Flying While Fat
posted at 11:38 am on February 16, 2010 by Laura
Kevin Smith suffered an outrageously outrageous outrage!!1 when he was asked to disembark from his Southwest flight on the grounds that he was too large to fit “safely and comfortably” in the seat. His original booking included two seats, but he instead tried to catch a different flight on standby and only one seat was available. He was furious:
“I’m legit! I’ve passed the stinkin’ armrest-test. And still, the lady asks me to get up and come with her off the plane,” Smith wrote on his Twitter page yesterday.
“I get up without a fuss at all, quietly grab my bag, make eye contact with a fellow Fatty who was praying he’d pass, and leave.”
At her popular “fat acceptance” blog, Kate Harding worries,
But there are still probably millions of fat people who dread getting on flights — and not just on Southwest — because they don’t know if they’ll actually be allowed to use the tickets they paid for, or if they’ll be removed from the plane like criminals, forced to fly standby and in some cases, forced to fly standby and pay twice as much for it.
“Praying he’d pass,” and verbiage like dread, criminals, and forced, certainly do evoke a sense of victimhood. It’s true that since most households don’t possess an airline seat, a true “armrest test” is impossible to complete until you actually board the plane, thus subjecting yourself to possible humiliation if you don’t fit comfortably. If only there were some way for people to take responsibility for themselves and find out in advance if they’re too large for one seat! Wait, perhaps there is.
It’s possible to look up the size of seats on airplanes in advance! You can call the airline and ask, or you can look it up online. Now that you know Southwest’s seat is 17 inches wide, grab a roll of tape and go sit down. Put pieces of tape on either side of yourself. Measure the distance between the pieces of tape. If the result is greater than 17″, definitely get two seats. If it’s close to 17″, think about getting two seats so you don’t have to worry about being asked to disembark. It’s a crazy idea, but it just might work!
If Kevin Smith passed the “armrest test,” his seatmates weren’t complaining, and the other “Fatty” was permitted to fly, then, yes, Southwest has a problem with arbitrary enforcement and they should tighten that up and enforce the policy all the time. Southwest actually has a pretty clear “Customer of Size” policy, and I think it’s really decent of them to refund the cost of the extra seat if it turns out the flight is not full.
It should be noted that although Smith says his seatmates did not complain, the Southwest rep noted they were both leaning away from him. Smith said they were already like that when he sat down, and that he spoke to them both and said they had no problem with him. I will accept both of those things as true: Smith’s seatmates had no problem with him and were already leaning away, and Southwest staff documented their leaning. And now I’ll speculate that the Southwest staff concluded, from that leaning, that Smith’s seatmates felt encroached upon, and acted on it.
“Fatties” aren’t the only ones who feel victimized in this situation. I used to fly a lot for business and when I had a really large seatmate I always leaned away. I do not like strangers touching me, and often even when the armrests are down, a large passenger can “ooze” (as one of Kate’s commenter’s admitted she did) into the next seat. I wished – in my younger years I lacked the courage to say anything about it – that someone in a position of authority would make this person get the two seats they obviously needed, so that I wouldn’t have to spend the entire flight contorting myself to get away from them. But most people want to be nice, and not hurt anyone’s feelings. In the meantime you’ve got someone annexing space you’ve paid for and causing you emotional stress and physical pain as you try to get away when there’s no place to go. It’s bad enough to try to sleep on a hotel bed; it’s worse to do so after having to rigidly hold yourself in some unnatural position for a three hour flight.
The airline seat width remains completely unaffected by anyone’s feelings about it. Nor do they stretch, no matter how much we all might wish it. So while you folks in the “fat acceptance” crowd are perfectly entitled to seek rights, privileges and/or entitlements related to your size, as long as the seat size remains about 17″ wide, it is you who must adjust, and not the other passengers.
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