When you’re on a packed flight with your knees cradling the passenger in front of you, you might begin to fantasize about what it might be like if flying wasn’t such a miserable experience. Over at the Elliott Advocacy forums, user Qorx had an idea: Why not buy the seat beside you, so you can stretch out and make flying in such tight quarters a little less soul-deadening?
Here’s the good news: It’s entirely possible if you’re willing to splurge and jump through a few extra hoops to accomplish it. In the past, several major airlines have traditionally required the purchase of extra seats for those travelers of size who cannot fit in their seats comfortably.You Never Have to Swap Seats on a Flight
Here’s how United’s policy stands, according to their website:
A customer is required to purchase an additional seat or upgrade if they do not meet one of the following criteria:
1. The customer must be able to properly attach, buckle and wear the seat belt, with one extension if necessary, whenever the seatbelt sign is illuminated or as instructed by a crew member
2. The customer must be able to remain seated with the seat armrest(s) down for the entirety of the flight.
3. The customer must not significantly encroach upon the adjacent seating space.
Other airlines’ policies fall mostly within United’s standards. American requires the purchase of an extra seat “if a customer’s body extends more than one inch beyond the outermost edge of the armrest and a seat belt extension is needed…” Meanwhile, Delta does not explicitly require the purchase of a seat but does recommend it for those passengers’ comfort. (The cost of buying an extra seat varies, too; Alaska will refund those customers for their purchase of a second seat if there is at least one other open seat on your flight. Otherwise, you might expect to pay just the fare for that extra seat.)
But what if you don’t meet any of these criteria? Well, it’s slightly less clear, as several airlines’ websites aren’t as forthcoming about buying another seat just because you want to stretch out, but it should be doable depending on the airline. (JetBlue doesn’t specifically require you to meet any of the criteria above to purchase an extra seat, however, nor does Alaska which refers to these seats as “Comfort Seats.”)
How do you book these second seats? Well, call your airline first to be sure it’s even possible; airlines like Alaska require that you call, as it can’t be booked online, anyway. Otherwise, visit the airline’s website to find relevant proper instructions. Generally, it’s as simple as booking an adjoining seat, paying the fee, and following that airline’s instructions on how to identify that it’s an extra seat in your itinerary. JetBlue, for instance, requires that you enter “EXST” as the second seat’s first name, alongside your last name.
Remember to check in both boarding passes
But here’s where it can become complicated: When arriving at the airport, obviously, traveling with two boarding passes might earn you a few concerned looks from TSA or airline attendants. Over on Rene’s Points, writer René de Lambert described his experience at the airport flying with two boarding passes on Delta; she stressed the importance of checking-in for both seats and getting ready to deal with plenty of questions about your situation.
Of course, there’s a pretty solid chance an airline attendant might question you when there’s an empty seat beside you on a full flight. It doesn’t hurt to remind an attendant of your booking while boarding for this reason; in fact, United’s website explicitly mentions being an “active participant in preserving your extra seat.” In other words, bring receipts and be ready to show ‘em.
By this point, you might ask: Is any of this worth it just for an extra seat? And the answer depends on your personal preference. If an extra seat is more expensive than simply buying an upgraded seat with additional legroom, then maybe it’s worth reconsidering your plan. If you’re seated on a long, international flight with an aisle seat and a friend seated in the window, maybe you might consider booking the middle one if the seat is cheap or just because you hate flying that much.