Posted in Body Politics, Commentary

Flying the Unfriendly Skies

There’s been a lot of talk recently, especially on a lot of body acceptance blogs I read, about the new United Airlines policy to charge very fat passengers for 2 seats.

How fat is very fat?  If you can’t sit in a normal seat with a maximum of one seatbelt extender, and get the armrest down, you are too fat and may be asked to purchase a second seat, if it’s available, or you will be bumped to take your chances at doing same on a different flight.

The determination of fatness will happen at the gate, and regardless of the fat person’s flight plans or ability to pay for an extra seat.  If you’ve flown recently, you know that there is rarely an extra seat anymore; even the middle seats are filled, and airlines have cut flights to such an extent that it’s shoulder-to-shoulder just about every flight you’re on.  But no worries!  If 2 adjacent seats aren’t available on the flight scheduled, the fat person will be bumped, condemned to wait in an airport served only by other overbooked flights until such time as s/he may actually get 2 seats, can pay for both, and then, maybe, s/he’ll get where s/he intended to go (unless weather or some other mysterious problem delays or cancels any of those flights, a common enough occurrence these days).  It should be noted that should fat folks get bumped overnight, the cost of the hotel room is their burden, not the airline’s.  That’s your penalty, fatty.  Suck it up.

United is only the latest airline to take this policy public; Southwest has been doing it for years.  I didn’t know that until recently, and it disappoints me, because until I heard that, I often cited Southwest as my favorite airline.  They’re usually funny, they go where I want to go, they’re reasonably affordable, their customer service is good, and I rarely have major delays.  (Not so United.)  And I didn’t know because Southwest has never bumped me for fatness.  (Whew.)

But I have reason to worry.  I am a fat woman, and I carry my weight pretty evenly spread all over my body, with more in the belly/hips area.  I am also 5’10” and broad shouldered.  I’m a big strapping peasant-type girl, and so I fit quite snugly into an airline seat, and prefer to have the armrest up if I can.  Depending on the airline, bits of my hip can approach and encroach under the armrest, but do not extend past it into a neighbor’s airspace.  Fortunately, I tend to travel with Scott, and he doesn’t mind so much.  It’s not comfortable, but even if  I were thin, I am too tall to be comfortable in the average airplane;  I know this, because I’ve been this tall for almost 20 years, and was considerably thinner at various points during those two decades.  But since the dawn of adulthood, I generally walk off a plane miserable, and in dire need of a walk, a massage, and chiropractic care.  I do not need a seatbelt extender at this time.  And, for the record, I do not have fat shoulders, but this does not stop the flight attendant from ramming my shoulder with the beverage cart or his/her own hip every time s/he passes me when I’m sitting on the aisle.  This indicates to me that it is the seat that is too small, not that I am tremendously huge.

It is an outrage, of course.  First of all, it’s humiliating in the extreme.  You don’t even get to sit down in your seat and see how it goes; a gate agent will literally size you up and make the determination when you check in.  Secondly, it blames people for their bodies instead of airlines for their ever-shrinking seat sizes and row spacing in their greedy quest for every last dollar they can squeeze out of a flight that may or may not take off, according to their corporate whim.  It’s so much easier exploit the general public’s willingness to hate on the fatties than to configure airplanes to actual human scale.  I don’t know a single person of any size who finds flying coach comfortable; neither do I know a single person who chooses to afford first class.  Thirdly, it unfairly targets fat women, who carry their weight in their hips more often then fat men do, so it’s gender discrimination as well.  Skinny broad-shouldered men who have bookended me in a middle seat and forced me to sit stoop-shouldered for 3 hours until I can no longer lift my head without searing pain have, thus far, not been taxed for exceeding their seat space, but my prodigious hips could get me kicked off the plane?  How is that right?

