Monday, December 22, 2014

Fat and Fearless: Airplane Travel

So I disappeared for a bit because grad school devours the soul from your life. However, it is Christmas break. This not only means a break from homework and the time to blog, but also time to travel. The concept of fat people on planes has often been a hot topic on the internet. It seems there is a monthly thread on Reddit for fat shaming bigger passengers. It seems that fellow flyers constantly look at overweight people as smelly, lazy, space-imposing burdens. I'm hoping to help alleviate this thought process right now.

As a frequent flyer, the ignorance of many people in these threads or conversations is sickening. Here's a bit of background on me. I fly, on a slow year, over 15,000 miles annually. On a high year I have been known to reach a total of 50,000 miles. I often venture overseas. I am definitely comfortable with traveling, and am constantly trying to improve my comfort while being thrust in the air a mile above sea level in a metal tin full of strangers.

For size, I am anywhere from a size 18 to a size 22, averaging at a size 20, or 2X in ladies. In inches, while standing nude, my hip circumference is approximately 52 inches. My thighs are around 16 inches a piece, so I guess around 32 together. My hips are the widest part of my body as I maintain a somewhat pear-shaped hourglass figure. To give a slightly more average point of view, I will use the opinion of my size 12-14 mother.

First, lets talk about seats, actually, that's really about all we'll be talking about today. Specifically, where to sit.  Nowadays, planes offer some seats near the front that have about 4-6 inches of extra legroom and recline a little further. These often cost about 10% more of your plane ticket cost (for example, on most domestic American Airlines flights, they are $24). Please note, these offer no extra space in leg room, so if you're nice and short like me, they are useless.

As a plus-sized passenger, I have learned through years of trial and error that the best place to sit is the aisle seat.  Even with my wider hips, I fit in a seat with both armrests down. However, it is a tight fit, and even my mother hates the arm rests. Below, I'm going to add two pictures of myself squooshed into these seats. This is where the fearless part of this segment comes into play.

If possible, fly with a friend or family member who doesn't mind bumping hips. This way you can keep the armrest up and not worry about it. However, to avoid bothering them, always book an aisle seat! On many domestic aircraft (and some international), the aisle armrest will lift with the trigger of a little latch on the underside! This means that you can leave your armrest down between you and the other passenger and allow your pleasantly plump self to spill out into the aisle.  Even if it doesn't lift, you can lean into the aisle a bit (keeping a constant eye out for flight attendants with beverage carts) to avoid taking up the space of your seatmate.

Windows seem to be the place where everyone wants to sit, so many of you may be discouraged by this aisle suggestion. I fail to understand this obsession with window seats. First of all, the armrests there DO NOT lift. Even if they did, you're right next to a wall, so leaning space is limited. There is nothing to see out the window. You are so high up, you're above the clouds, and while this can be pretty at times, it also can get monotonous. Finally, the windows are not insulated and this means less climate control. During the winter and at night, windows are FREEZING, and in the summer, you'll be begging for more air than the little fan can allow you. Just, give up the window. And for the love of all that is holy, do not sit in the middle. All that does is bother two other passengers rather than one, and you can't lean, at all.

Try to board as early as possible. Some flights allow you to upgrade to "Group 1" (which boards immediately after first class and loyalty program customers) for ten bucks. Not only does this usually guarantee you space in the overhead bin (I always check my luggage and then use my overhead space for my laptop), but it also lets you sit early. First thing, lift the armrest between you and the passenger next to you. They hopefully shouldn't be on yet. If the decide to lower it, or ask, then say yes with a smile and don't fight. However, just starting with it up may let them see that you need a little extra room. Additionally, take this time to fiddle with the aisle armrest and see if it works.

Once you've dealt with armrests, buckle your seatbelt. It doesn't matter if the rest of your row is there or not, as you'll not keep it buckled. However, do not wait til the last minute to learn that your seatbelt will not buckle, or will buckle very uncomfortably! Sit down. Buckle. If it doesn't work, hit your flight attendant button immediately and kindly ask for an extension. Great news! They aren't going to judge you. I have been so ashamed so many times to ask for this, and they are always so kind about it. In my experience, international flights have smaller seatbelts than domestic (no idea why) and American is the best with seat belt width, followed by United with Delta in the rear. Sorry, these are the only airlines I have flown religiously.

Ok, so you don't think any of these hints will work for you and you just want to buy an extra seat and take up all the room you want. Many times I have said that I wish there were a few rows with seats slightly wider (like they do with the  taller seats mentioned previously) for a nominal fee more. Many people like to respond with "They have this! It's called business class/first class." Ok, first off, first class often costs AT LEAST three times more than coach per seat. If you want two seats, don't go to business class as you'll end up paying more than the cost for just two seats. Additionally, the seats up there are not much wider. There is more room between you and the person next to you, they have much more leg room, and they recline much further, but extra hip room? Not so much.

If you are going to buy two seats, utilize that service to its fullest! Two tickets means you get TWO spaces in the overhead bin and two spaces under the seats in front of you. You paid for it, so utilize that double carry-on capacity. Ask for an extra drink or extra snacks. Spread out shamelessly. Do NOT let someone think its just an empty seat and they can sit there or sit their kid there. PROTECT YOUR SEAT - you paid for it.

Finally, be kind to your flight attendants. Their job is HARD - and they don't work on tips. They wear heels and skirts and have to stay up and sit in even more uncomfortable seats. Smile at them, thank them, apologize to them. If someone complains about your size, they'll complain to the flight attendant, and if you're already on her good side, she'll defend you! Happy travels, my fat and fearless friends! Love your body!


  1. My problem isn't my hip wideness. It is trying to get the stupid tray down. A lot of my problem was the fact that last time I flew I did book the farthest seat back! Also since you do fly often enough you can buy your own personal extensions. My cousin bought her own!

  2. I've flown once since gaining weight and honestly I hope to never do it again. 1 leg was on a tiny plane. The other was on a huge jet. One trip I got upgraded to 1st class and was thrilled to have a chance at a larger seat. My seat mate gave me the window, and I didn't know about the armrest issue. I felt even more crammed in!! Neither armrest went up! my hips were bruised.

    I've also had the tray issue. Worse was when the person in front of me insisted on reclining. All in all I'd just rather not fly until I lose a lot of weight (when I flew I was about the same size as you)

    1. I love when people say "first class is wider". No... no its not