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Originally published Saturday, July 27, 2013 at 7:11 PM

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What to do about a super-sized seatmate

Readers’ questions on air travel, from coping with a large seatmate to using a Nexus membership for the airport fast-pass lane.

Special to The Seattle Times

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The more options for getting from one place to another, the more complicated traveling seems to get. So into the mailbag we go this week for answers to some readers’ air-travel questions:

Q: Recently my wife and I flew from Orlando to Seattle on Alaska Airlines. I had an aisle seat and my wife was in the middle. Next to her was a significantly overweight person who spilled over into her seat and had to have the armrest up. I wanted to make a fuss over it, but she wouldn’t let me do it. The flight was full. Is there anything that we could have done?

Mike Robbins, Seattle

A: Yes. Next time persuade your wife to speak up — not to the passenger sitting next to her, which, I agree, would be awkward, but to a flight attendant.

Airlines have varying ways of dealing with what they delicately call “customers of size.’’ Alaska’s policy is straightforward in that it requires passengers to buy a second seat if they cannot fit in one with both armrests down.

“The inconvenienced seat mate could have brought the situation to the flight attendant’s attention,’’ said airline spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey.

“At that point, they are empowered to try to resolve the issue by utilizing open seats and moving other customers. In the case where no seats are available and the passenger cannot sit with both armrests in the down position, the agent would approach the passenger that needs the second seat, remove them from the aircraft and rebook them on the next available flight.”

For those who do purchase two seats, Alaska refunds the cost of the second if the aircraft isn’t full.

The website posts a comparison of airlines policies at Alaska publishes a seat size by aircraft type at

Q: I tried to use my Nexus card and a boarding pass to go through a “faster,” easier airport security lane. Because I was not on the “approved’’ list, I couldn’t go through. Do you know how this works?

Mary Stanton, Seattle

A: Membership in Nexus, an expedited U.S.-Canadian border-entry program, automatically qualifies you for “PreCheck,’’ the U.S. Transportation Security Administration program that allows travelers to pass through airport security at some airports without taking off shoes, jackets etc. or removing liquids or laptops from carry-ons.

Showing your Nexus card, however, won’t get you access to the PreCheck lane. Instead, the TSA requires that you go into your online airline profile in advance, and enter the 9-digit number on the back of your card in the space labeled “known traveler number.’’ You can also enter the number into your flight itinerary at the time you purchase a ticket.

Q: I have read that it’s best to book airline tickets no earlier than six weeks ahead to get the best price. I understand the reasoning, but what do you do then about reserving a room? Many of those are booked way more than six weeks before you fly.

Lenita Firth, Seattle

A: I usually book accommodations as soon as possible based on the travel dates I have in mind, then email right away if I have to make a change. Things usually work out, especially if you’re flexible and willing to accept a different type of room.

Do avoid bookings that require a fee for changes or cancellations, and have some backup choices in mind in case your first pick is no longer available.

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About Travel Wise

Travel Wise is aimed at helping people travel smart, especially independent travelers seeking good value. The column covers everything from the best resources to how to tap into the local culture. It runs each Sunday in the Travel section.

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