Flying United makes you fat

Just a quick update on the United double-plus-ungood-standby for fatties policy: I flew United this past week (having bought my tickets, alas, just before the new policy was announced). Seats in coach, as Meowser points out, are about 17″ wide.  I had planned to do a surreptitious measuring of the free space in my seat for blog purposes anyway, but it turned out I didn’t have to: my size 10 ass fills one of these seats exactly. My hips were exactly lined up with the edge of the seat. If my clone sat next to me, our hips would have touched. (As it happened, a fat guy sat next to me, and our hips didn’t touch — because his fat was in his belly, not his hips and thighs.)

This is why United’s policy is ridiculous and sexist. I am thinner and taller than the average American woman, and I just barely fit in an economy seat, width-wise. As with BMI alarmism, the difference between who Jane Box-wine thinks counts as fat and who really does count as fat is (ha) enormous — thanks in no small part to the headless fatty phenomenon. People who are outraged that their seat might be colonized by errant chub are not imagining someone who weighs 5 pounds more than me.

Headless fatty, United style

Headless fatty, United style

Welcome to your obesity epidemic, America. No matter how thin you are, you may be fat already.

141 thoughts on “Flying United makes you fat

  1. People who are outraged that their seat might be colonized by errant chub are not imagining someone who weighs 5 pounds more than me.

    Or someone who weighs less than you, but carries that weight more below the waist than above it. Gah! Thank you so much for posting this. Just goes to show how ridiculous this whole thing is. I wonder how many of those 700 complaints came from someone sitting next to an acceptably thin person. “Her hips touched mine! Oh the humanity!”

  2. I was telling my coworkers about the United thing yesterday explaining that I, a size 16/18, am not comfortable with the armrests on most flights. I think they (both thin people who have no problems with seats being too narrow) really benefited from hearing that from a person they know and can see right in front of them.

  3. Or someone who weighs less than you, but carries that weight more below the waist than above it.

    Oh, totally! I actually meant to say that in the post, so thanks for saying it for me. :-)

  4. Oh, I totally got that vibe from the post. I was just piling on and spewing rage, really.

  5. Thanks for continuing to cover this. I never got a response from the state politicians I cc’d my United complaint to — they are both two tall, thin, gangly old rich guys who probably haven’t flown coach in a very long time, but that’s no excuse for failing to respond to a constituent.

    The width of the seat and the length of the seat belt really seem to vary by aircraft. I flew a newish smaller jet recently and I actually marveled at how comfortable the seat was — a rare experience for sure, but proof that airlines COULD make seats that are better for everyone.

    I said this in my letter but I really feel this is coming up now because flights are always flying full, whereas in the past everyone used to get lucky fairly regularly with a middle seat free. Those days are over.

    The blame for everyone’s misery should be placed squarely where it belongs: upon the airlines.

  6. Ugh, I’m getting so, so nervous about my work trip this summer. I just want to know — I guess I just throw the question out there — what kind of recourse do I have if these airline policies significantly impair my ability to do my job? What happens if my pay is docked the amount of the second ticket ($2000)? What happens if I *lose* my job, or am denied a promotion, because I can’t do a very large part of my job, which is to run this summer school?

    Needless to say, I’m going to be writing about my experiences. I’m flying a tiny Delta puddle-jumper from Boston to JFK (ooh, even tinier seats, fun), and then a larger plane (747?) from JFK to Pisa, Italy (and back three weeks later). I’ll let everyone know how it goes.

    I’m going to be so, so, sooo glad when the summer school is back in good ole Burlington, VT again…to which I can easily drive!

  7. Ugh, a medical blog I read for work had a vile rant about having to sit next to “yeast-infected folds of fatty” on airplanes.

    I linked them here. :D

  8. I don’t know if you guys are aware of this (I only started reading this blog 2 days ago), but the Rudd Center for Food Policy at Yale (http://www.yaleruddcenter.org/) does a lot of work about “weight discrimmination” . They released some pretty cheesy videos about the issue (scroll to bottom of page), but I’m glad someone out there’s trying to deal with it, because the extent to which it’s become okay to treat overweight people in sub-human ways has become stunning. My own economics professor, when looking for examples of things that have negative external effects or something like that, used “sitting next to fat people on a plane” as her example. I mean honestly.

