This past week, I took a trip to and from San Fransisco by plane. I usually enjoy flying and cherish the time I have on the plane to be able to disconnect from the rest of the world and enjoy a good book or two and perhaps even a nap. I found this to be true on this trip, except for the plane ride back home from my layover in Chicago.
The plane we were traveling on was fairly small and as I was headed to my seat in the back, I saw that there was a large man who was going to be in the aisle seat next to me (this plane was only two seats across). I tried not to look dismayed, but felt myself beginning to feel angry and wishing that I'd chosen another seat. I could tell that the plane ride was going to be uncomfortable and was glad it was only going to be an hour.
Now, I want to be clear that I am not blaming this man for being fat or for being fat and riding an airplane. I myself have written about being a proud, unapologetic fat woman and consider myself to be a body image activist. I do fit into a coach class seat on airplanes though and have never experienced any discrimination or disapprovement from anyone on an airplane before. But, this man was a lot larger than I am and was in fact spilling over from his seat into mine.
This was definitely physically uncomfortable for me, as I spent the entire flight trying to avoid physical contact that would have been inevitable had I not contorted myself into a weird sitting position where I was basically pressed up against the window. I found myself wishing I had been in another seat and also could tell the guy was uncomfortable and was trying to stay out of my way it seemed, as he had his arms folded close to him for the entire duration of the flight. I wondered how those who are fat and are seated next to fat people for longer flights deal with such an issue; would asking to change seats be a form of fat shaming?
Now with this topic, the question of a fat person's responsibility when flying often arises. Many have debated (including myself) weather a fat person who does not fit into one coach class seat should have to purchase two seats or upgrade themselves to first class, where the seats are made to be larger. I think as our current culture and society stands that if you're uncomfortable and making those around you have to squeeze themselves into their seats, you should take it upon yourself to buy two seats or go to first class. Sure, it's expensive and in many ways a tax you have to pay for being fat, but until airlines decide to change their policies, it's unfair to everyone if you can't fit into your seat.
That is what I want to talk mostly about though; airlines creating planes with larger seats. It's no secret that over time, airplane seats have gotten smaller while the population has gotten larger. In the 1960s, the average airline seat was 17 inches across, while the average passenger was 140 pounds if female and 166 if male. Nowadays, the average seat is 16.5 inches across and the average female passenger 166 pounds. and the average male 196. That is not to say that the solution is for everyone to lose weight, since why our population has gotten larger is a complex issue that can't be easily explained or changed.
It really sucks that airline customers who are fat are put into the position of buying two seats, being fat shamed, or just looked at as a disgusting for their size. I believe airlines need to better accommodate customers of all sizes, so that everyone can fit comfortably into an airline seat without being packed together like sardines. Fat people being treated humanely is much more important than airlines making fat profit margins and it's time we start demanding that.
New airplanes need to be made with larger seats, period. Think of how less awkward and uncomfortable flying as a whole would be if we had more space. Being fat shouldn't mean that you can't fly unless you endure some emotional or financial expense (both in many cases) that thin people don't have to. Our culture demands that we conform to the 'average' size, which is really the thin ideal in disguise. Even without profits or capacity in mind, seating on large vehicles like buses and trains are made for what the typical person can fit into. That means if you're larger than what is considered to be the norm, you and everyone else sitting around you is going to have to suffer. Why do we so blindly accept this fact without demanding more of our airlines?
This is my call for airlines to make their seats larger, so fat people can travel without experiencing shame, humiliation, or discomfort. Everyone deserves to fly without enduring these hardships and it's time that we start talking about it.