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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.
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.
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, 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).
80 thoughts on “How To Use Southwest’s Customer Of Size Policy in 2023”
When flying with another person, do they preboard with you as a customer of size?
I have never had them preboard with me, but when I talked to a gate agent, I was given the impression that if it were a minor child they could, but adults, it would need to be someone who needed to assist you. I will double check next time I fly and ask.
I use the customer of size policy to get a second seat. I have always pre-boarded and then hoped that no one would sit in the 3rd seat of the row until my wife was able to board and get the seat, this gets to be nerve racking if she is in group C and the plane is starting to fill up.
We just completed travel and this time I remembered to ask if she could pre-board with me. They said yes, and she pre-boarded with me without any issues.
This is great! My husband and I are flying next week so I am happy to hear they let you do that.
Thank you! This was my concern with flying Southwest since you can’t book your seats ahead of time!
I have been buying an Extra Seat pursuant to Southwest’s Customer of Size policy for several years. There was never an issue with getting a refund until recently. Southwest has now ignored refund requests for extra seats purchased on at least 8 flights taken since approximately October of 2021. I am sure lost revenue during the COVID pandemic is partly to blame but they should at least respond to my correspondence.
Do you mean October 2020? Try asking when you check in instead of asking for a refund. While I prefer the other method in case a flight is full, this ensures you won’t have to deal with a refund and will get the second seat for free.
Did they eventually respond and refund?
My husband is 375lbs and 5’7. He will not fit with the arm rests down. Does the isle arm rest go up? And when the one on the right side is up is there a bump on the back? Can he sit in the middle of the 2 seats?
The middle seat’s armrests go up. It is a hip bruiser for me sometimes to have the armrest down so I get it.
Thanks for the great info! How does it work if you are booking a hotel and flight together? Do I pay for the whole vacay pkg twice and then get refunded? Or?
If you want to book the seat in advance, simply call Southwest and they will most likely just book you an extra seat that you would pay for upfront and then get reimbursed.
If you don’t want to do that, you can also take advantage of this at check-in or with the agent at the gate.
This was so helpful!
I’m a very infrequent and anxious flyer though, and I’m a little confused on where to ask the agent if I can get a customer of size ticket.
Is this right when you get there and they weigh your bags and check them? Or is there a ticket counter before that?
Sorry for the ignorance! It’s been years since I’ve flown, and I just can’t remember the process and I’m struggling to find a step-by-step in what to do when you arrive at the airport.
You can ask at either place! Since Southwest has 2 free checked bags I am usually checking luggage and just ask there.
Airline seats have always been a little snug but I have never known you could book a second seat! I’m traveling later this week and I am going to check into this right away! One more question, I am having a ton of anxiety after putting on 20lbs this past year.. I’m an 18/20 and about 5′ 8″ and stressing over if I will need a seatbelt extender. We are traveling with friends and I don’t know if I can bring myself to ask for one if it won’t buckle! 🙁 I have heard southwest has the shortest seatbelts of all airlines?
You might be okay without an extender, but I always just ask the flight attendant for it quietly as I board, and they always hand it to me discreetly. You can do this if you preboard or board regularly. Fun fact – seat belts on airlines are shortened as they wear on the ends, so no two seats, on any airline, are ever guaranteed to be the same length.
I was so stressed about asking for a seatbelt extender on my last flight, and I ended up buy one on amazon for pretty cheap. It was so coinvent, and made me so much more comfortable. It worked perfectly, and came in a very small little back that fit into my purse.
If it difficult to get the extra seat refunded after the trip? I’m in the morbidly obese category being 5’1″ and 260lbs. In the past I was still able to squeeze into the seat but I haven’t flown in years and have probably gained 40lbs since my last flight. I’m wanting to travel home for Christmas this year but I worry about being kicked off the flight due to my size or displacing someone else during the holidays by requesting an extra seat at the gate. I’m also hoping I can lose weight before the trip but I know there are no guarantees I’ll be able to.
I found that if you take the window seat and set your jacket or hoodie with the pass on it in the middle seat, often someone with long legs or wide shoulders is usually happy to have the aisle seat. Last time I flew with a stop both ways, and each time a business person with a laptop happily took the aisle seat and immediately blocked the row and it made things easier. I may also have spread out a bit more than normal to make the lack of space a bit more visible. On all 4 flights I never had any issues with having to defend my extra seat. Preboarding was a blessing. Wish other airlines were as easy to work with.