  9. I have travelled with public transport for the past 12 years, living in a small village having to commute to bigger cities for highschool, college, shopping and jobs. I really don’t understand what all this whining about touching people’s hips is all about; that’s what happens in public transport!

    No matter how I’ve travelled – bus, train, tram, subway, plane – always with the hip touching, and not just ’cause I’m fat, because it’s just what happens when the seats are not that big and you’re all crammed together to get from point A to point B for minimum space and cost. You’d have to be *really* thin to never touch people’s hips in Dutch public transport. And surely enough, nobody’s ever told me to put my fat ass in another seat because our hips were touching. Why? Because that’s what happens in public transport… duh?

  10. Well, Damanique, that might be okay for you European commies, but here in the U.S. of A., we have an inalienable right not to ever touch anybody ever!

  11. @bigliberty Ooh, if you get really lucky on the puddle-jumper they’ll eyeball all the passengers and attempt to distribute the two sides of the plane by weight. Anyone else ever have that happen?

    @Damianique–You bring up a really good point that I think hasn’t gotten enough attention with this whole plane foofaraw, which is that planes are often the only form of public transit upper middle class people–who have the time, resources and entitlement to complain–take. Yup. Your hips touch people on the bus. You jostle into people on the train. On Amtrak, the seats are bigger but you sure have the smell of others’ tuna sandwiches and the music of their cell phone conversations to enjoy. Hence the uh PUBLIC nature of such transit. I was a daily bus commuter for three years, and my fellow commuters were generally very polite about both making sure they didn’t take up more room than they needed to and treating people who did take up more room–whether because of body size, strollers or assistive devices–with respect.

  12. I fly very often (thankfully, not too much on United), and I know exactly how fat I am – my thighs often spill over a bit into the seat next to me. I carry most of my weight in my ass and legs and it’s RIDICULOUS that I would have to pay for an extra seat while my husband (who is also fat but carries his weight in his back and stomach) can cheerfully encroach all he likes.

  13. i think, given that airplanes are giant ticking germbombs, given what we know about the new flu racing around the world, that we should all demand 6x6x6 foot cubes when we fly.

    i could do a cartwheel in that thing!

  14. Kate Harding, on May 1st, 2009 at 3:19 pm Said:

    Have you tried diet and exercise?

    You owe me for a new keyboard. Apparently coffee doesn’t come out very well.

  15. @Bibliberty: Your concern is definitely justified, but I’d point out that, in either of those scenarios (lose pay v. lose job), the entity you’d be gunning for would be your *employer*, at least as much as the airline. Despite the fact that provable fat discrimination in the workplace is still a gray(er) area, limitations on an employer’s ability to discriminate are, at least for now, considerably more clear cut than circumstances for the airlines. FWIW, if any employer ever asked me for my opinion on whether they could dock added airline fees for fat employees, or terminate fat (and traveling) employees b/c of the added expense of flying them, I’d make damn sure to advise them that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.

  16. …After which I would, of course, shake my fat ass at all the other lawyers in the room.

  17. Yesterday I went to the movies, got comfortable, and then had the epiphany– airplane seats should be the size of movie theatre seats. Roomy, squishy, and smelling like candy.

  18. “Some new magic bullet to lol my fat away?”

    Speaking of lol-ing fat away, I think I’ve seen laughter as a recommended diet tip. Because, you know, it burns those pesky calories and works your core. Or something.

    How creepy is it that?

  19. FWIW, if any employer ever asked me for my opinion on whether they could dock added airline fees for fat employees, or terminate fat (and traveling) employees b/c of the added expense of flying them, I’d make damn sure to advise them that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen

    This. I only know a bit about employment law, but any employer would be stupid as hell to do this, and if they do you should immediately file a complaint with the EEOC. And the department of labor. And your city/county human rights commission, or both.

  20. Thanks for contiuing a conversation about this. I will have to fly a lot for my job in the next year and am feeling sick about it. Are there any airlines out there that are nice to fatties?

  21. I’m so glad other forms of public transit was brought up. I don’t drive, so when I don’t have family members chauffering me around, I ride the bus. I have been a bus rider since 1993, which includes my local bus and the MTA commuter bus to Baltimore. There is a small percentage of us bus riders who are not only fat, but deathfat. Asses and thighs will spill over and hips will touch, especially during peak riding hours (and the commuter buses are always packed).

