Tall Airline Passengers May Be More Prone to Deep Vein Thrombosis

For tall travelers, flying is more than uncomfortable, more than painful, it may be downright dangerous. "I literally couldn't get in my assigned seat without jamming my legs," said a 6' 10' airline passenger. "Shortly after my return home, I suffered a deep vein thrombosis, then almost died from a pulmonary embolism," he added.

Imagine that your leg bones are longer than the space between rows on the airplane and your seatmates won't permit you to slant your knees right or left into their legroom.

Everard Strong, 6' 9" publisher of Tall Magazine wonders, "Do I have legal grounds to demand a seat on an airplane that fits? Do you think the airlines are aware of the situation?"

Yes. In 2003, the airlines even banned a device invented by a tall traveler with battered knees, which prevents the seat in front from reclining. And then there's the legal arena. The airlines have lost one lawsuit from a tall passenger; then won a second suit.

Passenger Wins in the U.K.

In 2002, a 6' passenger won a monetary settlement after testifying, "I sat for eight hours at an angle" causing a painful spasm in the leg and a fear of contracting deep vein thrombosis.

Passengers Lose in California

The Tall Club of Silicon Valley sued a dozen U.S. airlines including American and Southwest on behalf of all Californians 6' 2" and up. The club did not ask for money, only seating accommodations, arguing the conventional seating causes health problems.

In 2003, the case was dismissed following a recommendation from the Department of Transportation, stating "A new seating rule would conflict with the aviation regulatory scheme." On appeal in 2004, the dismissal was upheld.

Tall Club's attorney Tom Cohen (6' 6") pithisized, "So tall people will remain squished."

With 65 tall clubs nationwide, one legal option may be to get on board with the deep vein thrombosis (DVT) law suits. Worldwide, there are now thousands of DVT cases wending their way through the courts.

The legal definition of an "accident" has hobbled a number of DVT cases, but the tall passengers' plight might be just what the lawyers are looking for. In confined economy spaces, tall passengers' legs are repeatedly injured -- just getting to and from their seats. These leg bruises are "accidents" that can trigger DVT and make the airlines liable.

An 8-year survey on Flyana.com, a passenger-activist Web site, invited complaints and tips from tall travelers. Among the hundreds of respondents, there were a dozen mentions of near-fatal blood clots after flying. One 6' 10' traveler wrote, "I literally couldn't get in my assigned seat without jamming my legs. Shortly after my return home, I suffered a deep vein thrombosis, then almost died from a pulmonary embolism."

A 6' 7" respondent to Flyana.com reported that a flight attendant came up to him after takeoff and said, "I'll do something for you because you look like you're in pain," and she moved him to first class.

"Regrettably, most of the time, flight attendants are not able to help as much as they would like to," says Flyana's webmaster Diana Fairechild, a former flight attendant with 10 million miles to her credit.

"Flight attendants have too many required tasks, including servicing passengers and pilots with food and beverages, and always being ready to thwart would-be terrorists. On top of this, cabin crews must care for the ill, placate the berserk, and protect passengers in all manner of unforeseen mechanical events that take place while crossing time zones at high altitudes."

In Ms. Fairechild's book, "Strategies for the Wise Passenger," there are 14 insider tips to help tall passengers cope with the challenges of flying, including how to get double the leg room in an exit row.

To snag an exit row seat, arrive early at the airport and let the ticket agent know that you have memorized all the exit-row responsibilities. These are: 1) Before takeoff, you will make sure the exit area is free of luggage, and 2) If an emergency evacuation begins, you will first look out your exit to see that the area is safe (no fire), then you'll quickly open the exit and help everyone to disembark before you disembark yourself.

Another tip from Fairechild is how to get a complimentary upgrade at the check-in counter. A doctor's note requesting adequate room for your long legs documents your physical limitations. "The very tall passenger's problem is obvious," says Fairechild, "but a note from your doctor can trigger a grade-school zest (like bringing a note from Mom)."

For the tall passenger, it could be life saving to avoid conditions that promote blood clots. One flicker of hope for steerage-class talls is the mercy of individual airline employees, on the ground as well as in the air.