Flying Fat Part 2 – But It’s Not Fair to Thin People!

DefendI wrote yesterday about my issues with the idea that fat people should have to pay twice as much as thin people for the same customer service experience (in this case, transportation from one place to another in a seat that accommodates them.)  I got one response so much that I wanted to blog about it.  A good example came from Vicky:

While I understand why it is unfair to expect a larger person to pay more to fly, how is it fair that when I fly larger people take advantage of my size and take up part of my seat? I paid for the exact same ticket so why do I get less space? Once, a larger person even tried to convince me to fly with the armrest raised since they told me I didn’t need that much space.

Hi Vicky,

I appreciate you agreeing that it’s unfair to make a larger person pay more, and I can see where you are coming from in your question – I suggest it’s a matter of perspective and would ask that you consider the following:

Let me start with a quick discussion of what I think the problem is and then I’ll answer your question more directly. From my perspective the airlines arbitrarily created a seat size, ignoring the fact that many people wouldn’t fit in them.  They created shared space (like the armrests in the middle), and different planes have different seat and seatbelt sizes.  In general they’ve created a bad situation and left it to their passengers to sort it out amongst ourselves, suggesting that we blame each other and not them for the problems that the airline created. I think the problem is that the airline doesn’t have seats that accommodate everyone.

I think the choice for each of us to make is how we want to deal with it. You and I are in the same position -we both fit into an airplane seat.  There are other people who don’t fit into a seat and sometimes we’re seated beside them. The difference between us is that you choose to assert that it’s not fair to you, and that’s your right.  While I don’t love touching strangers I think what I paid for was travel from one place to another in a seat that accommodates me, and I all I really need is the amount of space that I take up – I have no need to claim empty space as “mine” and insist that it go unused regardless of whether or not someone else needs it in order to have the same experience I’m getting.

I choose to do everything I can to help give everyone the same experience that I get, because I recognize that the airline has put both my seatmate and me in a bad situation, but their situation is likely worse because they may be dealing with a ton of anxiety (and perhaps have been since they booked the ticket – another thing that you and I don’t have to deal with.)  Also, they know that if I complain and make the argument that I deserve a seat that accommodates me but they don’t because they are heavier, hip-ier etc., people will likely take my side and they could get thrown off the plane.

So if I’m seated next to someone who doesn’t fit (whether they are fat or their shoulders are broad or whatever) I do everything I can to make sure that they know that they aren’t the problem, and that I’m happy to do whatever it takes to make them as comfortable as possible. I might lean into the aisle, offer to raise the armrest, not complain about them touching me, treat them in a pleasant and respectful manner etc.

Case in point – once a guy with long arms in the middle seat told me that he was super stressed because he was on a deadline at work and he couldn’t wait until we could use our laptops. When were in the air and he got out his laptop we realized that he was going to have to be elbowing me in the side the whole time in order to work. It sucked, I don’t like touching strangers and I don’t like being elbowed in the side for three hours but I understood his situation and I chose to smile and tell him it was no big deal.  I’m telling this story to illustrate the point, I don’t want a cookie for doing it – I think it’s just basic human respect.

I’ve seen people pout, sigh, roll their eyes and declare that it was unfair that they had to sit next to a fat person. That’s certainly an option that you can choose.  Recently on a flight as I sat down, the very thin women who would be my seatmate said “If raising the armrest is more comfortable for you, feel free to put it up.” Though I declined because I prefer it down, I thanked her profusely and she shared with me that she had seen a fat person abused by their seatmate once until she was reduced to sobbing, and decided then and there that she would never act like that and that she would make flying as comfortable as she could for anyone she could.

I can’t make the airlines give everyone the experience I get (or, at least, I haven’t gotten it done yet) but I can damn well choose what kind of traveler I’m going to be and I’m going to choose compassion over “fairness” every time.

You and I currently enjoy a nice experience – we buy a ticket for travel from one place to another and know that it will include a seat that accommodates us.  I don’t know about you but I would rather fight to make the airlines give everyone the experience that we get, rather than complain that the fact that they don’t forces other passengers into a bad situation.  As always it’s your choice.


Like the blog?  Consider becoming a member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.

What do member fees support?  I get hundreds of requests a day (not including hatemail of course) from academic to deeply personal. I get paid for some of my speaking and writing (and do both on a sliding scale to keep it affordable), but a lot of the work I do isn’t paid so member support makes it possible (and let me just give a huge THANK YOU to my members, I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support!)   Click here for details

Here’s more cool stuff:

Are you looking for a way to do some fun movement this summer (and get prizes for it?)  Consider a Fit Fatty Virtual Summer Vacation!

My Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for detail

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

If you are uncomfortable with my selling things on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

38 thoughts on “Flying Fat Part 2 – But It’s Not Fair to Thin People!

  1. Thank you.
    I haven’t flown to see my Mum in 2 years, because the only airline with seats I fit in has stopped flying to her part of Cyprus. The fear of not fitting, and the sheer PAIN and bruising from the armrests, makes me not want to go. 6 hours of pain is not something I can do, not any more.

  2. My cousin has moved to Thailand and one of the things that keeps me from visiting is the seating and leg room. While I have lost 80+ pounds, I still suffer from restless leg and am not looking forward to an 18+ hour plane ride. Airlines have a vision that shorting everyone room on the plane makes them money but if I’m not comfortable, I’m NOT flying!

  3. As a short person, I often need to ask tall people to reach things from a high shelf for me. This is because supermarkets choose to stack the shelves higher than I (and a lot of other people) can reach. As a short person I also sit under overhanging luggage racks if there is a tall person struggling.

    No one thinks to demand that I grow 3 inches in order to reach items from shelves, or that the tall person shrink 6 inches to fit under the overhang. We co-operate (mostly) and the world carries on.

    On my last flight I ended up offering to, and swapping seats, because one of the passengers did not want to sit next to the fat person who has Downs Syndrome. It was a great flight, for both of us. He hadn’t realised you can get seat belt extenders, so he was more comfortable after I got one from the flight attendant for him. He also said it was the first flight he’d been on where someone spoke to him and treated him like a person.

    (We ended up discovering we had lived on the same street 10 years apart)

    Yeah we were a bit squished together… two fatties in adjoining seats will do that. But it was a pleasant and interesting flight. (Though the person I swapped with looked increasingly bitter throughout because we were chatting happily rather than… whatever it was they thought we should be doing)

  4. It’s not fair to thin people…or fat people.
    It’s not fair period.
    Apparently the “fairness olympics” go hand in hand with the “oppression olympics.” How about we just say it’s not fair, and try and make it more fair – for everyone. That’s what fairness, and equality, really means. That’s the root of any social justice movement – working towards equality, because an oppressed group is being treated unfairly.
    To the thin people who complain: are you complaining because you want everyone to be comfortable, or are you only concerned about your own comfort? Do you think the fat person squishing you is any happier than you are? Do you think they *want* to make you uncomfortable and encroach on your space? The airline is forcing them to. They paid their money just like you did.
    Yes, thin person, it is not fair. To anyone.

  5. Let’s just state the fact all of us know – airplanes are not comfortable for most travelers, fat or thin, short or tall. This is the fault of the airlines. They are trying to make as much money as they can by stuffing passengers on an airplane like sardines in a can.

    You mentioned many of the reasons why I don’t like to fly. If I do fly, I typically make sure I’m on the side of the plane that has only two seats and am seated next to my husband. This typically works because he needs the window seat, leaving me on the aisle where I can be more comfortable, plus, he’s used to my wide, squishy hips. (FWIW, he is 5’6″ and fits easily into the width of the seat, and he complains about the lack of leg space, so I can only imagine what it’s like for tall people.)

    I have been subject to snickers and snide comments when boarding a plane, which serves to make me less inclined to fly, as well as some very nice treatment by flight attendants and other passengers. I’m grateful for those nice people because they take what is typically a nightmarish experience for me and make it a smidgen more positive.

    I hope that your response helps others understand that this is not pleasant for any of us, and that blaming one another does nothing to resolve the true issue – lack of space for everyone. Unfortunately, the knuckleheads at the airlines know they have the upper hand. 😛

  6. Yes this! The situation airlines have created is bad for everyone involved. It’s also really not comfortable to have your hips wedged in between two armrests that are sat at exactly the right level to be up against the widest part of your hips – I’ve got creases and bruising from those, before.

    The fact is that if you choose to purchase an economy class ticket you are not purchasing a right to comfort, a right to enough space for your body, or a right to not be in awkward situations with strangers. You are purchasing the right to be on that flight when it takes off and takes you to your destination. Everyone in economy class is crammed in like cattle. You might be sat next to someone with a sick infant, someone with broad shoulders or long legs that need to splay into the leg space either side of them, someone with bony elbows who hurts you every time they accidentally nudge you… no one in economy class can expect to sit in comfort.

