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Seatbelt extenders on flights

Flying when plus size can be nerve-wracking, with concerns about fitting in the seat, encroaching into other people’s space, and whether the seat belt will fit you. In the Pammie Plus Parks Facebook group, the question of seat belt extenders crops up regularly, so this article focuses on how to use them for your own comfort and safety.

All planes in the US carry at least 4 seat belt extenders, which airlines are required to provide free of charge and which they are trained provide very discreetly. When you board, simply tell the cabin crew greeting you what seat number is, and ask for a seatbelt extender. They will bring it to you very discreetly. If you are in your seat and find that the seatbelt is too short, again just ask a member of the cabin crew for an extender and they will bring it to you. Members of the cabin crew are experienced professionals who deal with this issue on every single flight, so they will not be fazed by your request. When you land at your destination, just hand the extender back to a member of the cabin crew as you leave the plane.

In the Facebook group, we receive many questions about the length of the seatbelts on a particular airline. It should be noted that it is not possible to give a universal answer because, as seatbelts get stained or damaged, they may be cut to remove the damaged portion. Therefore, the seatbelts on two seats next to each other may not be the same size. There is no reason to feel embarrassed if you need a seatbelt extender: your safety is the primary concern.

Should I buy my own seatbelt extender?

The short answer is absolutely not! I feel very passionate about this particular issue. Last year I spent 6 months researching seatbelt extenders. On several occasions I spoke with the top 5 airlines in the US, and privately interviewed Flight Attendants, crew training personnel, members of the FAA and people in the travel/insurance/legal forums. This is what I learned:

  • There are no official FAA guidelines against passengers providing their own seat belt extenders. However, in 2011 the FAA began issuing a series of warnings and memos to airlines in the US warning them that the FAA does not endorse, test, inspect or certify the use of passenger provided safety devices such as seat belt extenders.

  • The FAA has said that many companies selling the devices online will include "FAA documentation". This paperwork is fake. The only seat belt extenders that the FAA endorses and regularly tests and inspects are those provided by the airlines.

  • The FAA advised the airlines that allowing passengers to use seat belt extenders that they bring on the plane themselves is not currently illegal, but it is dangerous. If something should happen to the passenger or anyone sitting around them, the airline would likely be held liable for not insisting the passenger use an FAA approved safety device.

  • If a passenger uses their own seat belt extender rather than one provided by the airline, then in the event of an incident where the passenger is injured or killed, the passenger's travel, life, accidental death and dismemberment, long term disability, supplemental health and life insurance may be null and void because they failed to use an FAA approved, inspected, tested and certified safety device provided by the airline.

  • Further, if any surrounding passengers were injured due to the failure of a seat belt extender brought from home, the FAA advised that the passenger who used it (or their beneficiaries) may be legally and/or financially responsible for any injury or deaths of surrounding passengers.

The bottom line is belt extenders you buy online are not necessarily safe, and the FAA doesn't recognize them as safe. Airlines in the US are required to carry a minimum of 4 seat belt extenders per flight and are required to offer them free of charge. Airline training programs have been developed to help cabin crew offer them to you very discreetly. Please trust your flight crew to take the best care of you. Please take the best care of yourself - as you board the plane, ask "May I have an extender, please?"

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