Is it safe to fly if you’re over 170lbs?

It was a big milestone for me when I no longer needed an extension seatbelt when flying!

U.S. waistlines are expanding while airplane seats are shrinking. What does that mean in terms of safety for ALL passengers, not just the overweight? Airplane seats are currently safety tested with dummies that weigh 170 lbs – a weight that does not accurately reflect the average passenger size (men 200 lbs; women 179 lbs in 2005). You have a higher chance of survival in the event of a crash if you are under 170 lbs, and survival diminishes when you are over that mark.

We also know that obese drivers are less likely to wear seatbelts because of physical discomfort; this may result in more fatalities.

The other safety concern is the functionality of seat belts for overweight passengers. Airplane seat belts need to be tested for effectiveness on overweight people. In the event of a crash, one needs to be restrained by their seat belt and also needs to be able to get out of their seats to escape. Heavy passengers pose a danger both themselves and surrounding passengers in emergencies.

Heavier passengers are also more likely to get blood clots on long flights – this appears to be how rapper Heavy D died.

Both concerns have led scientists to question the safety of heavy passengers; and regulators to push for safety testing on heavier dummies. Regulations need to change in response to the increasing waistlines. Read the detailed story in NY Times.

This is an additional reason to lose weight, especially if you are a frequent traveler. Be healthy, feel good, and travel safe!

Dr John Ellis MD

Board-certified anesthesiologist, with expertise in cardiovascular anesthesia and the implications of obesity and sleep apnea in anesthesia. See for professional information. Dr. Ellis has used the strategies in here to: (1) lose 120 lbs over 18 months, (2) stop all antihypertensive medicines, and (3) no longer need CPAP treatment for sleep apnea.

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