    It’s a way of life. Fat people are a way of life. No amount of shaming or ridiculing them into two seats away from others is going to make such an impact on them that they’re going to sign up for WLS or Jenny Craig. (Well, unless United tells Kirstie Alley or Oprah they need two seats, but hell, they can afford their own private jet).

    In other words, put up with the fatty next to you for a a little bit, and quit yer bitching. Believe me, the fatty is probably more uncomfortable and upset about touching YOU.

  22. No one likes to feel physically crowded in our culture but fat doesn’t bother me at all compared to roving hands and pressing groins.

  23. This is exactly why I’m freaking out about my flights on American in July – I managed to jam myself into my BA seats last May but have one of those puddle-jumper flights as part of my trip this summer.

    I’d better damn well not be charged for two seats – hello GRADUATE STUDENT = POOR!!

    I guess we’ll see what happens. As my husband puts it, it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen…if I do get bumped, though, I”m not sure I have the energy to fight that fight (hello chronic depression!)

  24. How does anybody fit into an airplane seat? I’ve never been on one and people always said the seats were snug but I never knew they were [i]that[/i] snug. Oh my. Only 17 inches across… sweet machine you’re really slim and if you couldn’t fit in the seat they must be built for children or Verne Troyer.

  25. I’m a apple-shaped, narrow-hipped size 16/18 and I have no problem fitting into airplane seats, so I see exactly what you mean about how it being a prejudice against certain (usually feminine) body shapes.

    Also, I’m a city dweller and take public transport, and if I was going to be squicked out by someone touching my hips I’d have to get used to walking miles and miles every day. Hey, maybe if I wasn’t such a lazy train-user I wouldn’t be so fat! Heh.

  26. As a super frequent business flier (~30 trips/yr) I am really amazed at how people can have the nerve to complain they ‘had to sit next to a fat person’. Almost every human is uncomfortable in economy airplane seating, I’m the freak exception bc I am naturally petite, only 5’2 and natural set point weight around 100lbs Just this week on my return leg of a business trip I subtely offered and swapped seats with another passenger when two randomly assigned strangers were both on the larger side and were trying to squeeze in the same row together, I traded so I got an aisle seat and everyone was a little more comfortable for the ride. Lesson learned – common sense + human compassion are much better than arbitrary and draconian ‘policies’

  27. This is why United’s policy is ridiculous and sexist. I am thinner and taller than the average American woman, and I just barely fit in an economy seat, width-wise.

    Thanks for this post. I know I tend to assume that someone significantly smaller than me would not have a problem, but hello, that is SO NOT TRUE.

  28. i only just flew two different airlines in the last couple of weeks – alaska and southwest. southwest was cheaper by far and the seats were way more comfortable than alaska. alaska crams you in there like sardines. so does continental.

    i can’t remember my opinions of the other seats i’ve ridden in, but those are fresh in my mind.

    i’ve weighed, at points, 50 pounds less than i do now – and was never comfortable in coach. it’s not designed for comfort and never has been – but it seems less and less that it’s even designed for human occupation. the flight attendants make it clear they want you to stay in your seats like good little sheep, too, so you even feel bad getting up and moving around to stave off the thrombosis.

    i’m really hoping for more federal funds for rail travel – i’m so sick of flying. it’s always an exercise in misery tolerance.

  29. Oh, hey, speaking of this, there was a pretty good column in the Denver Post yesterday, in which I am quoted more-or-less accurately. (She left out just a wee bit of nuance — like all of it — in the sexism argument, but at least she included it. Also trying to figure out how I feel about blogging “in defense of fat people.”)

  30. I’m flying to NY in October and Nashville in November and frankly, I’m terrified. As a size 14 I was BARELY able to wedge in and I was uncomfortable the last time I flew.

    I have gained some weight in the last couple of months and am really quite nervous about flying. To be perfectly honest, it is affecting me terribly. It is part of the reason I am having such a struggle with my eating disorder (of course there are much larger reasons). I am terribly tempted to not let my body behave as it will and to force it back into a size 14 – or frankly, smaller. I hate airlines.

  31. A little survival tip for flying on the puddle jumpers. If you can get a window or aisle seat, feel under the outside armrest, sort of toward the back. If there’s a little square metal button push on it, and you can raise that armrest. Ahhhh… two more luxurious inches of space for my ass to not quite fit into. But still, it’s something.

