It's That Time Of Year Again! (Time to Feel Terrible About Flying While Fat)

I’m not a passenger. I’m a burden and a problem to solve, like an overstuffed suitcase.
Publish date:
December 19, 2013
fat, airplanes, flying

It’s that time of year again: a time of gift-giving, goodwill toward men, holiday travel, and throwing fat girls off planes. Because nobody said anything about goodwill toward women, least of all FAT women.

I should be excited. My mother has a new house she wants to show off. I’m fortunate enough to spend an entire week visiting both parents. We’ll tour the twinkling lights of Callaway Gardens (I’m a dork for fairy lights). It might even snow. However, I’m concerned a flight attendant will pull me from my flight to Atlanta -- especially since I’ve been placed in the dreaded middle seat, and the flight is full.

Passengers have complained about my size in the past. A Delta flight attendant apologized for the “inconvenience” of sitting next to me and moved a man to first class. A man sitting next to me on a flight from Denver to Portland was given several free drinks for “being a good Samaritan” and presumably not asking to move to a different seat.

In the weeks before I board a plane, I spend more time measuring my hips, squeezing into the smallest pair of Spanx I can find, browsing Seat Guru, and obsessively checking the airline’s site for an open window or aisle seat (because, more often than not, only middle seats are available) than I do packing my suitcase.

I research what I can do to lose 10 pounds in 10 days. All because I’m fat, and my size means the flight crew reserves the right to pull me from the plane. I’d hate for my father to drive two-and-a-half hours to Atlanta, only to discover I won’t be coming home for the holidays after all.

As a “passenger of size,” I am subject to certain policies that, quite frankly, seem designed to “put me in my place.” Never am I more aware of my status as a social pariah than when I board an airplane. I am conscious of the ways in which my hips and arms invade the personal space of other passengers. I spent one flight in tears. No one comforted me. I feel bad about making other passengers uncomfortable, but what about my comfort? Apparently, my comfort is of no concern.

I contacted Delta regarding the flight attendant who referred to me as an inconvenience. A representative never followed up with my complaint.

Apart from three blissful years in the mid-90s, I’ve always been fat. My time as a svelte, beautiful swan (and special snowflake) taught me one thing: Yes, people do treat fat people (and fat women in particular) differently, as though they’re subhuman. It’s especially obvious when in a confined space, like an airplane cabin.

I want to believe I deserve respect; however, a larger part of me agrees with the passengers and flight attendants who feel I’m too fat to fly.

Flying stresses me out. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s flight; I just want to read a book and arrive at my destination safely and hopefully on time. I want to rest my elbow on an armrest without hearing the passenger next to me sigh with disgust.

I’m tired of hearing about how my size is a “weight concern,” as though my fat ass will cause the plane to tip sideways and ultimately crash and burn. I miss when flight attendants would smile at me and greet me. These days, I’m not a passenger -- not really. I’m a burden and a problem to solve, like an overstuffed suitcase.

When I’m not stressing out about whether or not I’ll be allowed on an upcoming flight (I fly 6-8 times a year, so I’m almost always in a state of anxiety), I daydream about certain “rescue” scenarios. Perhaps I’m seated between two other fat girls, and we raise our armrests and toast each other. Perhaps a celebrity in first class swaps seats with an angry passenger, so I can make it home for the holidays. Everyone applauds the celebrity, and I get a hug.

Despite how comforting it is to indulge in daydreams, this sort of thinking is problematic, because it reinforces the deeply ingrained belief I am inferior to other passengers. Society teaches us to revile fat women. We expect men to have long legs and broad shoulders. I never see other passengers break out the pitchforks and insist a flight crew toss a naturally big dude from the plane.

(In fact, I’ve only heard two instances in which men were asked to purchase a second seat or leave the plane -- one of which involved Kevin Smith -- whereas it seems commonplace for plus-sized women.) The men I’ve seen are just as large as me -- sometimes larger -- yet because they are physically fit, no one complains.

When I board an airplane and walk down the aisle in search of my seat, I can feel all eyes on my hips. I recently read a troubling short story online: a man celebrates the good fortune of an empty seat to his right, until he sees an elderly obese woman (wearing a muumuu and wheeling an oxygen tank, of course) “waddling” down the aisle, with a copy of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" in hand. Am I a bad thing that happens to good people?

If flight attendants and passengers can’t be empathetic and kind during the “season of goodwill,” is there really any hope air travel will one day cease being such a source of anxiety for me? I know I need to lose weight, but it seems there are bigger issues at hand when it comes to my flight concerns: issues with airlines packing people in like sardines, and issues with society. Because guess what? No matter what anyone says (or how I feel, or am made to feel), I am not subhuman.