Could we resolve to be kinder to large people? I had an eye-opening experience on a recent flight. I was seated in coach, the aisle seat, with 2 other women. One was a little smaller than I, the other a little larger, but we all fit easily into the seats. Before takeoff, I heard some raised voices, and then the flight attendant came by, eyeballing each row. I saw her lock in on us, and sure enough, she stopped. Speaking quietly, she said there was a problem up front, with a passenger who refused to put the armrest up to accommodate a larger man. It was getting ugly. Would one of us be willing to move, and could the other two accommodate? I nodded assent, and my seatmates must have as well. The woman in the middle seat was out of there like a rocket, and the woman who had been in the window seat took charge. She had it all figured out. “We’ll put him in the window,” she said briskly, unbuckling and flipping up the armrests. “You and I can scootch over and that will make enough room.” We both moved into the aisle, and as the man arrived, I could see he was trying hard not to cry. I blurted, “Welcome to row 37!” He sat, we scootched, seatbelts were fastened and my take-charge friend asked if he was okay. His hands were shaking; he said that his previous seatmates had called him names. Later, he disclosed a little more. The passenger assigned to sit next to him called him a “fat fuck” and told him to get off the plane. And this was not the worst air travel experience he’s had. He only flies on business, and only if he absolutely has to. He can’t sleep for days before he flies due to the stress. People make cruel remarks at the gate, for god’s sake, telling him he better not be in a seat near them. He doesn’t eat or drink anything when flying so as not to invite attention, and also to avoid using the restroom. He can’t put the tray table down. He doesn’t bother bringing a “personal item” because he can’t reach under the seat to stow it.
The airlines should do better. It’s hardly a radical notion that airplane seats should be the size of the people who will sit in them. At 5’4″ I can reach under the seat to retrieve my briefcase, move my feet and cross my legs. As I learned on the flight from Reno, I can fit in 3/4 of a seat width and it didn’t kill me. I always thought I am short, but according to Wikipedia, I am of precisely average height for a woman, but the average man is 6 inches taller, and weighs more than twice what I do. I’m not a numbers person, but it’s safe to say that a whole lot of people are too big for an airplane seat. Would it be so bad to have a few specially sized seats assigned on the basis of need? I’m not talking about upgrading people to business-class, just basic size accommodation. Why should a coach seat offer me plenty of wiggle room, while a tall person is tormented and heavy people have to spill over? It’s Procrustean.
But enough about the airlines. They stink at taking care of people and it will never change. It’s my peers that shock me. I took to Google and found an awful lot of vocal fat-shamers. What is the matter with these people that they need to trumpet their judgment of others? It’s none of our business how obese people got that way; some of them eat healthier than thin people. There’s even an acronym TOFI (thin outside, fat inside) for people who look fine but have terrible medical stats. We have no right to assume anything about obese people except that they suffer.
I don’t know why these men thought it was okay to verbally abuse an obese passenger, but I bet their moms would not be proud. I was pleased to hear from the flight attendant that the woman who relocated from Row 37 had plenty to say to them, and the French word for “shower” was liberally used. As for me, I was glad to have been able to offer some refuge, and greatly impressed with the competence of the woman originally in the window seat. I’m sure she’s a mom.