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My Experience of Flying While Fat

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I recently went on a trip and I thought I would share my traveling experience.

Throughout my whole life, I’ve only ever flown Southwest airlines and had no issues with the staff. I find this amusingly ironic considering how often they make the news for harassing someone based on weight or dress. I do not fit comfortably into their seats but I find that as long as I check in online as early as possible, I am able to board early and avoid sitting next to anyone. For me, the worst part of flying is having to sit next to strangers. I feel obligated to squeeze myself into as small a space as possible so as not to end up on the wrong end of an angry blog post about how HORRIBLE it is to fly next to fat people, so I basically spend a couple hours being extremely uncomfortable unless I sit alone. Luckily for me, unless a plane is full,  no one willingly sits next to fat people!

Unfortunately on this last trip, I had to fly United. Now, I can’t speak for the airline as a whole, having never flown with them before, but I can say that the two planes I flew in were about the size of my apartment and about as uncomfortable as my apartment would be if you filled it with sixty strangers and couldn’t open the windows. On the first plane, going to my destination, I was one of the last people to board the plane as we were called by boarding group. Sadly, unlike Southwest, we had assigned seating. This meant I had no choice but to be wedged next to a stranger who was probably none too happy to be sitting next to the fat person on the plane. Since I was one of the last to board, my seat buddy was already in place, so she had to move while I did my best to load my luggage, and myself, without elbowing anyone in the face. I spent the ninety minute flight leaning as far against the window as I could.

On the plane ride back, I caught a bit of a break. Even though our boarding passes were labeled with boarding groups, we were called to board the plane all at once. I got my butt on that plane as early as possible and I beat my seat buddy to our aisle. I was able to situate myself and my bags comfortably and get settled in before the neighboring passenger arrived. This would be my number one tip to my fellow fat flyers: board as early as possible! Check in online as early as possible and get to the gate well before they start boarding. As a fat person, I can say I always feel like I’m being judged and scrutinized by my fellow passengers on public transportation. Even if I’m just being paranoid, that feeling is still a result of the fat-phobic  society we live in. That being said, getting on the plan as early as possible eases that feeling a bit, since there are fewer eyes on me and fewer people that have to move out of my way.

While I was as uncomfortable as ever on this particular trip, I can say no one was rude to me, no one made comments to my face or tried to make me buy two seats (as these planes were full, my main concern was getting kicked right off). The United planes carried seatbelt extenders so I was as safe as I could probably be. I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t faced any of the bullying or discrimination that other fat flyers sometimes experience. The fact that I consider this lucky is sad indeed.

I wanted to talk about this experience to draw attention so something that doesn’t always get talked about during discussions of flying while fat. People are quick to point out how horribly uncomfortable it is to fly next to fat people. They might have to touch a fat person’s arm or thigh with their arm or thigh, the horror! Sometimes those fat people might be sweaty, or smell bad, oh no! Of course, if it’s a thin person who is sweaty, or not so great-smelling, or maybe hogs the armrest, that experience isn’t used as an example of how gross thin people are, how they should be forced to buy two seats, how they should just be banned from flying entirely. What I really want to talk about, what I really want you to understand, is that flying is infinitely more uncomfortable for the fat person in question than for anyone else on that plane.

We have to deal with the mental and emotional stress of worrying that we might get kicked off the plane, or asked to buy a second seat that we can’t afford. We have to be the recipient of dirty looks. We have to wonder if every time a part of our body makes contact with someone else’s, if that person is going on an inner rant about how they had to touch a gross fat person. We have to be extra conscious of how we smell or how sweaty we are, lest we be labeled a gross smelly fatty. Never mind the fact that travel is always stressful and airports often include lots of walking while carrying heavy bags, heaven forbid we break a sweat. You might have a little bit of your seat taken up by a fat person, but that means we take up our entire seat and then some. How comfortable do you think that is for us?

The next time you travel and start to feel annoyed by someone near you on the bus or plane, ask yourself, are they doing anything they can control? Are they blasting music through their headphones, wearing far too much perfume for an enclosed space, or kicking your seat? Or do they just have a body type that you are uncomfortable with?

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7 responses »

  1. You give very valid advice. I haven’t traveled in years and frankly do not look forward to it. But, you gave me something to think about. Thank you!

    Reply
    • I certainly dread it, especially when I’m traveling alone. I just say plan ahead, get there early, and if you need a seat belt extender don’t be afraid to ask!

      Reply
  2. Good to remember. Last time I flew, I had the good fortune of doing so with friends (who, if they minded the inconvenience of my body size, certainly never acted as such — so I wasn’t mentally uncomfortable). This summer, however, I’ll be flying alone, I think.

    PS — Here via Tumblr link.

    Reply
    • Best of luck when you travel alone! Traveling with people you are comfortable with makes it so much easier. Having to sit next to someone I know and like, or sitting next to no one at all, makes things less stressful. Just remember that you aren’t doing anything wrong by taking up the space your body requires. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  3. I’m sure traveling is often just as bad (or worse) for the fat person as the passenger seated next to them. However, I still have no sympathy.

    The passenger paid for a full seat on the plane. The fat person did too. What unfortunately often happens is the fat person gets far more than one seat on the plane, due to spillage, while the other passenger loses space.

    How is this fair to that passenger?

    If you are too big for a standard seat, buy two, go to first class, lose weight or get off the plane.

    There is a reason everyone gives you dirty looks. Your body requires them to sacrifice space so you can take up more of it.

    Reply
    • People pay for passage on a flight, from point A to B. I paid, they paid. I am not preventing them from sitting, nor are they preventing me from sitting. Neither one of us is going to be totally comfortable, and just because I take up more room, doesn’t mean I get to leisurely stretch out and relax while they are scrunched uncomfortably in the corner. Not everyone can afford to buy two seats, or fly first class, and it’s hilarious how often “just lose weight” is thrown around as if A. Every fat person actually WANTS to lose weight or B. Every fat person can, and no, I won’t get off the plane, because I need to get somewhere, I paid for my ride, and I’m not hurting anyone. Have a nice day 🙂

      Reply
      • A. Every fat person actually WANTS to lose weight or B. Every fat person can…

        Or even C — That losing weight would make a meaningful difference to how one fits in a plane seat. On some airlines, my hip bones are what have actually jammed against the armrests and over into the seats next to me. And yeah — there’s pretty much zero chance that I’m going to consider shaving off parts of my bone in order to accommodate other airline passengers. I’m a nice person, but that’s extreme.

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