Can I Use My Own Airplane Seat Belt Extender?
Preparing for travel is supposed to be an exciting time. While the idea might entice some, for others it can be stressful – and, for plus-size travelers, there’s more to that. There’s worrying about whether they will stand out, whether can they go to a certain attraction and what to wear that will make them feel comfortable.
Most importantly, the question of whether they can even travel to their dream destination often tops the list when it comes to travel-related worries. The thought of air travel for some plus-size travelers is enough to deter them from going. Recently, the aviation industry has received scrutiny for the size of seats on airplanes. If this is one of your travel concerns, don’t fret. There are options out there for plus-size travelers when it comes to seat belt extenders and policies for those of size.
“Airplane seats are far too small. There needs to be a minimum size established, and it needs to be larger than the current sizing,” one person said in the public comments on the Federal Aviation Administration’s filing about the size of commercial airplane seats for safety. In March 2022, the FAA submitted a report to Congress stating that the current rules and standards are not providing adequate safety for air passengers.
Currently, economy seats on major airlines are anywhere from 16 to almost 18 inches in width for air passengers. That number may go as far as 22 inches for first class, business or premium seats on these airlines. In contrast, the average size of women is a size 16, according to a study in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education.
While the FAA might be catching up to the issue of airline seat sizing, those in the plus-size community have been commenting on this subject for a while. Plus-size blogger Jae’lynn Chaney recently started a Change.org petition to get the FAA to change its policies when it comes to those “customers of size.”
The petition asks for accessible additional seats for plus-size travelers, reimbursement, clear communication, accommodations for those who have accessibility needs and employee training. Chaney states in her petition: “Air travel should be comfortable and accessible for everyone, regardless of size.”
Chaney is not the only one blogging and posting about discrimination when it comes to plus-size travel. On TikTok alone, there are more than 260 million posts under the hashtags #flyingwhilefat and #plussizetraveltok, which give advice and detail the issues plus-size travelers run into on their adventures.
One of the top posts is advice on how to deal with a seat belt extender when flying.
How do I know if I need an airplane seat belt extender?
For plus-size travelers, airplane seats can be very uncomfortable whether the flight is short or long. According to a 2020 report by TripSavvy, seat belt lengths range anywhere between 31 and 51 inches, depending on the airline you’re flying.
One of the best things travelers can do before taking off is research. Prior to your flight, try to get the details of the aircraft you’ll be flying in. You can do this by contacting the airline directly or looking for a diagram of the plane’s layout and seat dimensions on the airline’s website.
Once you board your flight and buckle yourself in, ask for a seat belt extender if the belt feels tight around you.
How can I ask for a seat belt extender?
For some, asking for a seat belt extender is not an easy feat. Remember that it’s okay if you need to ask for one – requesting a seat belt extender is for your safety.
If you are one of the first to board, you can ask the flight attendant for a belt as you head to your seat. If you are not able to be an early boarder, try to grab an aisle seat and reach out to an attendant for an extended safety belt.
“For a person who already experiences discrimination and marginalization for their body size, not fitting into a seat belt can feel like confirmation that their body is somehow wrong, bad and unworthy, and has no value,” said therapist Katie Piel to HuffPost.
For some, the stress and anxiety of asking might be too much, in which case you may want to bring your own personal seat belt extender.
Can I use my own seat belt extender?
While the FAA advises airlines not to allow personal seat belt extenders, this has not stopped travelers from purchasing their own just simply because they feel more comfortable bringing a belt than asking for one.
Airlines do provide seat belt extenders on flights as they are required by law to do so at no charge. Travelers are discouraged from bringing their own seat belt extenders, since the FAA would not be able to ensure that extenders brought by passengers are compliant with safety regulations.
According to the FAA: “Seat belts and extenders provided by the airlines are inspected and maintained under each of the airline’s FAA-accepted Continuous Airworthiness Maintenance Program (CAMP).” The FAA has not tested or approved any third-party seat belt extenders on the market.