  32. Reading this is making me nervous about my next flight. I generally fly “home” about twice a year, and I am presently about 200-205 at 5’8″-not
    deathfat, but definitely not trim. And since my parents pick up my ticket cost–hello, on disability–I sincerely doubt they would be cool about having to buy 2 seats. I haven’t flown since I put on a bunch of weight from thyroid and possibly meds along with my lousy diet (bad fattie :)).

  33. Hi all. :waves: I’ve been lurking and enjoying the deeply insightful, snarky, supportive, realistic, body-positive (at all sizes) posts and commentary here–and occasionally tearing up at some of the sentiments expressed. I’ve recommended the site to lots of folks, and am really happy I found you. Thanks for being here.

    I just thought I’d pipe up and suggest Seat Guru as a source of information. They have comparison charts that will tell you how wide the seats are on a given plane (they sort it by airline), as well as the seat pitch, or the amount of knee room. It’s not a perfect solution, but at least it gives a sense of how much room you’ll have on any given flight. And if you can choose between a flight on a plane with 16″ seat widths (I’m looking at you, Northwest!) or 19″ seat widths, all the better. Maybe if we all only flew on planes that had wider seats and more seat pitch, the airlines would realize that they had to keep up or lose business.

    Ok, back to lurking. Thanks again.

  34. I flew (Delta) last week. I’m about 240, 5′ 7″, and wear size 2X trousers, and I fit pretty well in the seat without a belt extender. I think that’s because while I am a woman, my fat’s been accumulating on my front more than to the side since I was a size 12. Why I should have an easier or cheaper flight than someone who is a 160 pound/size 16 and carries it all to the side, I do not know. And United, to whom I wrote when this first broke, has yet to give me an answer.

  35. I, too, am concerned about flying on United in light of its new policy. If United embarrasses me, then it will lose me as a customer, and I fly quite a bit. One thing I do to make myself fit a little better in the seat and seatbelt is to wear a skirt with no pockets (as opposed to jeans with stuff in the pockets). It makes it easier to snap the seatbelt shut, and my hips protrude less. BTW, even though my hips go under the armrests, I never, ever make use of the armrest and the space over it, and usually the thin folks next to me use the armrest. If they get to use the space over the armrest, then I think I’m entitled to the space under the armrest!

  36. Yesterday I went to the movies, got comfortable, and then had the epiphany– airplane seats should be the size of movie theatre seats. Roomy, squishy, and smelling like candy.

    Yes! My epiphany happened the last time I flew — one puddlejumper, one airbus-something-or-other — and while sitting in the airport waiting for the second leg of the trip, it occured to me that the seats in the terminal waiting area were about 300% more comfortable than the seats on the plane. Could we just swap them?

  37. I just got back from London, flying on a packed Virgin Atlantic flight where I was seated in the front row of the 4-seats-across section. Those are good seats for legroom, but as I discovered, baaaaad seats for fatties like me (I’m a size 18/20) because the armrests in that row are solid to hold the tray table. I’m fine in a row where an inch or two of hip can poke under the armrest…but here they were like little walls wedging me in place. And worse, the controller for the in-flight media is set into the armrest, but is not flush, thus shrinking my patch of chair acreage even further.
    The whole experience was depressing and humiliating and painful (still have a bruise on my hip from the controller)…and 7 hours long, oof.

  38. Okay, I just measured my hips sitting down. I’m thin (5’8″, 130lbs) and it comes to 15 inches across. So if the seats are 17″ across, that means I have 2 extra inches. 2, that’s it! And I could gain… let me check… 34 pounds and still be considered “normal weight.”

    I already thought the policy was absurd, but you’re right, this totally highlights it. Hello, airlines, women tend to have hips!

  39. I’m 5’8″, about 200 lbs. and a 16/18 with about 47″ hips, and I have flown on several different airlines the last few years (including a few when I was still nursing and about 30 pounds heavier than I currently am), and have fit fine in all of the seats. Not perfectly comfortable, but I don’t think any ticket agent could have justified forcing me to buy a second seat. So, while I can understand the concern, I honestly don’t think that most overweight and obese women have much to worry about. On every flight I’ve been on there have been a good number of other women at or around my size, and the airline certainly isn’t going to be able to carry on business while forcing every single one of us to buy extra seats.

