Fats on a Plane, The Sequel: Making Informed Decisions

By | July 23, 2008

As yesterday’s post indicates, there’s really nothing fat people can do to always avoid any possible issues with fat-flying. But, we can, at least, make informed decisions about how we fly.

Southwest Airlines is probably the most recognized – and demonized – poster child for their particularly-strict second-seat policy. However, many other major airlines have vague clauses in their Conditions of Carriage (this document should be accessible from any given airline’s website) that give them agency to make adjustments. Even though such guidelines are not so ruthlessly enforced, as illustrated by L’s experience, the possibility is there for this to happen on almost any flight.

On the other hand, earlier this year, Canada passed a law making it illegal for airlines to charge fat passengers extra for an additional seat – if the seat is required, the airline needs to supply it free of charge. My understanding is that this decision is based on the same accessibility requirements legally mandated to accomodate disabled people. Setting the inherent problems of equating fatness with disability aside for the moment, ideally, this “one person, one fare” sort of thinking will eventually come to be the rule in the US. But until then, fat folks who travel have to take such things into consideration.

One fantastic resource for this is Seat Guru, a site that breaks down essentially everything you could ever want to know about any commercial plane or airline, to the very last inch. Yes, I’ve tried measuring my butt (go ahead, laugh), but have had better luck measuring my standard-sized desk chair and using that as a point of comparison, to get a sense of how an airline seat is going to feel. Considering that in most cases the airline seats are markedly smaller than my normal-sized chair, it’s little wonder that everyone, fat and thin alike, experiences some level of discomfort on a plane.

Furthermore, it seems that some airlines use the need for a seat-belt extender as a yardstick to determine whether a body is too fat for a single seat. Since learning this, I stopped asking for one – something I started doing a few years ago, not so much because it was absolutely necessary, as to give myself a bit more breathing room on flights. These days I just deal with a snug seatbelt; but folks lacking that option can always buy their own seat belt extender and carry it with them, removing the need to ask a flight attendant for one, who may or may not be kind and respectful about the whole thing (I’ve dealt with both the polite and the judgmental on this issue, myself).

On a personal note, I fly several times a year (I’m a big fan of JetBlue, and won’t fly any other domestic airline these days) and thus have often worried about being targeted for second-seat purchasing. Since I rarely travel without my uncomplaining husband in the seat beside me – and if he minded being squished against me for a few hours, I wouldn’t be on that plane with him in the first place – it seems unlikely that I’d get nailed for Flying Fat unless it was a vendetta on the part of a fat-hating flight attendant. But I am keenly aware that it’s always a possibility, no matter what I do.

Ultimately, what I’d really like out of this post is to hear from all of you: your experiences, good and bad, your preferred carriers, and how you feel about flying in general. I feel like there’s a shocking and tragic number of fat folks out there who won’t fly simply out of fear of the possibility of being humiliated; talking about this can help resolve those concerns.

Because traveling is awesome, and shouldn’t be something avoided because of your size.

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