Flying Fat – You’re Right, It’s Not Fat Shaming

What a Load of CrapWhenever I speak out about the fact that people of all sizes should receive the same service when traveling by plane (specifically – travel from point A to point B in a seat that accommodates them) people on the internet lose it.  I want to address some of the common responses:

I’m not fat shaming you, it’s simple economics.

I agree, this isn’t fat shaming (although fat shaming shouldn’t happen) But it’s also not “simple economics.”  What it is, is discrimination – the idea that people should have to pay more for the same experience based on how they look. The idea that we should allow airlines, and those who make planes, to determine what size humans are “allowed” to be, and to charge anyone outside that size double for the exact same trip is not ok.

And it’s not an insignificant form of discrimination – it affects the ability of fat people to travel – to attend weddings and funerals, to go on vacation, to experience the world.  And it can limit career choices – if the best candidate for a job that includes travel is fat, the company would have to double their travel budget.  And if we’re talking about a fat singer, comic, speaker etc. then anyone who hired them would have to pay twice as much to bring them in as they would pay for a thin singer, comic, speaker etc. further keeping talented fat people from realizing their talents and being in the spotlight.

It’s your fault that you got fat because of your eating and exercise choices so you should pay double.

By that logic thin people who eat more and exercise less than fat people do should also be forced to pay double. People are lots of sizes for lots of reasons and if your business is transporting people from one place to another then you should not be allowed to discriminate based on size. (And by the way, Southwest Airlines is the only major airline to give a free extra seat and they’ve had 43 consecutive years of profitability – including record profitability last year – so it looks like airlines can be profitable without engaging in size discrimination.)

It costs more fuel to transport you.

This doesn’t hold up to even basic scrutiny – if it was about weight then the airlines would charge passengers by weight – but they don’t because we are people and not cargo.  But this isn’t about weight at all, it’s about size.

And a fairly arbitrary size since seats are different sizes on different planes making it very difficult to predict whether or not you’ll fit, and even if you go to the trouble to figure out that the seat will work for you, a last minute equipment change can blow your whole plan apart the morning of your flight. It’s also skewed against women since we tend to carry more weight in our hips, thighs, and asses than men do, and of course those are the body parts the airlines are concerned about – they never kick off people with broad shoulders that encroach on other passengers, I was recently asked to move from the aisle seat that I took great pains to book (I happen to fit into one seat, but the aisle allows me to be more comfortable) to a middle seat to help a tall passenger “be more comfortable.”

You pay for a seat, not the trip.  If you need more than one seat you should pay for more than one seat.

Nope, as I’ve already pointed out airlines should be in the business of  accommodating the sizes that people are, not dictating what size people are “allowed” to be. But let’s look at the “you pay for a seat, not a trip” argument, because that’s not what the airlines say. When a fat person wants the same travel experience as a thin person, the airline claims that they are in the business of selling specific seats. But when an airline bumps someone from a flight they tell them that they didn’t pay for the seat, they paid for the trip and that’s why they don’t give refunds.

I have to admit that even I’m a bit shocked by the sheer audacity of people who suggest that (of course) they deserve a seat that accommodates them while flying, but that fat people don’t deserve the same experience. Discrimination is wrong and even though airlines are currently getting away with it, there is no justification that will make it ok.

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Published in: on March 11, 2016 at 12:16 pm  Comments (21)  

21 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. In addition, the weight/size argument doesn’t hold up since children under a certain age fly for free. They’re often sat on a parent’s lap which stops the person in the seat in front from reclining, but I’m yet to hear the hate that gets directed at fat people being directed at toddlers and/or their parents.

  2. So, what if we flip around the argument? I’m tall, so since the airlines don’t really space the seats front to back to accommodate my long legs, I should be entitled to a partial refund? How about we charge people extra for the privilege of reclining their seats back into my knees the moment the plane leaves the ground? They’re impacting MY space for THEIR comfort, so they should pay more for that, right?

    What about sprawlers? On our flight to Fiji six years ago, the very thin, college-aged kid in the window seat next to me managed to be able to sleep a good portion of the flight, while sprawling in his seat so much that he was in my space a good portion of the time. Shouldn’t he have been charged extra for taking up the space that I had paid for instead, and was not able to comfortably use?