    While theoretically they could start targeting all women who wear about a size 10 or up, in practice I don’t see that happening. What I do see happening is agents perusing the people waiting to fly and targeting a few of the largest for having to buy a second seat or being bumped from the flight if it’s too full. That is totally and completely unacceptable, but also not necessarily a reason for every woman who wears a size 12 and up to suddenly be terrified every time they have to fly, making air travel even more miserable than it already is. I can understand, at the level of trying to get the public to understand how stupid this rule is, why it’s important to point out that in theory it could be applied to women who they certainly would not identify as one of “those” fat people or who they wouldn’t think twice about sitting next to, but I also hate to see people feeling anxious about a rule that I think it is extremely unlikely the airline will apply to them. I can say that, while I’ll be avoiding United on principle, having flown on them last year, I would not personally fear that my size 16/18 ass is going to be asked to purchase a second seat, because they’d have to be asking maybe 1-2 dozen (or more) other women on the flight to also buy a second seat, and people are already so cranky at airports that I honestly think there’d be a mutiny.

    I think the bigger issue, beyond the fact that many women have hips that extend further than 17″ when sitting, is that it’s not okay for anybody to be forced to pay for two airfares because of the size of their body, any more than a person who has a wheelchair or other medical equipment should have to pay for an extra seat to accommodate their needs. I guess my personal worry would be that, if I were to point out that the rule is silly because technically it could be used against me and most people would agree that sitting next to me would not be particularly unpleasant or uncomfortable sitting next to me, they would generally retort with the “oh, but I mean really fat people!” line, and their opinion that people who genuinely need two seats to accommodate their bodies should have to pay for two seats would remain unchallenged.

  40. Lori, you’re absolutely right that most people reading this will have nothing to worry about — SM’s point is just that 1) most people reading this could still easily be the 700 offending asses that supposedly prompted the new rule, 1a) the new rule isn’t going to stop complaints for exactly that reason and 2) airline seats are too all-fired small.

  41. I should have said, I think the original post was great. I definitely think that it shows that airline seats are NOT designed for comfort, or are particularly conducive to having personal space. As somebody above pointed out: public transportation in general is not a setting where you generally get to enjoy personal space, and given that airline seats are smaller than seats on any other form of public transit I’ve been on, it’s ridiculous so many people seem to expect to not have another person encroaching on their space when they fly. I do think it is because so many people who fly never use any other form of public transit.

    I just hate to see, as somebody prone to unnecessary worry myself, people freaking themselves out about flying when it’s extremely unlikely this policy will be applied to them. I know that I could easily worry myself into a panic attack while waiting for a plane about something like this, and given how unpleasant air travel is anyway, I don’t think anybody needs more anxiety piled on top of it. I would imagine that most people who would be targeted by the policy would already have had concerns about fitting into airline seats in the past. If the only reason somebody is concerned about airline seats is because of the new policy, and before that they had no concerns about being able to squeeze their rear between the armrests, I’d say in most cases it’s unlikely the airline is going to ask them to buy two seats.

  42. My son is super-skinny. His waist size is a 29. His butt can cut glass. If you are not familiar with men’s sizes, allow me to explain that there are many stores he cannot shop in because they don’t carry clothes that narrow. Often, we pay higher prices in order to get the fit.

    We flew together someplace, and I could barely fit my fat ass in the seat, and I was terribly uncomfortable, and also felt ashamed, and he turned to me and said “Mom, don’t feel bad, I can barely fit in my seat.”

    So, yeah, I still have fat shame. Go figure. But also, during this entire airline fatty debacle I think about this incident over and over; seats too skinny for a skinny guy to be at all comfortable? FUCK THEM for blaming fatties. Just fuck them hard.

  43. Ok, for everyone freaked out about flying— my hip measurement is 82″. I’ve flown all the draconian airlines and never had a problem from the attendants (I also expect a bruise from the farkleptin’ armrest. It happens. I deal).

    The other passengers can sometimes get jackassy, but that’s why God invented iPods and middle fingers.

  44. Yeah, I agree with you there, Lori. Unfair yes; worth complaining about yes; worth freaking yourself out over definitely not. Especially since I have confidence that most Shapelings would be able to muster a surprising amount of courage, self-esteem, and eloquence if actually faced with this situation.