    To say that fat people should pay for upgrades to business class… I could as easily say that if a guarantee of a COMFORTABLE seat is that important to you, personally, then you should purchase the upgraded class of ticket that entitles you to such.

    1. So true! Want the luxury of not having your space encroached on? Upgrade…otherwise, plan on close encounters with the elbows, long legs, fat bodies, squirmy children, and what-have-you that come along with economy pricing!

      1. Don’t kid yourself – it’s possible to sit in first class and have an obnoxious kid seated behind you who kicks the back of your seat for the entirety of your flight!

        It’s even more fun when you politely ask the child to stop, and Mom jumps down your throat like you’re a child-hating ogre who suggested that the kid be tossed out the door while the plane is in flight… simply because you asked her precious child very nicely to (please, if you wouldn’t mind) stop kicking your seat!

        tl;dr: There are rude, disruptive, unruly passengers in all parts of the plane, not just coach!

        1. Yes, in first class there are still families. Do you know if that’s the case with business class? If so it might be a better option for me, I really hate kids.

          1. Some airlines (like the soon to be defunct AirTran) only have coach and business – business is their version of first class. And that’s where I got my seat kicked through the whole damn flight! :p

        2. Please don’t paint everyone with the same brush. I flew long-haul flights with my kids a lot when we were serving overseas and I did everything within my power to keep them quiet: I had them run hot laps in the terminal so they’d get tired out, made sure they ate a lot before they flew so they’d be sleepy, even gave them Phenergan so they’d be a lot more chilled. We took night flights wherever possible so the kids could sleep. We checked in hours early to get the bulkhead seats so the kids would have room to squirm if they needed it but usually we lost out to people who wanted more leg room but didn’t want to pay a higher price. I packed a suitcase for every possible outcome with them, and if they still couldn’t cope (which was hardly ever), I took them to the rear of the plane to calm down and work out some kinks.

          A lot of times kids simply don’t have a lot of self-control, and flying is an endurance test on all levels. But grown-ups do. I find a childish reaction from an adult far more offensive than a kid who is past the limit. That includes moms who think their little snowflakes are fantastic no matter what to passengers who lose the plot because they can’t read their book in perfect peace.

          I’ve had my seat kicked repeatedly by kids AND adults alike. I can tell you, though, the most annoying things I dealt with in 12 years of trans-Atlantic flying came from adults, not kids.

          1. I didn’t think I was “painting everyone with the same brush”. I mentioned *one* bratty kid and *one* entitled mother who made my flight miserable.

            And yes, adults can be obnoxious too. Fortunately, I’ve never had the experience of an adult kicking my seat all through a flight, but I know it’s a possibility.

            “passengers who lose the plot because they can’t read their book in perfect peace.”

            I hope you’re not directing this at me. I don’t think politely asking a child to stop doing something is “losing the plot”, do you?

            1. “…Mom jumps down your throat like you’re a child-hating ogre who suggested that the kid be tossed out the door while the plane is in flight… simply because you asked her precious child very nicely to (please, if you wouldn’t mind) stop kicking your seat!..”

              …are statements pretty much loaded with sarcasm and vitriol…not to mention unresolved issues because clearly you haven’t gotten past that ONE incident. Next time look for kid-free flights…those are available.

              Wow. Hopefully your future flying experiences aren’t filled with so much tension.

    2. “You are purchasing the right to be on that flight when it takes off and takes you to your destination.”

      You’re right. For business or first class, I think the comfort, nice food, more entertainment, is part of the higher cost. Even a lay flat bed. For economy, you’re just paying the basic flight costs (plus some upcosts for fun and profit).

  7. Thank you for sharing a positive story about a person who decided to be nice! I worried so much the last time I flew – I fit in the seat but the armrest’s sharp corner often digs into my hip. Last time I sat next to a nice man who saw my discomfort and OFFERED to raise the armrest. I was so grateful. I have to fly again soon for a surgery and I get so anxious reading stories of people bullied, shamed, and thrown off the plane. I do think we need to tell those stories of course, but it gives me hope that not every person will be a jerk to me. I am already stressed enough about the surgery, so I need to imagine that people will be kind. Some people are. Thanks for all you do.

