THE NOT-SO-FRIENDLY SKIES & MY BIG FAT BUTT

For many fatties air travel is one of our least favorite things to do – second only to going to the doctor.  Why is this?  Because we never know what to expect.  We never know how we will be treated.  So even if the trip is uneventful, you spend the whole time waiting for a fat-phobic employee of the airline to come up and ruin your day.

Soooooo many stories out there about fatties being treated badly by airlines – pulled off of flights, unexpectedly asked to purchase a 2nd seat, buying a 2nd seat only to find the airline has assigned those 2 seats in separate rows, etc.

One of the most frustrating things is the unpredictability.  It is clear that, like the acceptable size of carry-on luggage, the acceptable size of the ass getting onboard is strictly up to the people at the gate.  Have you ever seen anyone force a passenger to stuff their huge piece of carry-on into the little “your luggage must fit in this” box?  I haven’t.  Why don’t they have an airplane seat at the gate, with a sign that says “your ass must fit in this”?  To me, if there is no set standard or if the standard is not uniformly enforced – it’s discrimination.  And as NAAFA will tell you – discrimination is wrong.  Period.

And I love that the airlines will all tell you it’s about safety – not about money.  Right.  So when 2 fat people traveling on Southwest are forced to buy an extra seat each, instead of allowing them to share 1 extra seat between them – it’s not about the money.  Southwest will tell you that it’s because they can’t guaranty you 3 seats together – but they let the fatties preboard – so WTF. 

Then you get into the issue of people who spill over seats in other ways – people with broad shoulders; people who put their seats back (so you spend the flight with your nose in their hair product); people with children; etc. 

And speaking of safety – what about people who are allowed to hold their young child?  Excuse me?  You can’t do that in a car —- because (duh) it’s NOT SAFE.  And you and your child have to be very wee for you both to fit exclusively in your seat area. 

How do I handle it?  Well, a lot of times, my husband and I upgrade to first class (from accumulated miles) — and here’s an interesting tidbit.  The seatbelts in first class are shorter than those in coach!  I can sometimes get away without an extender in coach, never in first class.  I guess fatties are not supposed to be in first class.  And even in first class – there is not enough room for me to properly use my tray table.  Nice.

If we can’t upgrade, I get an extra seat.  This is when the fun begins.  The online systems are not set up for you to easily purchase that extra seat – because they want a name to go with that seat, and they don’t want the same name for two seats.  When you check in, you go through the same thing about – who is this extra seat for (I usually tell them it’s for my other butt cheek).  Then you go through security, and get to explain to them that the extra seat is for your other butt cheek.  And again when you board.  So once you get the seat (that the airline is so adamant you need), you have to justify to them why you got that extra seat – over and over again.

So usually by the time I get on the plane.  I’m already not happy with the world in general.  But now I get to deal with other people impinging on my space –the space I had to pay double for!  I think if you want to put your seat back – you should have to pay for the seat behind you – because when you put your seat back, there is no way you are not making the person behind you uncomfortable (which I believe is why folks don’t want to sit next to us fatties – so how come, they are okay with someone’s hair gel in their nose, but not okay with my softnesses touching them?  It’s a mystery).  The kid behind me starts kicking the seat.  The flight attendants keep running the cart into my arm because the aisles are so narrow.  Oh and even though we put up the armrests – they still stick out and make it really uncomfortable if you really do spread over into that other seat.  So even though I have done as requested by the airlines (for safety reasons, mind you) – the airline still cannot deliver a comfortable trip to me. 

Maybe the airlines should just admit to EVERYBODY that they will get you where you are going (on time or not) but that it will not necessarily be comfortable.  That way, if you don’t like sitting next to a fatty – YOU can buy the extra seat – since YOU are the one afraid of being touched (despite the fact that fat is not catching, you know) – and then YOU can explain that the second seat is because you are a fat-phobe, and you can’t risk contact with “us”. 

Now, the airlines are making all kind of nasty noises about weighing passengers, charging a “fat tax” on tickets, etc.  To understand why this is so very inappropriate, I urge you to check out (and join) Association for Air Passengers Rights (AAPR) at flyfriendlyskies.com.  They are great fat-allies.  As AAPRS explainted at the 2009 NAAFA Convention, airlines count on there being an average weight for each seat – so while you may be above average, they aren’t giving credits to those who are under the average, and they aren’t giving you a credit when you carry less weight in luggage.  It’s all about the money and it’s all about an attitude that they can discriminate against the fatties and get away with it. 

I personally try to avoid using Southwest Airlines – because I feel they are the most egregious when it comes to fat discrimination.  HOWEVER, they are also the only airline that if you buy a second seat and they are not fully booked on that flight, you can get the cost of that second seat back; so I can totally understand why some people prefer to fly with them.  Granted, it is a major hassle to get that refund (funny, they can’t just credit it back to your credit card when you get off the plane, and funny, they can’t tell if the plane is going to be full – even right before the flight).  You have to hang onto your documentation, you need to get the paperwork from Southwest right there at the airport (and funny, they never seem to have it handy! — don’t let them skate, they made you buy that extra seat – you make them give you the paperwork).  But at least, you have the chance of getting your money back from them.

And I encourage you to keep apprised of the current rulings concerning air travel.  I had a Southwest attendant tell me that I couldn’t sit in the exit row if I needed a seat extender – that it was an FAA ruling.  NOT.  The FAA leaves it up to the airline to determine who should be sitting in the exit rows – and did you know, they are supposed to make sure that if you wear glasses, that you can see well enough without them to read the instructions (ever see anyone check on that?); and the FAA warns that many small women are not strong enough to handle the exit doors.  I know if I needed an exit door open – I’d want a BIG strong person there operating them.  How about you?