Hi. This was great information. I was wondering if you had any advice on using the COS policy with Southwest for connecting flights. My hubby and I are taking a trip soon and there is a connection on our outbound leg of the trip. Can you schedule a COS seat for both legs of the flight upon check-in at the first gate?
Yes, It will automatically add it to your entire trip under that confirmation number and passenger name.
This set me at ease a lot. I am morbidly obese (6’2 @ 430), and I already purchased 2 seats for a trip to vegas. I purchased the early boarding as well, so I am hoping to get on and get a front row window seat… failing that any window seat. I am over the 17 inch threshold and I am planning to get a seatbelt extender. Thank you a bunch for this write up!
Thank you so much for addressing the issue of preboarding with a travel companion. We are both broad-shouldered large men, and the middle seat will be substantially encroached upon by us. I do not even mind not getting a refund, since buying three seats for the journey is still much cheaper than two business class seats on another airline!
1. The armrest on the aisle does go up (you can’t fly with it up, but you can move it up for entering/leaving the seats). There is a small lever underneath towards the seat that raises it.
2. Like the women who purchased a seat belt extender, you can also create and print a ‘Do Not Occupy’ sign like the one pictured above and place it on the seat when you board to reduce any anxiety/embarrassment.
Thank you for the tip! I’ve found myself dreading to fly since my last flight when my hips were bruised by the arm rest and I was embarrassed to have put my neighbors in such a tight spot (even though they were thin and so kind to not make me feel worse than I was already feeling myself.
Does anyone know if Southwest is still refunding the extra seat? My husband and I plan to fly out in June of 2022 and I want to reserve the flight this week. Also, is there a limit as to the class fare that must be used to purchase the ticket?
They are still refunding the extra seat, or you can request the extra seat at the full service check-in if you did not pre-purchase it. I don’t believe there is a class restriction. I always do the Wanna Get Away fare and utilize the policy.
I just posted that the gate agent gave me a 50% refund and said the rest would be in southwest credit that I could use in a year. I plan to appeal that when I get home from my trip. In any case, it was worth every penny, even if I don’t get the refund. I pre boarded, got a bulk head seat with leg room and could get in and out of my seat with ease. I am 5 11 350 pounds with a bad knee. SO relieved to have such a positive flying experience.
I’m the same size and am flying in June. So glad you posted this. Not so worried now!
How long does it take to get the refund to your credit card after calling?
That will depend on your credit card. I have gotten some within a week, and on a different card it took a month.
Thanks a bunch for writing this! I have been really worried and you out my mind at ease.
No problem! I am glad it could help someone. I wish more people knew about it. I feel so bad when I see people trying to squeeze into seats because they don’t realize how plus-size friendly Southwest is.
Hi. If my Southwest Companion(flying free) is a person of size, how does that affect the purchasing process when needing an extra seat?
Thanks for your help!
This is a good question. I would contact their customer service or ask the agent at the gate the first time. This might be one that you have to do at the gate.
Wanted to reach out and give a huge thanks for writing this piece. Southwest has made flying so much less stressful with their Customer of Size policy. I hate being a inconvenience because of my size and this helps a great deal. The tip about getting a seat that aligns with the window has been such a difference maker too. Thank you!
Yay! Glad I could help!
Becca thank you for writing this. I have a vacation in June and wanted to fly, but I was having anxiety about my size. Now I think I will have a little less anxiety. I hope it goes well during the flight. Thanks once again.
First plus size southwest experience and it was great. I did pre print a “seat occupied” sign that I put on the seat next to me because the boarding pass words are so small. I also bought my own southwest seat belt extender from Amazon and definitely needed it.
***Question: when I checked In With the agent at the gate, she offered to take care of my refund and I agreed. But, she only refunded half and said the other half would be a credit for southwest to be used in a year. I was in a hurry and didn’t argue but on my return flight I will ask. I really don’t want credit. I want a refund.
***Anyone else have that experience?????
P.S. I asked if my husband could pre board with me and the gate agent agreed.
Do you have the product number for the southwest seat belt extender?
