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He knows all about flying big

Mike Stuben, 34, of Tampa has tips on his Web site to make airline travel easier for “Passengers of Size.”

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

Mike Stuben, 34, of Tampa has tips on his Web site to make airline travel easier for “Passengers of Size.”

Mike Stuben expects looks of horror whenever he walks down the aisle of an airliner. He knows what everyone is thinking: Please, God, don't let him sit next to me.

At 6 feet 1 and 370 pounds, Stuben is a POS — passenger of size — in airline speak. A ticket sales manager for the University of South Florida's athletic department, he also owns a Web site, Traveling Sense ( travelingsense.com), that aims to make travel less expensive and more comfortable.

His first blog entry was instructional and deeply personal. How do people too big to sit in a coach seat make themselves and people nearby comfortable flying in close quarters? (This was a month before movie director Kevin Smith took on Southwest Airlines for kicking him off a plane for being "too fat to fly.")

Stuben's short answer: Don't put yourself in a bad situation. Plan ahead.

First, find an airline that works for you. Stuben, 34, used to like Southwest because the first-come, first served seating let him get to the airport early and grab an aisle seat. But Southwest now insists he buy two seats, with a refund for one if the plane isn't full.

Stuben switched to Delta. He flew 44,000 miles last year on vacations and earned Silver Medallion elite status. That's enough to get frequent upgrades to a nice, wide first-class seat. Problem solved.

Otherwise, he relies on pluck and persistence. Always go straight to the gate agent, and ask politely if the seat next to you is open. If it is, request that it stay that way. Don't be shy about asking to move to a seat beside an empty one, he says.

Stuben checks the Web site seatguru.com before flying. Seat widths vary by airline and aircraft. A seat on Delta's Saab 340, for example, is a tight 16 inches across, while some regional jets offer a little over 18 inches.

He won't touch a bulkhead seat at the front of the coach cabin. The armrests are wider and don't move because the folding tray table fits inside.

Stuben likes aisle seats best. He can get a little more room by lifting the aisle armrest. His wife takes the window seat, and no one typically sits between them unless the plane is full. Then, she moves to the middle seat, and everyone is reasonably happy.

Sometimes things just don't work out.

Last year, Stuben missed his connecting flight in Atlanta and got the last seat left on the late flight to Tampa. "It was the absolute worst,'' he says. "A big person stuck in a middle seat.'' He wedged himself in and showed an elderly seat mate how to lift the aisle armrest for a few precious inches.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

He knows all about flying big 02/23/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 24, 2010 9:35am]
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