Southwest Airlines is in the news after a self-described plus-size travel influencer applauded the carrier’s “customer of size and extra seat policy,” which allows passengers to “proactively purchase the needed number of seats prior to travel to ensure the additional seat(s) is available,” per the airline.
The aforementioned influencer, Jae’lynn Chaney, originally posted the video on TikTok in October. That video, which went viral, tells viewers about Southwest’s policy, which permits up to a full row of three seats for passengers of size if required.
View this post on Instagram
The policy is not new. The Dallas-based carrier has allowed extra seats for “customers of size” requiring more than one seat for more than 30 years.
Although customers requesting additional seats can elect to purchase them in advance, they can also be requested for free at the airport. Travelers who do purchase the seats in advance can then contact the airline for a refund after the flight.
“We refund all extra seat purchases for a Customer of size, even if the flight oversells,” according to the policy, which also notes that the “armrest is considered to be the definitive boundary between seats.”
“The purchase of additional seats serves as a notification of a special seating need and allows us to adequately plan for the number of occupied seats onboard,” the policy continues. “It also helps us ensure we can accommodate all Customers on the flight for which they purchased a ticket and avoid asking Customers to relinquish their seats for an unplanned accommodation. Most importantly, it ensures that all Customers onboard have access to safe and comfortable seating.”
The airline famously has a unique boarding process, which does not assign customers seats but numerically assigns the order in which passengers can board, based largely on check-in time. This means that a traveler of size, just like every other Southwest passenger, does not have a specific assigned seat — or seats — ahead of time, though the policy states that those with an Extra Seat Boarding document can choose to preboard to select seats that best meet their needs.
Passengers who require extra space can also place a “Seat Reserved Document” in the adjacent seat to signal that it is unavailable to other passengers.
Southwest is not alone in having an official extra-seat policy. However, it does have a more generous policy than some other carriers, which largely either require the second seat to be purchased or will only refund after the fact in the event the flight was not full.
Southwest did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.