That said, I do feel for folks who have been squished into a corner of their already tiny seats by a fat person.  I’ve been on both sides of the situation myself; it’s not pleasant, and I recognize that.  Which is why, as a fat person, I do my very best not to exceed my seat boundaries; frankly, unless you’re a really hot man with an easy-going vibe (and I’m feeling exceptionally saucy that day), I don’t really want to spend the next 3 hours with our thighs touching, either.  The muscular energy I expend to NOT crowd others on a plane is considerable, and my limbs are inevitably exhausted from holding that isometric pose for the duration of the flight.  But I do it, because I’m a considerate flyer.  I’m not willing to insist on my comfort at the cost of someone else’s.  But that’s me; there are plenty of people who feel differently, including those who hail this policy as overdue and wonderful and who spew fat-hate at anyone suggesting otherwise.

Those jerks aside, I am not without sympathy for the plight of thinner travelers; air travel is miserable and cramped enough to begin with.  I have sympathy for all of us poor suckers who have to fly, and there is something to be said for the rights of the airborne individual to have a reasonable amount of space, comfort, and dignity when seated on a plane.  I guess I feel there is room to negotiate on this issue.  That is to say, there’s room to negotiate IF airlines are prepared to remove the following far more common intrusions upon my space, comfort and dignity when my fatness is sitting on a plane.  You think sitting next to a fat person on a plane is uncomfortable and intolerable?  It could be worse; you could be sitting next to…

The Chatty One:  The yammering starts from the moment they arrive at your row, but often it has preceded the chatty one down the jetway.  It never occurs to the chatter that, beyond the civilities required of strangers who are about to share extremely close quarters, you’re not interested in hearing his/her life story or divulging yours to someone you’ve barely met.  Ostentatious book-opening does not deter them.  Since it’s usually 5 or 10 minutes after takeoff before you can put on your large noise-canceling headphones, they take that opportunity to start yakking at you, forcing you into a position of potential rudeness if you go ahead and put ’em on once they’ve gotten going.

Tiny Bladder: I go to the bathroom before I get on a plane, and when I get off a plane, and I limit my liquids in between.  This is a strategy that works well; in the past 5 years of flying, I can say with some confidence that I have used an airplane restroom once.  I don’t like using them. There’s a line; they smell funny, they’re all the way in the back of the plane; they’re cramped; someone always pees on the seat.  Yuck.  But not the Tiny Bladder family.  Mrs. Tiny Bladder (who inevitably sits in the window seat) must get up and down at least once an hour, forcing everyone else in the row to stand up and let her out.  Seriously, lady, order the cranberry juice and see a doctor when you debark; nobody has to pee that frequently.  Often she has the Junior Bladders in tow who each need to be taken to the bathroom 3 times, and do they ever all go together?  Of course not.

Captain B.O.:  It’s always a delight when someone who has determined to spend the next several hours in a sealed metal can with 200 strangers, 2-3 of which he can actually touch, he goes for the “bathing optional” day, allowing his seatmates ample experimental opportunities to see how long they can go without breathing.  Such a person is almost always in need of a breath mint or 10.  That’s just the way it always goes.

The Sickie:  You see them as they walk up the aisle:  eyes dull, red and watering; red, raw nose highlighted by the pallor of the rest of their face; shoulders slumped; Kleenex in one hand and pillow in the other.  Do they, in consideration of their fellow travelers and recognition of the shared air, do their utmost to cough into their own shirt collars or jacket sleeves? Oh hell no; they cough unimpeded into the back of your seat as you silently shrink away from the cracks between the chairs, hoping to avoid the jetstream of contagion.  You spend the entire trip cringing at every sniffle; they spend the entire trip oblivious of the antipathy they’re generating.

The Man with Enormous Invisible Junk:  You’ve seen him, haven’t you?  Legs spread wide to accommodate the giant dick he IS, rather than the one he imagines he possesses?  (This guy frequents movie theatres, concert venues, and sports arenas as well.)  Dude thinks he’s at home on his couch playing videogames, or reading the paper on the throne.   Knees in, bub.

The Loud Talker:  This person is certain that everything s/he says is fascinating, delightful, brilliant, and incomparably witty, and therefore sees no reason NOT to share it at top volume with everyone on the plane.  Members of this breed defy all efforts to ignore them or block them out with headphones.  They are as relentless as they are socially clueless.

