Friday, July 27, 2012

Fearless Flying: Tips For The Plus Size Traveler

Me in Paris
Last week, I wrote about how I became the avid traveler I am today and how I don’t let my size stop me from getting out and seeing the world. Along the way, I learned how to travel with ease almost all of the time. Life is never perfect but you make the best out of it. Here’s some tips I follow and keep in mind when traveling:

Pick your airline wisely: When selecting an airline to fly, know what airlines are plus size friendly. I have had great experiences on JetBlue, Air Canada, American, Virgin America and Frontier. To find out more about plus size friendly airlines, check out this great article over at here.

Side note:  I avoid Southwest, Air France and Spirit at all costs. I have not had great experiences at all on those airlines.

Plan your travel days and times wisely: Avoid full flights like the plague, when you can. The busiest travel days and times during the week are Thursday evenings, all day Friday, Saturday afternoon, all day Sunday and Monday mornings. I stay away from an airport in general on a Friday. It’s terrible and almost like sitting in LA traffic.

The best days and times to travel are all day Tuesday and Wednesday and very early Saturday morning or late Saturday evening. Honestly, the best flights to take are “red eyes”, which are overnight flights. If you can catch a red eye on a Saturday night, most likely you’ll be on an empty flight. And chances are if you fly at these less popular days and times, you will snag a cheaper fare, too.

Pick your seat wisely: Never EVER sit in the front of the plane or in a bulkhead seat unless the flight is super empty. Bulkhead seats and the front of the plane are the most sought after seats. Chances are if you sit in this area, you will get someone seating in that dreaded middle seat and will not be able to have more room to yourself. I usually sit in the back of the plane. You’re the first one on the plane so you have time to get yourself situated, especially if you need a seat belt extender (which I will go into later).

Yes, you are the last one off the plane but for me, I never try to be in a rush and I always allot enough time for myself to get where I am going so getting out last is usually not an issue for me.  If you’re connecting with another flight, are in the back and are worried that you will miss your connection, just let the flight attendant know and they will make sure you get to your connecting flight (unless there is a delay, which is out of anyone’s control).

A window seat will definitely allow you a little more shoulder room but please note that hip room remains the same on all seats.  A great website to use as a reference on seats is Seat Guru has detailed seating maps per airline and comments about seats that have reduced legroom and limited recline.  Their color-coded seat map key is awesome. For instance, a seat that is green means it’s a good seat. Red means a bad seat.

Seat Guru also gives you the seat pitch and width information for seats. For example, the seats for my fave airline JetBlue run from 34” – 38” on pitch and about 18” on seat width whereas Virgin America (another one of my faves) runs about 33” on pitch and almost 20” width in Economy. Side note: sometimes it pays to know the aircraft too. When I flew to China, I flew on a 777 and those seats are narrower than the usual ones. So just keep this in mind when looking at seat pitch and width numbers.

Other great little travel tips:
  • If you need a seat belt extender and feel embarrassed asking for one on a flight, just quickly ask the flight attendant, who greets you as soon as you get on the plane, for one. In my experiences, flight attendants have always been discreet about it and accommodating. However, you can always invest in one and carry it with you. There are universal ones that fit most airlines and they run from $20 - $40.
  • Try to use the restroom before you board, especially if you feel self-conscious about fitting in the restroom on the plane. But honestly, check out the restroom on board before you automatically think you won’t fit. You might be surprised.
  • Take advantage of early boarding so you have time to get yourself comfortably settled in your seat before the rush. Airlines have a pre-boarding period for people who require some assistance or extra time to board.
  • At the gate, you can always ask the gate agent to check if there is an empty seat next to you and if not, your seat can be changed at that time if there is room. Once on the flight, if there is space, flight attendants will let you move to another seat.
  • If you are unable to use the tray table from the seat next to you and can’t get the tray table in front of your seat fully down, use a pillow or your laptop bag/backpack on your lap as a faux tray table.
Always remember: you have a right to travel and go anywhere your heart pleases. Don't ever let your size stop you nor let any bad travel experiences deter you from seeing the world. You only live once and the world is yours to see. Now if you encounter any issues during your travels, you have a right as a passenger to voice your complaints to the airline. We live in a social media-based world at the moment so you don't have to just write a letter, which may get lost in a sea of mail. You can use Facebook or Twitter to let the airline know how you feel.

So, happy traveling! As host Phil Keoghan from one of my fave TV shows The Amazing Race always says at the start of each new race: "The world is waiting for you. Good luck. Travel safe. GO!"

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