flying while fat

6 Tips for Flying While Fat

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J Aprileo

A queer, non-binary, fat activist who can't turn their brain off for even just a second.

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Recently I had the pleasure of taking a trip out of state and flying with Southwest Airlines. With limited flying experience and being a fairly round size 28, I was nervous about how the trip would pan out. My anxious mind came up with scenarios in which I couldn’t fit in the seat so the flight attendant kicked me off the plane and I missed my trip. I then panicked at the idea of scooting by all of the disgusted thin passengers who would block me from being able to sit next to them. It is so unfair how much thinking and preparing we as fatties have to do when trying to accomplish tasks that thin people commonly experience with ease. Luckily, I had some seasoned fliers express their tips for having my needs met and advocating for myself on the trip. Following their advice, I had a surprisingly successful and pleasant experience.  Here is what I learned about flying while fat:

  • Call the airline as soon as you can, well before your departure date, and ask about their “passenger of size policy.” Or, do a little research online if you hate talking on the phone like I do. They will either have a policy with this exact title or know what kind of policy you’re asking about and have an answer for you. The worst case scenario might be that you have to purchase a second seat – with or without reimbursement depending on the airline. This is absolutely awful and a form of oppression against those unable to afford the cost of another seat – yes. And still, it is an option available to some. In the best case scenario, they may be required to give you a second boarding pass that says “seat reserved,” at no cost to you. You have to ask for it. When you check in with the ticketing agent on your departure date, ask for it then and they’ll print it for you along with your boarding pass. Then you’ll simply place this paper on the seat next to you and no one will be able to sit there. Unfortunately, this does mean that someone may be booted from the flight and moved to a later departure time if it was already 100% full. This feels icky – but doesn’t change the fact that you have accommodations that need to be met.
  • Your boarding pass will probably not say this, but with your additional “reserved” seat, you have authorization to board the flight during the “pre-board” section. This is the group of folks who have higher need for getting first choice at seating options and/or who need greater access when boarding the flight. This might feel uncomfortable at first, to be in line with folks that you might believe deserve the pre-board option more than you. Acknowledge those feelings and then let them pass you by. You’ll be so thankful when you can comfortably find your seat and store your bags without the pressure of finding a seat (or two!) amongst a nearly full flight.
  • Don’t expect too much extra free time with pre-boarding. If you’re like me and walk slowly, there won’t be a whole lot of extra time for a casual walk down the aisle before you start hearing other passengers approaching. They tend to move right to boarding passengers with children/families, first class, and other boarding groups. Find your seat, toss your bag overhead if you’ve got one, and place your “seat reserved” boarding pass on the extra seat facing out so that folks passing by can see it.
  • Wear comfortable clothing. If you have shoes that are comfortable and easy to take off and put back on, wear them. Wear layers that are easier to take off for the full body scanner. For super fats like me, that full body scanner looks fairly intimidating. It might feel like only slender folks can fit through it. Act like you own the place and shove yourself through as if this is something you do all the time. I built it up in my head as something that was going to be very embarrassing, and it ended up not being a big deal. Remind yourself that everyone there wants us to get through as quickly and smoothly as we do. Take a deep breath, focus in on your own belongings, and move on through.
  • Get there early. And I mean MEGA early. Here’s the deal: sometimes gate changes happen. It can be really frustrating for some, but for disabled folks and people of size who may walk more slowly or can’t run if needed, it could also jeopardize being on time for boarding. You want to be there early enough to take advantage of your authorization to participate in the “pre-board” option. Make sure you have enough time to be seated and waiting in front of your correct gate a half an hour (or greater) before your expected departure time. Check in with staff once you get there to make sure the gate is correct. Don’t worry about being bothersome. Say something like “this is my first time flying…am I in the right place?” They will be happy to help.
  • Seat belt extenders! These are so scary to ask for but I have been consistently surprised at how smoothly it has gone for me. As you board the flight, ask the first attendant you see for a seat belt extender. They are trained to handle the situation respectfully and discretely. I have heard rumors of there being very few extenders packed onto each plane, so ask right away. They will find another if needed.

And finally, remind yourself that in this capitalist society, airlines intentionally cram as many seats as possible onto the plane and make the aisles painfully narrow in order to maximize passengers and therefore profit. It is not unreasonable to be nervous about flying while fat. It is also not unreasonable to ask for accommodations. You deserve to feel safe and comfortable on your flight.

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