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If you are plus size and traveling, you may have some questions about flying while plus size. Today we are breaking down one of the best airlines for customers of size – Southwest Airlines. Keep reading to learn all about the Southwest Customer of Size policy, tips for using it, and more.
- Southwest is the only domestic airline to offer a free extra seat to customers of size
- There are two options to obtain your extra seat
- We have a free printable sign to help you let passengers know the seat next to you is not available
- Please note that the customer-of-size policy is at the discretion of Southwest employees, and you may have to advocate for your extra seat.
Some of you may know that I am a huge road trip fan (#roadtripsforlife) but my job entails a lot of travel, and sometimes driving is not always a great option. Plus, I want to start exploring more of the world with my family, which means flying. I can’t exactly drive to Hawaii or Europe.
I have a lot of anxiety about flying. Part of it is just because I actually have anxiety in general, but a lot of it stems from being a plus-size traveler. Being plus-size on an airplane can be one of the most anxiety-inducing scenarios for travelers, but one airline has really stood out as being plus-size-friendly.
Southwest Airline‘s customer-of-size policy has rocked my world, so I want to share all of the information so that others may feel more comfortable flying for vacation. Thank goodness Southwest flies to Hawaii! Now I just need them to fly to Europe.
Who Is A Customer of Size On Southwest Airlines?
First off, you are probably wondering what is considered a customer of size on Southwest or any airline.
While there is no exact weight or size limit, a customer of size is someone that needs more than one seat on the airline. Southwest (and most airlines) state that the lowered armrest is the border of the seat, and if you cross over it, or under it, then you may want to utilize the Customer of Size Policy.
But this seems very general. For instance, when I fly with my kids, I do not utilize the customer-of-size policy. My kids do not care if I have my big hip pushing into their space. They are very small, skinny children and have plenty of room, even if I lift the armrest and use some of their seat.
However, when I fly with another adult, I have found it is best to utilize the Customer of Size policy. While I have lost some weight in the last several years, my big child-bearing hips still keep me from being able to lower the armrest. Though I barely cross over… I still need that room when flying with another adult.
When I am flying alone, I definitely utilize the policy.
Another time customers may choose to utilize the customer-of-size policy is if you are extremely tall and need a second seat to be able to sit sideways so as to not bang their knees on the seat in front of them. Please be aware that this might require a little more explanation to the agent issuing your boarding pass (more on that in a moment) but it is probably worth it.
I also want to normalize using Southwest’s Customer of Size policy. I have often seen guests sit in awkward positions to fit in their seat, because they didn’t realize the policy was so easy to use.
Note: Please do not abuse the Customer of Size policy. We don’t want to lose this amazing policy from Southwest.
How To Utilize Southwest’s Customer of Size Policy
Southwest has made it very easy to use its customer-of-size policy, and even better, it is free!
Yep, you read that right.
Southwest Customer of Size Policy changed recently. They used to refund the cost of extra seats only if the flight was not sold out. However, in recent years, they changed their policy to ALWAYS refund or offer the second seat free.
With that said, there are two ways you can utilize the Southwest Customer of Size Policy to obtain your extra seat (or two extra seats if needed).
Using the Southwest Customer Of Size Policy Option 1: Buying An Extra Seat (And Being Refunded)
The first way to utilize Southwest’s Customer of Size policy is by booking an extra ticket when you purchase your travel. This is the preferred method as it guarantees the seat will be available for you.
To do this, you simply purchase travel for 2 adults, and when filling in the traveler information, on the second seat, you would put your first and last name but put XS (for extra seat) as the middle name.
This does require you to purchase an extra ticket upfront, but you will request a refund, after travel, for this extra ticket. (All that info is farther down in this post.)
How to get an extra seat with Southwest Customer of Size Policy Option 2: Gate Agent
The other option to utilize the Southwest Customer of Size Policy is to simply ask the agent at the gate or when checking luggage to utilize the program. There will be no cost to you when utilizing the customer-of-size policy at the gate, but there are reasons to not choose this option.
Since this option does not require any payment, this is a great option for those who may be on a restricted budget, or for flights where the cost is prohibitive.
However, if a flight is full, and you choose to utilize this option at the gate, this may cause other travelers to be bumped to another flight. The gate agent may also use their discretion to decline your extra seat, or move you to another flight.
As a courtesy to your fellow travelers, if at all possible, please try to utilize option 1 (purchase and refund) whenever possible.
Note: When you add this option on your first flight, it is automatically added to all flights on this itinerary. You will not need to do this process again for your return trip if it is on the same confirmation.
Boarding Passes for Customers of Size
One downside to utilizing the customer-of-size policy from Southwest is that you are not able to use the mobile boarding pass. You must see an agent on your first flight to obtain your boarding pass no matter which option you chose.
With option 1 this is so they can change the XS ticket, to a seat reserved pass. With option 2 it is because you will be requesting to use the customer of size policy.
You will still want to check in online before heading to the airport, but you must visit a gate agent to get your printed boarding pass.
When you return, if on the same reservation number as your flight to the destination, you will be able to use a kiosk to print your boarding pass but are still unable to use the mobile boarding app.
You are not able to use the mobile boarding pass because in addition to your boarding pass, you receive a second “pass” that has the words “seat reserved” on it. Hold on to that pass as we are about to talk about how to use the customer-of-size policy for boarding and seating.
Southwest Customer of Size Policy: Boarding and Seating
Obtaining the customer of size extra seat from Southwest is only part of the process. It is important that you know what all is included with the customer of size policy and how to actually utilize it on the plane.
