I heard a discussion on a radio show [warning! – not size positive, could be very triggering] about a Delta airlines flight during which a thin woman had her seat encroached upon by a large passenger. Delta refused to throw the large passenger off and eventually someone else volunteered to take a later flight and give the woman his seat. The ensuing debate on the radio show was about whether the large passenger should have been asked to de-plane (according to this report he never was), and what is fair in the circumstances.
I understand the airlines’ position that they are selling space and so they feel that if you take up more space than you purchased you should pay more than others. At the very least, if the airline wants to charge more for people who take up more than one seat, then that policy must be applied across the board – so if people’s shoulders are too broad or their legs are too long, then they’ll need to buy another seat as well. I do not, however, think that this is the only solution that we can come up with.
I’ll also say that I don’t know how much of a problem this really is – it might be one of those things that is used to stigmatize fat people even though it rarely comes up in real life. (Which is not to say that it doesn’t cause a ton of stress for fat people worrying about it – just that it may be that people rarely complain.) I was flying recently and got into a conversation with the flight attendant about seat belt extenders. She told me that they only carry 3 on the plane and that she’s never run out on a flight so it doesn’t seem like there are that many people flying who are of a size to encroach on the seat next to them (which is not to say that more fat people wouldn’t fly if it was so stressful.) I’m thinking that passengers with bad body odor, or too much perfume, or cheap cologne, or screaming kids, or who just won’t stop talking to us even though we’re reading a book and listening to our iPods while humming and pretending to sleep, probably cause far more discomfort than fat people on planes. I don’t love touching strangers either, but the public transportation system in New York City seems to be built around this concept so it’s not like it’s unheard of to be in close proximity to your seat mate in a public transportation situation.
Regardless, I think the main issue is that the whole thing is subjective. You don’t know the situation until you get on the plane. You may be able to fly easily on the first leg of your trip, only to be told by a flight attendant that you are too fat for the second leg. Plane seats are different sizes, seat belts are different lengths. It’s difficult to decide who actually “fits in a seat”. A weight limit doesn’t work – I’m ginormous but my fat happens to go forward rather than sideways so I fit in a seat without encroaching on the seat next to me. Hip and thigh measurements don’t really work for the same reason. If they had a discreet seat that you could sit in at the airport like the thing that they use to test carry-on luggage that might work (and should also be used on the broad shouldered and long-legged) but you still wouldn’t know until you got to the airport.
So in the event that this is an actual problem and not another overblown piece of the Obesity Epi-panic, allow me to suggest some solutions:
“Sit Next to a Fatty” Option
If you are cool with sitting next to a passenger of size, you check a box when making your reservation. Maybe they would get a small discount on your seat (although I think that the airline should absorb this cost since it’s their fault that they failed to plan for the fact that their passengers come in different sizes)
We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Middle Seat
Especially considering that there are only three seat belt extenders it seems that, just on a couple of rows, we could remove the middle seat. These could be given to passengers of size. Or if they want to change they could charge 1.5 times the price of a regular ticket for these seats. If they don’t sell out to fatties, broad shouldered and long-legged people, the airline could offer them as an upgrade at check in.
Row o’ Fatties
Stick all the fatties in the same rows. We’ll snuggle.
Two Seats -Seriously
Airlines ask fat people to purchase two seats if they don’t fit into one. But then they make it difficult if not impossible to do so. I personally know people who’ve had to spend hours on hold to get the tickets purchased (because you can’t buy two tickets under the same name) only to be told on the plane that they had to give up their extra seat because the airline “needed” it, or to have their seats be non-adjacent. If this is really such a huge problem then they should make the solution that they propose easy for us. And if the flight is not full, the money that we pay for a second ticket should be refunded.
First Class Fatties
This one will be controversial, but since the airlines fail to be able to accommodate passengers of size in coach, they could offer a discount to fatties who want to fly first class.
This is just off the top of my head, I’m sure that there are other solutions. I do know that the solution is not to tell fat people that they need to change their bodies – not just because nobody can prove that it’s possible for the majority of people, but also because weddings, family reunions, and vacations are happening now, not 50 pounds from now and we should not be in the business of telling other people what their bodies need to look like.
The bottom line is that (just like in healthcare) we need to start being fatties and airlines against a problem, not airlines against fat people.