Written by The Feisty Fox, a Fattitude Intern
On the way to the airport today my friend and I were discussing thin privilege and, as an example, I used the idea of flying and the fact that thin people could never imagine the worries many fat people have when traveling such as having to ask for a seat belt extension, concern they may not fit in their seat, having to purchase two seats or a seat in first class to accommodate their body or fearing that their very existence may offend their seat mate. I say “many fat people” because I’ve heard legend there are some who have none of these fears, whatsoever, but that’s not me.
I had no idea how coincidental the conversation would be until I got to my seat on the plane. I sat down and buckled my belt, grateful it latched easily with room to spare, settled in, then noticed a woman with a large body quietly explaining to the flight attendant that she’d been assigned a middle seat but would need an aisle to accommodate her size. The flight attendant, very warm and agreeable, walked to the woman’s assigned row – the same as mine – and asked the thin man sitting in the aisle seat if he wouldn’t mind trading with the woman. Immediately he put up heavy resistance. “I always have an AISLE seat!” he fumed. I cringed for the woman. As if it wasn’t bad enough to have to ask . . . now this guy? Worse, his bellowing quickly drew the attention of nearby passengers, thereby extending her circle of shame to a wider audience wanting to know what the loud scuffle was about. Finally, the flight attendant offered him a middle seat in the roomy exit row. He continued with his bluster for a few more minutes, but eventually, and begrudgingly, he agreed to move, allowing the woman to take the seat directly across the aisle from me.
Up until that point she had to stand there and witness all of the hubbub caused by daring to ask for wha
t she needed; the ability to safely and comfortably travel. I felt so ashamed for her, thinking I would simply stop traveling rather than endure a scenario like this. I felt compelled to do something, so I leaned over and said, “My friend and I were just talking about feeling embarrassed to have to ask for special accommodations on airlines.”
She snapped at me, “I DON’T feel embarrassed.”
Then I was embarrassed! I had projected my feelings onto her. How could I think I knew how she felt? And why did I think her experience was any of my business? I just want people to feel at ease and loved. Even as a child I would cry when I saw people eating alone in a restaurant and would want to invite them to eat with my family. As an adult, I do whatever I can to verbally put my arms around anyone struggling so, naturally, I felt the urge to comfort this woman and to let her know she wasn’t alone. To me, that’s what sisterhood is about. It never occurred to me I could be wrong about the way she was feeling. But then again, she must have been feeling something. Otherwise why the hostility? She could have responded with, “Oh, girl, I got this!” or, “I stopped being ashamed of asking for what I need a long time ago.” Whatever the case, it was clear I wasn’t sitting next to warm fuzzy person and we weren’t going to bond over a common understanding or friend each other on Facebook by the end of the flight. Before she fell asleep she did alert me to the fact that my short skirt had hiked up and my undies were showing, so I’ll give her that.
After adjusting my skirt, I got out my phone and started typing this blog, musing on all these ideas in my head, thinking about how prevalent weight bias and size discrimination are and how privileged smaller people are to not have to think for a second about how they will fit into the tiny airplane seats, to not have to be aware of which airlines have the shortest and longest seat belts, to not think ahead about who they will need to ask for an extender or feel anxiety about who they might inconvenience because of their size. Comfortability is an afterthought. The woman sitting kitty corner to me was so large her stomach was smushed against the seat in front of her. How miserable!
Our flight landed 50 minutes late and several people were concerned about making connections. The flight attendant asked those of us not in a hurry to step aside to let them disembark faster. Soon there was a swarm of people all stuck at our row. On their behalf I shouted to the people up ahead, “Coming through! I have a connection to make!” It was then that I realized, however, that the woman across from me was deliberately holding them up. She was standing in the center of the aisle, tsking disgust and telling them they were rude for trying to push their way through
Ohhh. It suddenly all made sense. I wasn’t just projecting my insecurities about being fat on herl I was also projecting my desire to treat everyone with kindness on herl Is she naturally cranky or had she flown all night and was tired, anxious to get home and in need of a snack to bring
her blood sugar levels back up. (Can you tell I’m a mommy?)
I will never have that answer, but I do know that the days of Pan Am are long gone. Airlines need to start making travel more comfortable for Every Body, fat or thin, rather than making their seats smaller and smaller. I’ve even heard some airlines are considering standing room flights
In the meantime, I’ve learned you can purchase seat belt extenders on Amazon! Click here
for more information! I’ve also found a lot of discussion on the internet about the topic of navigating travel when you have a larger body. This one
, written by Rob Goldstone, is one of my favorites.
Have you been traveling lately? What have your experiences flying fat been like?
*This blog post is the opinion of a particular Fattitude intern – and does not necessarily reflect the position of Fattitude, Inc.