I don’t as I always just ask for one there, but hopefully the previous commenter who mentioned it will come back and answer this question
If your flights have one stops and plane change each way, do you have to ask to pre-board at each stop? Sorry, a little anxious and haven’t flown in awhile.
This article is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing the info!
Once you add the customer of size policy, it is added to all legs of your flight under that confirmation number. No need to set it up again. All tickets should have the preboard on them.
How does this work of you book your flight with points? Will they deposit the points back into your account? What is the process for buying with points? Thank you!
I meant what is the policy/procedure for securing a refund of your rapid rewards points if you book XS with points.
I am not sure. Usually when I use points I am flying with my family too and I don’t care if I spill into my kids’ seats. I will see if I can get an answer on this or hopefully another reader can help.
I just added an XS to my reservation that I had booked with points by calling the 1-800 number. I’ve only ever asked at the counter/gate, but I was getting nervous because it’s spring break and a holiday weekend and was worried if the flight is full they would not be able to give me the XS last-minute. I was able to pay for the extra seat with a credit card, even though I had paid originally with points. Apparently, if I could have paid with the same method as I originally had I would have only had to pay fare of the original booking, but because I was now paying with a credit card instead of points, I had to pay the current fare (significantly higher than when I booked, since the flight is tomorrow). It’s totally worth it to me to have the peace of mind knowing I have the extra seat on what is likely to be a sold-out flight.
I am, however, pretty anxious about getting the refund since the fare was over $900, so any reassurance you can provide on that front would be much appreciated!!
Last year I flew on points and purchased my extra seat with points. After my trip, I emailed Southwest (same way you mentioned above) and they refunded the points back into my account with no problems.
Yes there should be a third option, book XS with points, this method doesn’t require you to ask for a refund. Once the plane completes the entire trip (outbound and return flights) your point are automatically credited back to your account.
This would be great. Hopefully Southwest sees this and thinks about adding that.
First time I’ve ever bothered to comment on an article like this in all my years, but had to say thank you. This article (and everyone’s comments!) are incredibly useful. Thanks for posting this!
So they won’t make you reserve another seat if you have your kids with you? I’m flying in two days and have gained some weight since my last flight. I’m losing sleep over this! I keep envisioning them telling me to get off the plane. But if it’s okay that I “spill” into my son’s seat (he’s tiny and I shouldn’t “spill” that much). I don’t want to request another seat, possibly ruining someone else’s plans, if it’s okay that I “spill” into my son’s seat. Does that make sense?
Yep. When I travel with my kids I just lift the armrest between us and have never had a problem.
I am becoming nervous on this as well, but like you mentioned I could just spill on my kids seat. I am 5’4, 270, do you think that option should be fine?
Hi, I have flown at about that weight and height before. I have used the passenger of size or if flying with a child just put the armrest up between us and spilled on their seat. It was all good.
does anyone happen to know the dimensions of the seats on the plane so i can figure out if i’ll fit or not i have to fly down in a hurry to my parents and i’m not able to purchase two tickets due to financial reasons and just wanted to make sure i could at least fit in a seat.
I know there are websites with the information but you can also just ask to utilize the customer of size policy at the service desk/check-in and they will do it for you right there without having to pay upfront if the flight isn’t overbooked.
If we request the COS policy at the airport, and the flight is full … what happens? Has that ever happened to you?
I always try to pay for the extra seat and request a refund, but on the few occasions I have needed to ask at the airport, I always ask if the flight is full and if it will bump someone by me requesting it. I have never had them say it will bump someone. If they were to say yes, I would see if there was a less full flight the same day that I could switch to without fees. Southwest is pretty accommodating when you are trying to do something to make sure it doesn’t bump someone else. I have had friends do this and they have been able to find them another flight at no cost to them. While it is not a promise they will do that, it is worth a shot.
Thank you. This is my first time flying SWA. I am very experienced on AA, and never purchased two seats. But I always get an aisle seat and make it work. With no guarantee of an aisle seat, I am wondering if the COS is right for me.
So is there issues if you wait to do it at the gate and they are sold out?