    Most of the people arguing in favor of charging extra for fat people to fly are just as guilty of taking up more space than they “paid for,” but they would be furious if they were likewise expected to open their own wallets to compensate the airlines for their *intentional* behaviors.

    • I’m short – 5′ 2″ and even I don’t have enough leg room.

      The airlines are cramming people in like sardines, and then they blame us for being uncomfortable.

      Yeah, sprawlers are just rude, but like you said, that’s behavior, as opposed to a simple state of being a size that is larger (wider OR taller, or both!) than the airline deemed acceptable. At least you can address that, and do something about it. Behavior is easily changed for the duration of a single flight. Flight attendants can tell people that they need to stop sprawling and annoying their fellow passengers.

      They don’t tell them, but they CAN.

      Which brings us back to the inhume way in which all passengers except first class are treated on airlines, these days.

      • Since we are both short, let’s band together with other short people and demand a refund for all the space over our heads we don’t use. That could be used for luggage instead!

        • Love it! Those overhead bins are never enough to fit everyone’s luggage in, after all. But if they WERE (maybe if the planes were a bit taller?), then the people would have just a bit more leg room, because they could stretch their feet a bit into the space beneath the seat in front.

    • Your last paragraph is dead on! In addition to the examples you gave, I’d note that people tend to be upset about paying for extra space for their bags (or for bags at all) – which are something they can easily determine the size of before the flight (unlike body shape / size).

      I fly a lot for work, and on nearly every flight I’ve been on in the last 3-4 years, I’ve watched plenty of people blatantly ignore clear instructions from crew members so they can jam multiple carry-on bags plus coats in the overhead bins on a full flight. I doubt they think they’re doing anything wrong by taking up twice as much space as was allotted to them while forcing other passengers to cram two bags under the seat in front of them (or check a bag they weren’t planning to check).

      And that’s not even getting into the people who hold up a whole flight by arguing with crew members about carrying on obviously over-sized bags, the people shocked to find out the carry on bag limit applies to them too, the guy who broke the overhead bin and caused a 2-hour delay because he was just sure his bag would fit…

      No, I’m not bitter at all, can you tell? 😉

  3. These same people would be outraged over the “unfairness” to them if the airlines were to give them what they “want” and charge fares based on passenger size. They would howl with indignation when children and adults smaller than themselves paid lower fares. By their logic, we use less fuel, and should pay less! It’s only right! ;P As a small person in height, I’ve had people complain to me directly or about me to the crew because I have more room in my seat and more leg room than they do. Like I personally set up the seating layout on passenger jets and made a conscious choice to only reach 5’1″ on purpose just to spite them. It’s happened more than once. Has happened when I’ve been both fat and thin. Ridonkulous. You’d think they’d be overjoyed, given the whining they do about “fat people taking up more than their fair share of space”. After all, sitting next to an adult the height and/or weight of a child gives them extra room, doesn’t it? Equally ridonkulous that airlines apparently use someone as tiny as I am as the model passenger when deciding seat sizes.

    • They complained about you to the flight crew? What did they expect them to do? Give you magical growth potion, so you could be just as cramped as they were?

      I can’t even.

      • The person who complained to the flight attendant was the wife of a married couple who had bought last minute tickets. Young couple, I’m not sure they had flown much, or if they had, Mommy and Daddy must have always bought the tickets for them before that. The flight was full or close to it. She and Hubby were both seated in middle seats in separate rows. They were astonished that such a thing could happen. They tried to insist that other passengers, be “made” to move seats so they could sit in the same row, in the seats they preferred (aisle and window). You HAVE to MOVE! said she, to the passenger in the other row, the row she was supposed to sit in. Me and my husband NEED to sit together! Other passenger said no.

        Then she turned on me, who was in the row Hubby was in. YOU can move! YOU’RE SHORT!! You’ll have PLENTY OF ROOM in the middle! My Husband is TALL! He MUST have that seat! I also refused because of the Prima Donna Diva sense of entitlement, and the way it was demanded, not politely requested. Also because I’d bought my ticket weeks before because I like a window seat. She complained to the flight attendants that people were in HER seats and refusing to move. Flight Attendants was having none of it once the facts of who really belonged in which seats was established by us all producing our tickets, and that the other passenger and I had no interest in moving simply to accomodate a pair of spoiled brats. Had there been some good reason, I’d have been happy to move. Same with the other passenger, but this couple just thought it was owed them. Married couple was then furious that the flight attendants wouldn’t make the other passenger and I move for them. Then she wanted to to get the Captain involved. HE can MAKE THEM MOVE! Captain told the Flight Attendants that he could but he wouldn’t.