What type of seat belt extender do I need?
There are generally two types of seat belt extenders that customers should familiarize themselves with: Type A and Type B. The difference between the two is the mechanisms in belt design. Type A is designed for the universal seat belt that most airlines use – about 95% of airplane seat belts are manufactured by the Arizona-based AmSafe. The seat belts on Southwest Airlines, as the only major carrier not served by AmSafe, would typically fit with Type B extenders instead.
When you’re browsing seat belt extenders online, the companies should indicate which airlines are compatible with a particular product.
What else do I need to know?
Travelers who do need seat belt extenders should keep in mind that some airlines have policies about where customers can sit. For example, Alaska Airlines prohibits travelers who are sitting in the exit rows from using a seat belt extender, while Spirit Airlines states that those who use a seat belt extender cannot sit in a seat with an inflatable seat belt. Check with the airline to find out if you need to sit in a certain seat to use an extender.
The Top Seat Belt Extender Options
If you still feel uncomfortable asking for an extender, here are a few seat belt extender options to purchase online. While some may be marketed as “FAA compliant,” remember that there are no standards for FAA approval of these products.
Be aware, too, that airlines may not always allow you to use your own seat belt extender if you bring one.
Coolrunner Adjustable 7-32″ Airplane Seat Belt Extender
What sets this seat belt extender apart: The Coolrunner is a Type A belt extender and is not compatible with safety belts if you’re flying Southwest or Alaska. It is available in black, blue or gray and provides passengers with an additional 7 to 23 inches in length to the original airplane seat belt.
Travelers appreciate: Previous customers say that the belt is much longer than the extender some airlines provide.
Price: $15.99 or less
Shop now: Amazon
Seat Belt Extender Pros Airplane Belt Extender
What sets this seat belt extender apart: The Seat Belt Extender Pros extender is a safety certified belt, compatible with most airlines except for Southwest and select JetBlue flights. The belt extender can be adjusted to add between 9 and 24 inches in length to the traditional airline seat belt, and it comes with its own carrying bag.
Travelers appreciate: Previous air travelers say the belt is well made and comfortable.
Mirone Adjustable Airplane Seat Belt Extender
What sets this seat belt extender apart: This extender comes in a two-pack. It includes one black extender, which is compatible with most airlines’ seat belts except for Southwest, and one blue extender that should work with Southwest planes. The company warns, though, that the blue Southwest extender belt is not adaptable to newer Southwest aircraft. The belts can extend the airline seat belt up to 32 inches.
Travelers appreciate: Past users of the belt say it provides stress-free travel and it’s easy enough to store in a carry-on bag.
Price: $25 or less
Shop now: Amazon
How do I use a seat belt extender?
Using a seat belt extender is fairly easy. Here’s how:
- Simply click in the extender into the plane’s seat belt.
- Adjust the belt so it’s secure but comfortable.
- Fasten your seat belt.
Do I need to book an extra seat?
If a seat beat extender is not enough, an extra seat may be needed for your comfort. Purchasing an additional seat can lessen the headache for plus-size travelers when the time comes to fly.
The best way to go about buying an extra seat is to reach out to the airline directly when booking your flight. Most major airlines have a customer of size policy. Airlines such as Southwest and Alaska will refund your ticket after travel if you purchase a second seat.
Other air companies such as American Airlines require travelers to purchase an extra seat. Delta Air Lines doesn’t mandate this if you need a seat belt extender, but the airline will move your seat or make you take a later flight if another passenger doesn’t have enough room.
If you wait until the day of the flight, you may be asked to take a later flight, so book that extra seat if need be. Check with the airline you’re flying on to learn more about its customer of size policies.
Why Trust U.S. News Travel
Suzanne Mason is a travel editor at U.S. News with a love of travel. Give her a destination with a robust history or a beach, and she’ll be right there. As a plus-size traveler, Mason used her own travel experience and research expertise to curate this article.