Southwest’s Customers of Size Get Pre-Boarding
When you utilize Southwest’s customer-of-size policy, you are also granted preboarding. While this may feel awkward to use, I definitely suggest utilizing it. It gives you the best choice of seats (more seating tips below) and gives you time to get settled. It also gives you a chance to discreetly ask for an airline seatbelt extender as you enter the plane.
Your actual boarding pass will not say “preboarding” on it, but have a code that allows preboarding. The “seat reserved” pass lets the agent, as well as the attendants, know you are preboarding using the customer of size policy.
Preboarding is one of the times I feel a little self-conscious about the system.
I feel like most people expect preboarding to be for those with visible disabilities, but I am starting to get over that. I need a little extra time to get set up, and that is exactly what preboarding is for.
Southwest Seating Tips for Customers of Size
In my dozens of flights using Southwest’s Customer of Size Policy (seriously, I always make A-List based on flights alone – no credit card points) I have learned a few seating tips that make a huge different.
Customer Of Size – Best Southwest Seats
Here is a little tip I picked up from a plus-size traveler. When choosing your seat as a customer of size, remember that Southwest seating is an open seating policy.
There are no assigned seats. If you have broad shoulders, look for a window seat where the window lines up with the back of the seat. This creates a little extra shoulder space.
Some of the windows are a little forward of or behind the seat, so finding that seat where you have that extra shoulder space because the window lines up can be a big help.
Another great tip, be sure to use the middle seat as your extra seat. It makes it a lot more comfortable for both you and whoever you end up sharing a row with.
Customer of Size Seating Tip – Under Seat Storage
When you place your carry-on item under the seat, and you are utilizing the customer of size policy, I suggest placing your item under the extra seat.
This 1) gives you more room to stretch your legs and 2) helps signal to other passengers that the seat is not available.
How To Keep People Off Your Extra Seat
This is the other part of the process I tend to get a little embarrassed. Especially because I am borderline on the second seat (as I explained above). It might look like to someone searching out a seat that they could fit comfortably next to me, but let me tell you… you don’t want to try. I am not putting that armrest down if I don’t have to.
When you board as a customer of size, simply place your “seat reserved” pass on the seat next to you. Sounds simple enough right? Except the “seat reserved” is actually pretty small, so other travelers often mistake it for your boarding pass sitting on the seat. And even flight attendants may not notice it when trying to seat passengers on a pretty full flight.
You will have to advocate for yourself, and I get it, it can be pretty embarrassing. But simply let people know you booked two seats so you could be more comfortable.
The best flight I went on was when I preboarded and the flight attendant handed me a big, bold, “do not occupy” sign to put next to me. Nobody ever attempted to sit in the seat, and I didn’t feel like I had to constantly explain myself. I hope that Southwest starts utilizing this for all of the flights for Customers of Size.
Free Printable “Do Not Occupy” Sign
As I have been flying monthly or more, I have made my own “Do Not Occupy” sign that I have printed and am now excited to offer it here for my “What A Trip” Newsletter Subscribers.
Simply sign up for my “What A Trip” Email Newsletter, and access will be immediately granted. No waiting for an email.
When you use the Do Not Occupy sign, you will also need to have your “Reserved Seat” boarding pass on the seat as well to verify you have utilized the customer-of-size policy.
Getting a Refund For Your Extra Seat From Southwest: Customer of Size Policy
If you purchased your extra seat, you are entitled to a refund after travel. Customers that purchased an extra seat may request a refund of the additional seat purchase after travel by sending an email request to Southwest.com/feedback or by calling Southwest at 1-800-I-FLY-SWA (1-800-435-9792).
Southwest Customer of Size FAQ
The seatbelt extension is not the best indicator of a need for a second seat. First, they tend to trim the seatbelts if they get frayed at the end, making them shorter. This is why sometimes you may fit fine and other times you may need an extender.
Second, how you carry your weight will play a big roll in both the need for a seat belt extender and the need for an extra seat.
When you are a customer of size on Southwest you have the option to preboard. I definitely suggest utilizing this if you are not in boarding group A.
You can also board in your group. As an A-List member though, I often have boarding group A but many airports will still call my name if I don’t preboard. So just be aware you may get called up to the podium if you do not choose to preboard.
I personally have had one extremely disturbing interaction where a gate agent loudly told me “you can’t just decide you need an extra seat and buy it.” He was also an agent who looked at me in the preboard line and not being in a wheelchair, loudly questioned my preboarding status. I did reach out to Southwest about the incident, and they were apologetic.
I also have been called up to the podium once or twice for someone to verify I had an extra seat and need it. Usually only when a flight is full or over-sold. The later is extremely rare.
Once on the plane though, I have never had an issue with the flight attendants. They have always been discreet and helpful.
No. Passengers utilizing the extra seat policy may not fly in the exit row.
Yes, you can utilize it when flying with your children.
I did mention in the article that I do not use it (generally) when flying with my kids. However, on long flights I do. When we fly to Hawaii for example, the five (plus) hour flight from the Mainland to the islands is a bit long for me to have to have my kid share part of their seat with me (and ask them not to have an arm rest down). Generally, flights over 3 hours, I still use the customer of size policy when flying with my kids.
As I have mentioned, there have been a few times that I have been questioned about my need for it. Even though I cannot lower the armrest on most flights (some of the newer 800’s I can). Plus my shoulders are broad and do cross-over into the other seat.
However, in general, if you look like it is justified, you will most likely not be questioned. They just want to make sure people are not trying to get a free extra seat just to avoid sitting next to someone.
While I hate that we may have to prove our need of the seat, if guests who do not need it start abusing the policy, we will lose this amazing policy. This is the only airline that offers a free additional seat domestically, and we shouldn’t take that for granted.
The official Southwest Customer of Size Policy can be found HERE