Flying while fat is no joke. We see your stares. We feel the side-eye. We know those looks. We are not stupid or deaf. But, I do have some tips to make it less stressful and I also asked my amazing Curvy Girl Facebook Community for their tips, too, so will those those as well. (This is a LONG blog!)
Let’s start with some Thank You’s to the activists that have made some inroads for all of us and who have worked tirelessly to help us all with their activism around flying in a fat body. People like Ragen Chastain, Marilyn Wann, Stacy Bias, Jes Baker, Meagan Kerr and others have talked a lot and written a lot about this topic and I am very grateful to each of the for all of their work. (Here is Stacy’s documentary about Flying While Fat. Be sure to watch it! It’s amazing.)
To kick this off right, I want to make sure you all know about Southwest Airlines Customer of Size policy. I have been using it for about 3 or 4 years and it is brilliant. They actually have a policy for starters… that in and of itself is a small miracle. Depending on who you ask, they will do it two ways. Now, I personally have never bought the second seat and applied for the refund. Here is how I do it:
- I buy my SWA ticket.
- 24 hours before my flight, I do the early check in online.
- 24 hours before my flight I also call 1-800-i-fly-swa and alert them that I am a Customer of Size. (Sometimes they do nothing. Other times they make note.)
- I arrive to my gate 2 hours before my flight (because I am an over achiever and because I absolutely hate to rush.)
- I get to my gate or at the curb side check-in and I tell them I am a Customer of Size. The curb side agent or the agent at the gate prints out my boarding pass and an additional boarding pass (that looks like I bought a second seat) and gives them to me to board the flight.
- You can get pre-board clearance as a Customer of Size if you want. I do not usually get that, but you can.
- I get on the plane. I scope out the two seats I want and I sit in one and put the other FREE boarding pass on my seat and when people walk by and try to sit there, I tell them very politely (and I look the in the eye) “sorry, this seat is taken.” If someone gets pissy with me, I tell them I bought the second seat. NO ONE KNOWS if you did or not. You have a boarding pass from the airline. The rest is none of their business honestly.
- Not sure if you need a seat belt extender? Here is a link that discusses seat belt lengths. “How Long Are the Seat Belts on My Airplane.”
Now, that is the nitty gritty of how I do it. But, here a few little extras I do just to make the whole process a little better for me. To start off, I own my own seat belt extenders I bought on Amazon. One is for SWA planes. The other is for all other airlines. Now, the airlines do not want you buying your own per the FAA guidelines. You can wait and ask for one when you arrive. Like I said, I am an over-achiever and I like to be prepared. There is NO shame in asking for a seat belt extender. As one of community members said, it is like asking for a pillow, blanket or a bag of peanuts. It is NOT your fault the airlines make their seats 17″ wide. They are trying to cram as many humans as they possibly can to make MORE profit. Please do not take on this shame or embarrassment. You did not create these ridiculous conditions.
I will probably lose my feminist card for this paragraph here, but I do try to SMILE and be as pleasant as possible to the potential assholes around me. Now, if you ever TOLD me to smile or suggested I act more pleasant, I would probably punch you in the taint. But, I am almost 50. I have learned that arriving with a good attitude and lots of patience will go a long ways for your own mental health. Flying pretty much sucks for everyone except for people who can fly private. Since 9/11 it has all gone to shit and arriving with a good attitude and a smile will go a log ways with you and everyone around you.
Now, do not mistake me for a weak or meek person. If you give me the least bit of side eye, stank eye or any other kid of eye, I will stare you down like a stuffed OWL and you will lose the stare down. Got me?
Want to be more comfortable? Wear clothes that are conducive to traveling in cramped quarters for hours at a time and running all over the airport to catch connecting flights!
Personally, I do not fit well into an airlines toilet. (I am a size 26/28 pant.) I can make it work, but I typically have to all but back in to the teeny tiny water closet and hope for the best. So, I do my best to NOT ever have to use the restroom on a flight. That means I do not drink or each much before my flight. I will have some sips of water on a flight, but not much. And, I bring my own Clif bars or nuts for snacking on the flight so I can eat some snacks once I am on the flight. It take some pre-planning, but it works for me.
I never bring my luggage on a flight. That is just my preference. I like to check my bags. I bring my purse on and that is it. I know everyone has their own preference here. Honestly, people who do not check their suitcases bug the shit out of me, but I know everyone has their reasons so I just mind my own business. (All of that business of people trying to cram their suit cases in the overhead bins gives my OCD brain so much anxiety; I try to just read or meditate and let everyone else work out the ridiculous game of suitcase Jenga.)