        • Go Captain!

          • I think he must have felt the way the rest of us did! The flight attendants definitely had the “You have GOT to be kidding us! vibe going on with the wife, but of course they were courteous and professional

        • Oh, man! When will people learn? If you say, sweetly, “Excuse me. I know it’s a bother, and we shouldn’t have waited until the last minute, but my husband and I would really like to sit together. Would you mind, please, swapping seats with me?” They’d get a much more positive result. In fact, if they did it while applying to the people in the general area, they might get someone else in a window seat who would be willing to swap with you for your window seat, and then swap again with someone else, so that they could sit together.

          But wait, they wanted to sit on the same row, but not adjacent? So, they intended to talk over the person in the middle seat the entire time?

          OK, that just makes it SO MUCH WORSE. What if they got amorous, and started talking dirty, or worse, making OUT?

          Ugh. People, sometimes, are just unbelievable, except for the fact that it happens so often, I totally believe it.

          • Yes! And that’s how I’ve been asked by another passenger or a member of the crew when I was asked to move. Small as I am, I make a good row mate for a larger person, and I’ve been asked if I would not mind moving a couple times. Been asked for other good reasons, as well. In fact one of the flight attendants on that flight gently advised the wife that asking politely and not lying to the crew about “her” seats being “taken” might have gotten her a different response. As for the last minute, as near as I can figure, the couple must not have had much experience buying airline tickets for themselves. They were both truly astonished that they were not seated together automatically on a full flight because they were married.

            It definitely was a very bizarre experience. One of only 2 times on the many, many, many plane trips I’ve taken that that I’ve been left shaking my head, and thinking Der What They Hey? The other time I was 18, on a HS Graduation trip and was seated next to a young couple with a very young baby. Mom and Dad shared the duty, cuddling and cradling their baby and making a valiant effort to keep the baby quiet and calm and happy. I love kids and was happy to offer my help, too. The Pass The Baby Game we all played worked because that baby barely made a peep the entire 6 hour flight. After the plane landed and we were at the gate with the door and jetway open some nasty old biddy stopped mid aisle to chastise the parents. “I feel I HAVE to let you know! YOU ARE SPOILING THAT BABY!”she yelled at them. She pointed her finger at me. “And YOU helped them!” Meanwhile she was blocking us and everyone behind her from deplaning!

            • Right. Spoiling the baby. Meanwhile, every other passenger on the plane who was aware of the baby was grateful as all get-out that she wasn’t screaming the whole time.

              Although I believe older children can be spoiled, I don’t believe that lap-babies can be spoiled. Over-ripe, maybe, but not spoiled.

              And the woman’s misbehavior? Well, it’s always fine in the first person. It’s only the third person (their misbehavior) which is a problem. Of course she didn’t think she was causing any problem, at all. And that it was her business.

              The thing is, I enjoy people-watching. I enjoy seeing and hearing stories that can only happen because human beings are just plain WEIRD. I simply prefer to be removed from the story, rather than have to experience the drama directly. I think that’s why soap operas are so popular.

          • Asking politely was indeed probably all they needed to do. Years ago, I willingly gave up my coveted aisle seat near the front of the plane and took a middle seat much further back, because an elderly Muslim woman who spoke no English at all was very distressed at having to sit far apart from her grown son. He was supposed to be in the middle seat next to me and she was in a middle seat much further back. The flight attendant explained courteously, the old lady looked at me beseechingly, and I moved. Her smile and her son’s fervent “Thank you!” were much appreciated. AND the flight attendant gave me a coupon for a free drink, so that was nice too. But if they’d come up and started berating me and demanding that I move, I would have been much less inclined to do so.

            • You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Probably because honey is both sweet AND sticky. Also, flies are stupid.

              But these people were smart. And they didn’t even need much language. Beseeching look and good manners – FTW!

  4. On a basic human level, I can’t help but think that airlines flagrantly disregard the comfort of any of their passengers. Instead of getting mad at fat people for taking up too much space, I’m angry at the airline that insists on making me as uncomfortable as possible.