The few times I have had to do it that way (last minute travel) there have not been. But if a flight is sold completely out, it will bump someone. Southwest rarely oversells anymore, and usually tries to keep a few seats open, but I always ask at the gate if it would bump someone and if it doesn’t I will see if I can switch my flight instead.
first time flying saw and I’m getting nervous. Anybody know the measurements to the seat itself and seatbelt? How can I measure myself to know If I will need an extra seat or not? Do these seats compare to a computer chair? If I take window seat and my husband is in the middle can it lift the middle armrest to give me more room towards him since he is slimmer then me.
There are websites that will tell you the width of every airlines seat. If I remember correctly it is around 17 inches. Tighter than most computer chairs in my opinion. Yes, you can lift the rest between you and your husband, that is what I do when I fly with one of my kids so that I don’t need to utilize the COS policy. As for the seat belts… that is a hard one because they can vary greatly. As seatbelts fray, ends get cut and resewn so they start to get shorter. Sometimes I need one and sometimes I don’t.
My sweetheart is a retired NFL player. At 6’5” and 330 lbs he really needs this! How wonderful to read this and thank you for sharing. As a retired flight attendant myself, I totally hope every airline does this. Currently it’s a mess out there!
Thank you so much for this info. I almost had a panick attack on the plan from being so self conscious about spilling into someone else’s seat. Luckily, the gentleman next to me was skinny.
I am flying SWA for a work trip and they booked my flight. Do i just go to the gate to tell them I need the COS option … or how does that work with tickets being purchased by work? I do have the information and am able to click manage my flight for the SWA website. Any help would be appreciated .
Yes, just talk to them at the counter.
Thanks so much to all for the wonderful information and hints. Last time I flew (not SW) I had one lady next to me try to (very nicely) to get me to move to another seat. She even asked the attendant if she could move me to another area so that I would be more comfortable. EMBARRISING! On a connecting flight the woman next to me quietly had herself moved. ALSO EMBARRISING! I am large woman but this was the first time I ever have had anyone make it a point to make me know it was a problem for them. I am looking forward to my upcoming SW flight with an XS.
does anyone know if the front row middle arm rests go up? i have not flown since pre covid and we have to fly this summer. we normally prefer the front row so there is more legroom but if I remember correctly, not all the front row arm rests go up and we must have that.
It can vary by plane but most front rows do not lift because of the tray. You will need to sit in the second row or farther back.
Well I just checked in with a southwest flight. I bought 2 seats in advance and went to the agent before my TSA pre check. I asked about the refund and was informed it would be returned to the method I paid with…IF the flight was not overbooked, if it is overbooked I will not get a refund. Is anyone else finding this to be the case? Also they now put preboard on your boarding ticket.
The agent must not be aware of the change in policy. It used to be only if the flights was not oversold, but they changed that about a year before the pandemic.
From the Southwest Website:
If you purchased an additional seat, you can request a refund of the additional seat purchase after travel by:
Sending us an email request at Southwest.com/feedback or by
Calling us at 1-800-I-FLY-SWA (1-800-435-9792).
Even if the flight experiences an oversale, we’ll still refund the cost of the extra seat(s).
Do you have to go to an agent before security or can you go to the gate agent after security using the mobile boarding pass to get through TSA?
You can ask after security, but I find depending on the airport, this can be very hit or miss. I fly out of a smaller airport, so that is probably why. I am sure larger airports with more customer service kiosks can make a difference.
Hi all! We have never flown before but my 17y/o son is enormous lol he is 6’3″ and 350lbs. I have extreme anxiety over his comfortably as I am on a fixed income and am already paying for 5 seats for 5 of my children including myself. Southwest is the most affordable option for me, flying from Denver to Providence, RI. What should I do???
Utilize the Customer of Size policy as outlined in this post. If you are nervous about if you will get your refund, please feel free to reach out directly to Southwest on Twitter. They seem fairly responsive there.
Using this for the first time — I am confused on the boarding pass issue. If you are not printing until you see gate customer service (carry on only) – how do you get thru security check? Don’t you need boarding pass?
Thank you so much for this. This could be a game changer for me – using for the first time and as soon as I figure out this last detail, my anxiety will be reduced LOL.
You can print at the kiosk or home, but they will print a new one for you to board. This is one reason I suggest doing the purchase and refund option because then you can print out your boarding pass at home or the kiosk.
I hope that helps. I do not fly again for a while, but next time I will do my best to also get a video.