Too Fat to Fly: Did This Man Need Three Seats?

"It is very obvious in the photo that the aircraft is not in-flight at the time the photo was taken -- other passengers are still boarding and several overhead bins are still open," Smith told ABC earlier this week.

American, like most other airlines, has a policy for larger passengers. Airlines try to make accommodations for passengers if the person's body is large enough that it prevents the armrest between the seats from being fully lowered.

American tries not to charge passengers for an extra seat unless there are simply no other options.

If the flight is not full, American tries to seat the passenger in two adjacent seats. Otherwise, the airline tries to book the person on another flight. If there is no other available flight or the passenger needs to be on that flight for scheduling reasons, the airline will sometimes book and charge the person for two seats.

The airline said each situation is handled individually on a case-by-case basis.

How Fat is Too Fat to Fly?

The FAA has rules about larger passengers: All passengers must wear seat belts, a passenger cannot be seated in an emergency exit row seat if a seatbelt extension is required, and no aisle may be blocked by a passenger or bags in case of an emergency.

"I think most airlines have it right with a policy of armrests being able to come all the way down for oversized passengers and requiring a second ticket purchase if not, while re-accommodating and refunding the second ticket if two seats are open at departure time," said Rick Seaney, CEO of travel site FareCompare.com and an ABCNews.com columnist. "That is until such point when being oversized is considered a disability."

Seaney said the issue boils down to cost and enforcement.

"Oversized passengers don't want to pay ahead of time for two tickets and hope/wait for a refund," Seaney said. "Turning gate agents and flight attendants into seat airspace judge and juries isn't likely what they signed up for, not to mention seatmates, who typically only have to worry about who is going to get the elbow rest."

Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com, added that "airlines need to clearly communicate these policies to the consumers up front and enforce them, as well as offer viable alternatives for overweight passengers such as the ability to purchase a low-cost second seat."

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