The Noob:  The Noob has no business being on a plane in the first place.  They’ve invariably failed the security test.  “Oh, I have to take my laptop out of the bag?  What do you mean, I have to take my shoes off?  Hey, I just bought that soda on the way to the airport!”  They stand stock still in the aisle while they try to figure out the overhead bins as people and carry-ons pile up behind them.  They order drinks that were not announced or printed in the in-flight magazine as available, and then take another 5 minutes to decide between the soft drinks that are, as if they’d never made a beverage choice in their lives before this very moment.  And they barge on through to the front once the plane lands, heedless of the fact that there are rows ahead of them and an order to things that means they wait their frelling turn.  If you cannot successfully negotiate security, then you are a flying failure and should be immediately turned back and given directions to the nearest Greyhound station.

The Late Arriver:  This is the person who finally arrives on board when the rest of the passengers have been buckled in for 15 minutes and are starting to wonder what’s holding up the show.  Invariably, they do not arrive flustered and out of breath, having sprinted from the gate of their previous late flight to get to this one.  That I could be sympathetic about.  No, no, this person saunters on board, in no discernible hurry to put his or her expensive carry-on away, wanting it to go exactly where s/he is sitting and making a fuss about it to the flight attendant because everyone who arrived ON TIME has already filled the overhead bins.  Punctual bastards.

The Farter:  If a fart is let slip on an airplane, and the engines are too loud to hear it, does it still stink up the plane?  Yes, for the love of god, YES.  And the recirculated air guarantees that whether the gasser is in first class or row 29 by the bathrooms, we will all know it within 3 nanoseconds, and be gagging within 4.  Thanks.

The Kicking Child:  Children accompanied by parents have exactly one free kick, which should immediately be followed by the watchful parent’s admonishment and cessation of any further kicking.  It is absolutely unacceptable to let your child kick another passenger’s seat for the duration of a flight.  It is equally unacceptable for any adult to be constantly kicking or bumping the chair.  If you exceed your free kick, you can expect to see my evil eye peering at you and/or your spawn between the seats.  If you exceed your free kick excessively, you can expect me to discipline your child in your stead, since you’re obviously unwilling to do it.  I taught school; I have no fear and no qualms.

The Chaise Lounger:  Being fully cognizant of the minimal amount of legroom we are all allotted on your average airplane, I consciously choose NOT to recline my seat if there is anyone behind me; call it a Kristie policy, if you will.  Time was when planes were not so full as they are these days, and I could recline my seat fairly often, especially on nighttime flights when I was coming home from the east coast.  Nowadays, it’s a rarity that there’s an open seat behind me, and so I don’t recline.  I don’t mind; not doing so, I believe, contributes to the general harmony and is a small consideration for the negligible extra comfort reclining those 6 inches would provide.

Others, however, are not so considerate.  As soon as they hear the “ding,” they press the button on their armrest and slam their seatback into my knees, which, because I’m 5’10”, are already touching the back of their seat.  They never ease it back to telegraph their intentions; no, they will be satisfied with nothing less than the complete shattering of my patellae.

The Beauty Queen:  This is the one who decides that since she’s just sitting around anyway, she should probably just touch up her nail polish and refresh her perfume, oblivious to the fact that the noxious smell of both will travel through the recirculated air system in about half a second, sickening all aboard.  Chemical warfare of this kind should be dealt with via instant tackling by U.S. Marshals aboard the plane.

If airlines want to get serious about making their flights comfortable for all flyers, I can support that goal.  Removing people who make flying miserable for others may well be the right answer.  And I’m pretty sure once they remove all the folks above from the flight, there will be plenty of room for my fat ass.

Problem solved.



I've been doing some form of creative writing since 9th grade, and have been a blogger since 2003. Like most bloggers, I've quit blogging multiple times. But the words always come back, asking to be written down, and they pester me if I don't. So here we are. Thanks for reading.

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