And if it’s really all more than you want to deal with – may I recommend train travel?  Perfect if you’re not in a hurry to get there; and (so far) much more fat friendly.

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10 thoughts on “THE NOT-SO-FRIENDLY SKIES & MY BIG FAT BUTT

  1. I *highly* recommend flying JetBlue. They make it very easy to purchase an extra seat on-line, explain at check-in how to deal with your 2 tickets as you go through security, and have never so much as blinked an eye at me when I have been boarding the plane. One time when I forgot my seat-belt extender and had to ask for one they handled it very quietly and efficiently.

  2. I always stress about traveling by air, especially since I’m the largest I’ve ever been. Even though it was uncomfortable, I did travel without incident with US Airways and always have. I bought my own extender (the 50 dollars was instantly worth it after the first use when I didn’t have to ask a flight attendant for one) and I asked before each flight and layover if the flight was full and whether I could be seated next to an empty seat. I’m about 275, 5’1″ and have a 60 inch hip. I traveled one leg with the armrest down because I was next to someone, which was uncomfortable, but i did it to myself, I could have just put the armrest up and let my hip touch his but I’m a wuss. 🙂 Anyway I recommend US Airways.

  3. On the kid thing: the FAA thought about requiring parents to buy a second seat for their kid and use a carseat. Then when they ran the study they found out that so many families would choose to drive to their destination rather than pay for the extra seat that MORE children would be killed or injured in car crashes than would be saved by safety seating on airplanes.

    Just sayin’ 🙂

  4. Oh man, I couldn’t agree more. Airlines are using the already-rampant fat hatred out there to keep from having to make more realistically-sized seats.

    Re: the seatbelts in first class, I have an answer on that one. My husband works for a major airline and I complained to him about that once. He said the seatbelts in coach and first are the same length, but because the seats in first are wider, the belts seem shorter because they have to cover more distance.

  5. they are also the only airline that if you buy a second seat and they are not fully booked on that flight, you can get the cost of that second seat back

    Not quiet true. Alaska Airlines has the same policy.

  6. Great rant. Although I myself, an in-betweenie size 18, have never had problems with seat size, I know many friends and loved ones who have. Thankfully, they nor I have never been asked to buy a second seat, and I hope we never will be. I can’t even begin to imagine how infuriating and humiliating being forced to buy a second seat would be to anyone, right there, in public, being singled out and “othered” by their fatness. Although I will admit sitting next to bigger people, combined with my size, can be a bit uncomfortable. But who cares? Like you said, there are a lot worse things that happen on flights all the time that come free with the flight (lucky for us!). I would rather be squeezed tighter than a sardine a la Onion style (http://www.theonion.com/content/news/united_airlines_exploring) than have a loved one, or myself, go through that kind of awful ordeal. Discrimination: it is nothing more than the literal meaning of that word.

  7. I got that exit row seat belt extender thing the last time I flew…they definitely said it was a “law.

    Then, after the flight attendant said that, I told her to reseat me–she made a half, no, quarter-assed attempt and started to get seriously pissed off at me. So I said it was fine, I’d just squeeze the belt closed (I’d wanted the extender for comfort). And she was fine with that.

    So I was sized OK enough to sit in the exit row and suffer, but not OK enough to sit in the seat without pain. It wasn’t that the extender itself was supposed to be the safety hazard, but my level of fatness (as marked by the need for an extender). I didn’t get any fatter by not wanting seat belt bruises, I guarantee that.

    (I also found it deeply ironic that my husband'[s long, long legs were blocking the row–and access to the exit–far more than my fat ass was.)

  8. “Maybe the airlines should just admit to EVERYBODY that they will get you where you are going (on time or not) but that it will not necessarily be comfortable. That way, if you don’t like sitting next to a fatty – YOU can buy the extra seat – since YOU are the one afraid of being touched (despite the fact that fat is not catching, you know) – and then YOU can explain that the second seat is because you are a fat-phobe, and you can’t risk contact with “us”. ”

    I think this is great. Airline seats are largely uncomfortable for pretty much everybody. Fat people are definitely the scape goats. The reality is that most of the people on the flight are going to be “fat” but only some people are singled out. Why? Based on what? Is there a weight limit? A width limit? A height limit? The current “process” is ridiculous.

  9. “which I believe is why folks don’t want to sit next to us fatties – so how come, they are okay with someone’s hair gel in their nose, but not okay with my softnesses touching them”

    I have never been on a flight where the head of the person in front of me has been anywhere near my face with their seat fully back, neither on domestic nor international flights. I have never flown domestically in the US however – there may be different regulations there.

    However, while i accept that airline seats do not allow me to keep my personal bubble as free as i would like, i am still made uncomfortable by any physical contact from a seat neighbour, whether it be due to their size, behaviour or simply their falling asleep on me. I doubt that your argument is valid, that people’s uncomfortableness demonstrates a ‘phobia’ of your size, rather than that people as a rule, don’t generally enjoy unwanted physical contact from strangers.

  10. Hey everyone. Just wanted to give a hat-tip to AirTran. Recently flew with them, and wasn’t any more uncomfy than in any other airplane (I think their coach seats are a smidge wider than, for example, Southwest or American). Their belt fit me with room to spare (not much, but there was some wiggle room!) and everyone was really sweet.

    And for perspective, I’m 305 @ 5’4″, at last weigh-in.

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