I 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.
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.
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