Another thing I will do sometimes since I get there so early is I look for another person of size to befriend. Yes, I can seem a bit forward, but most are relieve when I do. Remember, almost every other person at the airport has as much anxiety as you do. And, other rad fatties are also thinking the same thing you are….. “We should be seat mates!”
I will smile at them and say something like “hey, I got an extra seat since I am a person of size, would you like to sit in my row an we can both enjoy the empty middle seat?” Most people I have approached have been extremely grateful. A few of run, but I think maybe they thought I might talk their ear off once on the flight, so maybe they were worried about that? Who knows!
Now, I have heard people say “well, why do you get a free seat. That is going to kill the airlines profits.” “Why should people volunteer to get bumped to accommodate your fat self?”
I have two things to say to that. First. WE DID NOT CREATE THIS MESS, the AIRLINE INDUSTRY DID! Listen, flying use to be a luxury. It use to be something you dressed up for. It was special and luxurious. NO MORE. Now, it is not much more then a flying public transportation (which is great, but almost always very basic and minimal) we have to pay for the right to use. They shrunk the seats and the amenities they offer. They knew we would not fit in their seats when they created these planes and their seating arrangements. I do not feel the least bit of pain for them.
Secondly, in 2014, Southwest Airlines made 1.1 billiond dollars. In the 4th quarte of 2016, they made $522 million dollars in earnings just in the 4th quarter. PEOPLE. Southwest Airlines has the MOST generous “Customer of Size” policy and they are making SO MUCH MONEY. My own theory is that now that us fatties know we can fly and we have a home, that we are flying more and using their airlines and our money is making them rich. It’s just a theory, but they seem to be very supportive and they seem to like our money. YAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
Also, there is a whole industry out there about how to make yourself more comfortable while flying. I have not tried any of these items, but there are slings and pillows and all kinds of stuff to make humans more comfortable while crammed into those flying sardine cans. Be sure to check out the slings and stuff as they can help you to get more cozy in our seats.
From a CG follower named Jo:
Had a bad experience with another passenger on delta last year. She was ignorant and completely offended by my size. Talked shit about me online for 4 hours of the flight before I couldn’t take it anymore. I confronted her and made a slight scene before my seat was changed. She looked like a hateful fool. My best advice is you are a person with the same rights as everyone else. You are allowed to fly, you are allowed to be who you are. No one has a right to tell you how to live your life, and stand up for yourself if they do! Be confident.
From a community member Elizabeth:
Wear comfy clothes and compression socks. Eat before boarding and hydrate. After I get seated I use the call button and ask for an extender. I refuse to 1) sit with a belt digging into me. 2) feel any shame about needing an extender. I don’t whisper, I don’t apologize, I don’t act like they’ve done me a huge favor…I say thank you so much and put it on. I paid good money for my seat and I deserve to be as comfortable as possible.
From community member Douglas:
IF you bought a second seat, GET the second seat receipt (looks like a boarding pass) when you get your boarding pass. Do NOT leave the agent who gives you the one without the other. Post it on the seats you select and do NOT back down.
Bill suggested this:
Bring printouts of the “passengers of size” policy of the airline you’re on. This was crucial when my wife and I last flew Southwest. They have a good policy, but their clerks aren’t always aware.
You can look online for the plane info and seat width. On Southwest I go to the counter at the gate and if the flight is not full I ask for a “passenger of size” seat. They will give this to you at no charge. You can also purchase an extra seat that they will refund post flight. If you are flying an airline and have an assigned seat, go to the counter, inquire if the flight is full, and ask for a seat change, probably in the back, with an empty seat next to it. Won’t work if the flight is full though. Good luck!
And, lastly, from Tammy:
When flying, I fly southwest and try to book flights early enough the prices are not horrid. I call southwest and tell them I am a person of size and need two seats. (Other airlines have refused to let me purchase two seats and recommended I bring a small person with me). I dress up, but in breathable, comfortable clothes. Like a nice sleavless or at least short sleeved dress with leggings. I bring a shall – as sometimes the airport and airplane get chilly. I get priority boarding to get on the plane as early as possibly . I bring one carry on and make sure my wallet and phone are handy. I am nice. If I see a person also of size I offer them the third seat so that we both have room. It is AMAZING how crappy people will treat you – right up to the moment they realize your row has more room due to sitting next to a Biggun. I eat light as to avoid the tiny bathroom on the plan. And I plan for as much extra time as I can afford
Thank you to all who contributed to this article. If you would like to read more of my community member’s ideas for flying, you can check out our facebook conversation here:
Thanks everyone and HAPPY FLYING! Remember, we have as much right to the “friendly skies” as anyone else.