The other day actor-director Kevin Smith was removed from his seat on a plane and forced to leave. The reason: he was too fat, or as the airlines say, "He was a person of size." Smith, who starred as Silent Bob in a couple of movies, had purchased tickets for two seats because of his girth. But then he decided to stand by for an earlier flight. There was only one seat available on that flight, he sat in it, then was forced to leave. Now before you start sending irate emails to me, let me say something: I recognize that obesity is a big problem in America, and I understand that there may be times when someone is big enough to squish the person next to him. But this guy tried to play by the rules, and bought two seats. If there had been two vacant seats on the next plane, he would have bought them. And he was already seated! Was his physique really such an inconvenience for other passengers or such a danger to the flight that he should have been removed from the plane? Being overweight might be bad for you, but he wasn't a criminal. Eating second helpings is not a felony.
I understand the reasons for the airlines' rule. Nobody wants someone else infringing upon their space, and there's hardly any room on airplane seats even if the one next to you is empty. But people other than those "of size" can cause just as much discomfort and annoyance to the person next to them, and nobody's kicking them off the plane. How about someone sitting next to you who hasn't had a bath since the Clinton administration? Or what if you get "a talker" next to you? He's some guy who buckles up and then says something like, "Let me tell you about myself. A lot of people don't realize what an interesting field recycling bowling balls is..." Then there's "the laugher." She watches a movie on her computer while you're trying to sleep, and every time you doze off, she laughs out loud. Her laugh is slightly more annoying than the sound of broken chalk on a blackboard.
Nobody wants to sit next to a drunk who spills half his drink on your new pair of pants. Then there's the guy who's taken a sleeping pill right when the plane takes off. He falls into a deep sleep with his head flopping onto your shoulder in a creepy way. The drooling doesn't help. As much as we all love children, do you really want to sit next to a kid who keeps banging his toy hammer on the armrest for five hours?
Beside the "squish factor," the other reason airlines say they are reluctant to have a heavy person on board is because in an emergency, he or she might prevent "a timely exit from the aircraft." If you ask me, if you have to exit a plane because of an emergency, your least problem is that the person next to you likes to have ice cream after his pasta.
Besides, who decides if a passenger is "too fat?" Is it okay to be 10 pounds overweight? How about 25? 50? Do they draw the line at 100? 1081/2? Obviously, it's a subjective call. Well, kicking someone off the plane who has made an effort to abide by the airline's rules is a subjective call, too. And they blew it. They should have thrown a little common sense into the mix. An allowance should have been made for his having bought two seats, and there should have been some understanding of the inconvenience and embarrassment of being kicked off the plane after being seated. Again, I'm not saying that I'd love to be next to someone who takes up a good portion of my seat, too. I'm just saying they shouldn't have made such a big deal about someone being big.
Now it would be easy for me to argue snidely that they kicked this guy off a plane, but they let a guy on who had a bomb in his underpants. So, I won't say that. But it is a bit weird for the airlines to be so vigilant in profiling people with big profiles.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Home Improvement" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at email@example.com. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.