers are provided a printout that reads “seat reserved” to be placed in the extra seat. The printout is the size of a boarding pass, making it hard to read as passengers are quickly trying to fill in the empty seats. This means I repeatedly have to hold up the seat reserved sign or respond to each person asking if the seat is available. In a few instances, customers have demanded to know why there was a sign there, and flight attendants have obliged their demands instead of escorting them to an available seat. Seating in first class allows me to circumvent these interactions.

The Aisle Space

One of the reasons I like to preboard is to skip that awkward side shuffle down the aisle that helps me avoid bumping into passengers. If you have not noticed, the aisle space gets smaller as you move from the front of the plane toward the back. Navigating narrow spaces with carry-on luggage can be a bit much. However, seating at the front of the plane gives me a less hectic boarding experience for myself and nearby passengers.

Behold, the Tray Table

For passengers that carry weight in their midsections (as I do), we know that no tray table is created equal. Much like seats, tray tables seem to vary based on aircraft type. There are some that will be accommodating and others that will not be in the main cabin or economy seating.

Trying to hold on to your drink, snack, and entertainment while attempting not to disturb your neighbor is as uncomfortable as it sounds. From my experience, no matter the aircraft type, tray tables in first class accommodate me as a plus-size traveler.

So, Is First-Class Worth the Hype?

I am a size 24, and my body encroaches into the seat next to me by a mere few inches. For this reason, airline policies require me to have a second seat. When I am traveling with family and friends, it is not a huge ordeal to “spill over” into the next seat, but when I am traveling alone, it is a different story.

Although there is not a liftable armrest, I have found that those extra few inches of room are readily available in first-class seats. I also like the extra leg room as a taller passenger, which allows me to do some in-seat leg exercises to prevent stiffness.

I am a comfort and convenience kind of gal, which means to me, it absolutely is worth the hype to fly first class as a plus-size passenger. In addition to the reasons shared above, there are additional perks like better snack options, tasty meals, amenity kits, all the cocktails your heart desires, and free checked luggage. Plus, one first-class seat will often be cheaper than or equal to two seats in any other cabin class. The next time you are flying, consider upgrading to first class.

Subsrosa March 22, 2023

I'm 5'3 and 125 pounds. First class is ALWAYS worth it for flights more than 5 hours.

ConstantTraveler2 March 2, 2023

I am sympathetic to people of size sitting next to me, but I'm unsure how to allay the fear of the person who seems embarrassed by the situation.  How should this be addressed? How can I say that I'm OK with giving up a portion of my assigned space? And that I am OK with the armrest staying up?

MsJonesy February 21, 2023

It's worth the hype for any size. It's not always about size. I've experienced a skinny girl stretching out and putting her whole foot under the seat in front of me (who cares about my purse and feet), plus size and average size men smashing my arm, and woke up to a man literally playing footies with me on a 7 hour flight. Note that I've had many great seat mates, God bless them! Now, I can't be bothered by people lacking manners and always upgrade. 

Subsrosa February 21, 2023

My family and I are all "average" to "small" sized but love the extra space, and now the privacy and comfort of the fully reclining seats. We recently returned home on a flight from Cairo and the ability to stretch out and sleep was.. well, priceless!

jimobeldobel8269 February 21, 2023

Two words strike me: is it worth the "hype" and a "mere" four inches.
What does hype have to do with it? Is it worth the cost? Does the cost vary among carriers? Are there hacks?
In a confined space four inches is not mere. It's practically, i.e., for practical purposes, intolerable. For you and for others. Is there amy amount that is "mere"? Again Is this true of all carriers? What about carriers with more than two classes of seating?