  5. Yeah. This sort of thing, along with the TSA is why a certain person I know is terrified of flying. It’s not the plane, being cooped up, being high in the air, or any of that stuff. Nope. It’s the shoddy treatment by people who ought to know better.

    She refuses to fly, and I don’t blame her one bit. I wish I were rich and could buy her an RV, so she could travel again, in comfort. She used to travel a lot, and enjoyed seeing new places and meeting new people, and doing new things. Cars are good, but RVs are better, because you can go to the bathroom whenever you need to (ANOTHER issue with planes – you can’t use the toilet during certain times, no matter how badly you need to go), so that’s great when you’re stuck in a traffic jam. And you can walk around inside it, and stretch your legs, and the seats are whatever size you fit out the RV to have, and the alternate driver can take a real, comfortable, refreshing nap, or even a perk-up shower, and for cross-country trips, an RV is just AWESOME. Yeah, I totally want one.

    But, it’s costlier than a single airline ticket, even if you’re only renting the RV, and even if the airline ticket is first class, and the plane trips are faster. And in many (most) cases of travel, time is of the essence. So for the vast majority of people, our travel options are flying (coach – where you’re not only crowded, but you’re also starved and dehydrated, because they serve you three sips of soda in a small cup with ice, and don’t even serve food, anymore, even when they say “dinner will be served,” they don’t even bring out the little tray where you can purchase a bag of pretzels, anymore, and thank God on my last trip I was peckish before the flight, bought a BIG sandwich, ate half of it, and brought the other half with me, because, yeah, they LIED), or staying at home.

    Also, you can’t get bumped off an RV, because the service provider actually sold more tickets than they had seats. At Christmas. Because nobody is actually eager to get to their families for the holiday, and no one will mind that even with everyone squeezed in, and every seat is occupied, and they still have ten passengers WITH TICKETS, that need to get there, and they offer, “a coupon for a meal at a restaurant” if you’re willing to go to the next, probably over-booked, and even more stressful, due to being late and deadlines, flight, and then after begging and pleading for half an hour, they blame US for delaying the flight, and start saying “WELL! If you would just COOPERATE, we would have taken off on TIME! Don’t blame US if you miss your connecting flight, and we won’t give refunds!”

    Ummm, yeah. I don’t blame her, at all, for hating flying. I don’t like it, either. And I’ve never even been targeted by the TSA. Although, when I asked for the metal detector, instead of the scary scan thing (cancer runs rampant in my family), they said, “NOPE! Not even an option. It’s go through the scanner or go home,” and I was too cowardly to stand up for my known right to use an alternate form of search, because I didn’t want to be forced to undergo a strip-search, instead, due to my being “intractable, and suspicious.”

    TL; DR – Airlines are horrible in just sooooo many ways, and EVERYONE, regardless of size, is dehumanized and poorly treated, unless they are traveling first class, which, even if you can afford it, is only a few seats per flight, and is it really too much to ask that we NOT add discrimination and hatred to the mix, as well?

  6. Oh but airline deregulation is the invisible hand of the market making everything the bestest for everybody!!!

    Everybody who matters to the people who deregulated the airlines, anyway.

  7. “It’s simple economics”

    Yes, in some ways it is, which is why we have regulation, anti-discrimination laws, and good old social norms, because “simple economics” is horrifying for most human beings.

    Nobody is arguing that airlines wouldn’t make more money if they found ways to charge everyone extra for some trait of theirs. We’re arguing that, when they do these things, they are wrong and they are mistreating people and we shouldn’t accept this any more than we should accept any other industry treating people poorly based on their bodies. We should not accept companies that sell “nude” or “skin-toned” products that only match light-skinned people, even though it is “simple economics” that they would prefer to not to develop products for non-whites. We should not accept companies that are not accessible to their disabled employees, even though it may be “simple economics” to not do so.

    No, these are not the same situations and the examples I gave are problems that are no means solved, but they similar in that you cannot present a limited range of options, declare them to be “one size fits all” and have everyone except this as totally fair, because it would be harder or more expensive for you to not discriminate.

    Not all of these problems need to be solved with laws (people always think that activists’ main goal is to make everything literally illegal) but they are problems and the fact that it is more economical to pretend they aren’t problems isn’t actually a defense.

    • This reminded me of a song I saw a few years ago:

      Cheap Flights, by Fascinating Aida.

      Basically, basic economics means you treat everyone like crap.


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