  8. I has so much anxiety about inadvertently touching the stranger in the aisle seat when flying home from Austria that even though I fit in the seat, I crammed myself as far away from him as I could get and ended up crowding my husband who was in the window seat. My husband actually has much broader shoulders than the seats allow and would have been more likely to touch the other person. But my mind couldn’t see that. I was at a bad point, pre-fat acceptance, when I would panic if there wasn’t at least one other fat person in a place to give me permission to be there. I saw myself as impossibly fat and not fitting even though I did. I wish I could do that trip over and enjoy it more without all the fear. This is what these stories do. They make people like me fearful. Thankfully, Ragan and Fat Acceptance are finally starting to give me peace, let me heal, and let me realize that I don’t need permission to be fat in public.

  9. It always amazes me when people argue that they are paying for their personal space on public transportation. No, that is not what you are paying for. You are paying for transportation. That does involve a certain amount of space, but it’s the company that runs the service that determines how much space per person that is, and they tend to do it without regard to the actual physical size of their average customer in mind. What’s more, you wouldn’t be on that plane (or bus or subway or train) if you didn’t need to get somewhere it’s going. We don’t buy airplane tickets to sit in the seats. We buy airplane tickets to get to a destination. If the plane never moved, we would go sit in our own living rooms.

    There is the option to upgrade your choice of ticket in order to get the luxury of personal space… if you can afford to do so.

    The reason there isn’t enough room for everyone to sit comfortably in Coach is because the airlines design their seats and arrange them so that they can squeeze the maximum number of travelers on every flight. Note that I don’t say the maximum number that can travel COMFORTABLY, but simply the maximum number.

    And then they blame fat passengers for not fitting into seats designed to smoosh the average housecat until it begs for mercy.

    I’m fat, but, like Regan, my fat is more front to back than side to side. Also, like her, I’m short. 5’2″ or thereabouts. I’m lucky enough to actually fit fairly comfortably in an airline seat, even though I’m extremely fat, ironically enough. But Mr. Twistie stands over six feet tall and anytime he has to fly, he looks absolutely miserable squished into a seat that sometimes barely has enough legroom for my stubby little stems, let alone his long, luscious gams.

    I can’t give the person next to me more actual physical space, but I can certainly cut them some slack. I can smile. I can speak to them and not mutter under my breath about them. I can offer to help them if the opportunity arises or accommodate them in some small way if they ask. I can recognize that we’re all in this together and we only have to deal with it for a tiny fraction of our lives.

    I can, in short, choose to be the biggest person I am capable of being.

    Or at least following Will Wheaton’s Law: Don’t be a dick.

    1. “Or at least following Will Wheaton’s Law: Don’t be a dick.”

      I wish more travelers *of all sizes and all ages* would follow that one!

  10. My dream is that someone with means will create an airline whose priorities are on comfort and customer service for all. Roomy, comfortable seats, friendly accommodating staff who don’t treat you like cattle… I would happily pay a higher price for a ticket like that. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.

  11. Well said, Ragen. And I’d like to add something. As a thin person, I get daily, endless advantages from the fact that there is so much fat-phobia: it means that it’s easier for me to get a job, higher pay, social respect… I don’t deserve that. So it’s important to me to be responsible – flying on the plane and supporting a fat person in taking up space is a small accommodation I can do to try to share my “thin privilege,” the unearned advantage I get in the world. (If readers are interested in this perspective, I’ve written about it in much more depth – view my resources page to find free downloads on thin privilege:

  12. The last time I flew was in 2001, before 9/11, and it was a small charter plane that fit about 30 ppl. (The return flight we got split up into 2 planes, one an 8-seater, and the other a 12 or 16. I was on the larger one.) This was also before I gained alot of weight due to allergies and undiagnosed health probs. I don’t know what size of seats those were, or how I would fare now with the smaller seats all-around, but I can remember as a child that the seats were already cramped and squished back then (early 1990s).

  13. Just a heads up Ragen, that this post is not showing up in the “Recent Posts” list. I discovered it by looking at the “Recent Comments” list.

