Flying While Fat

Last week, I flew to NYC for work and was very excited to be able to visit such an amazing city, one that I haven’t been to in almost 20 years!

But as many of my fat friends will attest, airplane travel can be an anxiety-inducing, fat-shaming, extremely vulnerable and sometimes painful experience.

People who have thin privilege are mostly unaware of this (the very definition of privilege), so I thought I’d spell out what it means.

People who are thin:

  • can take any airline they want and don’t have to worry about the person of size policy;
  • don’t have to worry about the seat belt not fitting and having to ask for an extender;
  • don’t get dirty looks, heavy sighs, and under the breath comments, when a tiny bit of your arm spills over into the seat next to you;
  • don’t have to sit in fear of having someone complain and make a scene;
  • don’t have to be publicly shamed by the airline accomodating the “thin” person and asking you to switch seats or even worse, de-board the plane;
  • can have peace of mind and travel with an empty bladder because they are able to fit in the bathroom; and
  • don’t have to worry about the tray table being able to come down completely so they can do work, or place their complementary beverage somewhere.

And you don’t have to be “thin” to have thin privilege. Right now, the seat belt fits me, and I’m not forced to buy an extra seat, but the anxiety, the planning, and the uncomfortable looks and placement of my arms are all real for me and to make matters even worse, I suffer from flight anxiety, too. Woo, boy. It can be a real shit show.

As of right now, only ONE airline allows people of size the ability to fly without charging them for an extra seat: Southwest. You have to foot the bill upfront, but they will reimburse you.

I suffer from general anxiety disorder, as do many people. And this means that nothing needs to “happen” to me to feel anxious. Sometimes, it just fires or is triggered by something unknown to me. I now believe that a good amount of my anxiety is based in the lived experience of dealing with the shame placed on me for being fat my whole life. Of not fitting, not belonging, not being talked to, or taken seriously.

There is something to be said though about the fact that fat people who need to travel for work are operating at a disadvantage. They are expected to go through the process of travel, which as I described above is a cluster fuck anxiety bomb, and somehow pull it together to then do the job they traveled to do. This gives people with thin privilege a real advantage at work, and the inequity just snowballs from there.

The world is simply not built for anyone that doesn’t fit society’s definition of “normal”, and yet, somehow, diet culture has convinced us that it is our fault that companies, airlines, restaurants, theaters, and a whole host of other entities practice open discrimination. Airlines have decided large bodied people are not quite good enough to be able to visit our families in Texas, vacation in Europe, or conduct business in New York.

What is it going to take for the DEI discussion to include body size? When will the discrimination and outright denial of services be taken seriously? It is equally infuriating and exhausting to think about.

A word or rather a plea to any of you reading that are frequent flyers:

Please be kind. And if you need to get mad at someone for the invasion of your airline seat space, speak to the airlines. Advocate for us. Be an ally. Complain to the airlines for treating people of size as subhumans. I also URGE you to watch this 6 minute video on flying while fat by Stacy Bias.

For my fat sisters and brothers: if you’re flying sometime soon, take some good anti-anxiety meds, take care of your heart, know that we hear you and see you, and safe travels. Xo


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