  14. “While I don’t love touching strangers I think what I paid for was travel from one place to another in a seat that accommodates me, and I all I really need is the amount of space that I take up”

    i see several of the comments echo that, but to me this indicates that y’all have bought into propaganda by the airlines. i’d like to suggest that transportation is about more than simply getting stuffed into a container and shuttled to some other place. if that were all it is, why are you even expecting cushy seats, windows, food? they could cram more of us in if they strapped us in standing like in a really crowded bus during rush hour. me, i don’t like the “cattle” approach to transportation for humans, because it is, surprise, dehumanizing, and quite possibly a root of the issues people have with fat folks.

    when i was younger the airplane seats fit a whole lot more sizes, and as far as i know, no passenger ever agitated for smaller seats, and i didn’t hear many complaints about large people encroaching. people don’t just ‘like’ some personal space, IMO they need it (to varying degrees), and when it is encroached upon they get aggressive. that aggression comes out during the flight with scowling and muttering, and after the fact in complaining vociferously about the encroacher. and i honestly don’t blame anyone for it, because i feel it too. what’s “fair” is for each person to be safe and reasonably comfortable, and IMO that should include enough personal space that you’re not wedged against a total stranger for several hours. i simply do not want to be this close to anyone; it causes me anxiety whether they scowl or smile. i’ll still be pleasant because i am not an arse and being an arse in a bad situation does not improve it, but i’ll hate every moment of enforced closeness anyway.

    my solution is not to fly, and the more public transportation in general moves towards the “cattle” approach, the less i use other methods of it as well, and end up driving my own car. that is not what i consider optimal for the planet, but i won’t just grin and bear it while large corporations treat us more and more like inconvenient freight while enlarging their profits.

    that’s not at all about fat vs skinny. i think it’s a problem for everyone, and the airlines are using us fatties to distract non-fat people from realizing that they really don’t give a fuck about any of their passengers beyond the size of their wallets. i think we all should fight it together instead of letting them divide us. or some day we will all be standing up wrapped in shock cords, hoping the person in our face brushed their teeth before getting on the plane — i’ll probably be happy for being fat then, because it’ll give me a few cm extra distance.

    1. Five thumbs up. ^^^

      After reading this post and comments today, I went looking for train seat widths for VIA Rail in Canada. I couldn’t find any, but this link: was informative for trail vs. air travel. I personally don’t like flying for “strange” reasons (if the plane explodes or crashes over the sea, I won’t be buried in the ground, just in water; if it crashes on land, even if we die, there is some dirt that will cover us a bit), so in trans-national or trans-continental travel I’d rather take the train. In Canada it goes coast to coast, but little north-to-south (there used to be). Otherwise there are buses.

      I had to take a Red Arrow bus in 2009 (I was comparing services btw Greyhound and Red Arrow, RA won by having a single row seat) due to a car battery death. It was an enjoyable ride, and I didn’t have to drive! There was a censored video of Harry Potter that I didn’t watch, plus some radio stations (I didn’t listen to those, just my cd’s). They also had free food (that I didn’t eat) and a toilet (that I didn’t use). I didn’t use these things because I didn’t want to, but if I took another bus, I’d eat something. It’s not meals or anything, but the bus ride was 3.5 hrs. On their website they said they used previously-used plane seats, but with 30% more leg room than a plane, but according to this: it looks even better today!

      I enjoyed the trip, as I had the privacy seating, but I chose row 1: bad choice, there’s no table. Sometimes people book the left window seat, and if no one comes, you can put your bag in the other seat, or move to the right. I took an express bus, meaning it went directly from Edmonton to Calgary with no stop in Red Deer. RA is only in Alberta though. 😦

      Greyhound is getting better these days, especially after the stabbing a few yrs ago. There are 2-2 seats, and you can buy early bird, which means you can get on before “the rest of them” but it’s a pick-your-own-seat plan, no reservations. A co-worker relies on GH to get home for the holidays, and she says it’s awesome. She is also larger than avg. All things considered, I think bus and train seats are geared for better comfort, and the staff is certainly better than airlines.

      Some tips with the bus: I took the bus 2 days before Edmonton was the coldest place on earth at -42C (-44F)!!! The wall was cold, so if you can, put your coat or a blanket over your legs. Also, they sell these little pillows for $5 that I was planning on buying the next time I do it, since it’s nice to put your head to the side and not hit metal or plastic, or use it behind your back as a cushion.

      Sorry, to derail this thread.

  15. Sorry to post on an older thread, Ragen, but do you know anything about how JetBlue is for fat people? Or where I could find reviews, since a quick search didn’t pull up much of use? I’m going to be visiting my family soon and a non-stop JetBlue flight costs about a third as much as a business/first class ticket on any other airline with 1-2 stops. Which would be nice for my wallet, but I had several horrible experiences the last time I flew coach, so I’m more concerned about my mental health…

  16. Wow! As a thin person, this article really changed my thoughts on this subject. I’m glad I read this. Compassion, compassion, compassion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.