  45. Oh, hey, speaking of this, there was a pretty good column in the Denver Post yesterday,

    Except for the comments, which blow chunks. The amount of fat hatred out there – hell, the amount of hatred for anyone who isn’t as perfectly fucking perfect as people who write nasty comments – is starting to get me down. I’m having a hard time finding a new job, and while I know the economy is awful, I can’t help but wonder if I’d have an easier time if I looked “healthier”. It’s so fucked up.

  46. My hips are 60″ around and I’m 6′ tall. The entire flying process is somewhat like trying to jam myself into a coffin intended for someone half my size and acting cheerful about it.

    “A beverage? Uhm could I maybe have the blood flow in my right leg back first?”

    My “seriously big ass” and I fly fairly frequently, usually a couple times a year, and so far so good on Southwest. (I don’t fly united because bad shit always happens with my flights. I blame O’Hare.)

    So if you are smaller than me, you will probably get by? I hope.

    I haven’t been comfortable on an airplane since I was 10, and I couldn’t sit in the exit row For Ever because I wasn’t old enough. Sucks to be a 5’10” 12 year old.

  47. Hey Sniper – the comments at the Denver Post are ALWAYS awful no matter what the topic.

  48. @sniper: hear you on the job search. Would I have gotten a job by now (it’s been three months) if I looked more “acceptable?”

    This whole story makes me so mad and sad, but I have to say, at size 18/20, I’m pretty snug in those seats and I never worry about the person next to me or that someone is thinking “oh no, hope I’m not next to her.” And I have to chuckle at that. Should I be worrying about *their* comfort?? This is who I am. I’m getting more comfortable with myself everyday and don’t feel the need to apologize any more.

    To those who are worrying about upcoming trips: I don’t think you have to. I have ample hips and belly and can lower the tray table and fasten the seat belt. Is it comfortable? Not really. But who expects it to be?? Maybe my 5 year old niece. As soon as I dive in to my Entertainment Weekly and relax with my diet Coke and peanuts I don’t even remember that someone is sitting next to me. No matter how much of my armrest they’re hogging.

  49. Could someone provide the link for the United policy that prohibits passengers being at a size where their bodies would touch each other unless said passengers buy two seats? The FAA rule only says that armrests have to be able to stay down for takeoff and landing, which may affect JR and Mary Sue if the armrests currently are giving them bruises (ouch!) but wouldn’t affect anyone who has been able to fly thus far in compliance with FAA rules.

  50. @Lori –

    I just hate to see, as somebody prone to unnecessary worry myself, people freaking themselves out about flying when it’s extremely unlikely this policy will be applied to them.

    Sorry, but this doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. I know your intentions are to make us feel better, and it must be great to be on the lower end of fat so you don’t have to seriously worry about anything, but just because you didn’t personally encounter any problems that time you flew once doesn’t mean I’m not going to encounter problems, or a particularly pear-shaped (and possibly tall) size 16/18.

    What I think about are all the people in the comments on these various articles who have expressed how disgusted they are with “being touched” by fat people on planes, and how these policies making big news are going to make a lot of these people, who were likely just silently stewing before, feel empowered to speak up and claim their “space.”

    If a thinner person makes a stink about sitting next to me, even if I’m not ‘seriously’ encroaching, and there are no other seats to which they want to be moved or to which I can be moved, who do you think is going to get bumped? Do you really think they’ll solve the problem with trying to calm the skinnier person? The skinnier person could just come back with, “Well, it’s your policy, you HAVE to enforce it.” And that person would be right.

    So it’s not really the gate officials or the staff on the plan that would be fingering the fatties — I bet your boots it would start with those who “have” to sit next to the yeast-infected giant obeses, only increasing in prevalence as others learned from the successful complaints, emboldened to claim their fundamental greater right to fly than that of a fat person who dares sit next to them.

  51. I think all the best way to implement this policy clearly and in a non-sexist manner is with a simple pre-boarding announcement: “ladies and gents, this flight is full, therefore we will only be allowing hip-free passengers on board. For those in possession of hips exceeding our ridiculously small standard, please see the gate attendant to be shamed, delayed and overcharged. Thank you for flying United. We hope you’ll choose another airline next time around.” That way they make it clear that it’s not fat WOMEN they don’t like, it’s fat HIPS, which is totally NOT discriminatory because people with hips don’t belong to a protected class.

    Or maybe United’s policy is actually a public service. After all, fat people might be bioterrorists, trying to spread their contagious fat to all corners of the world and worsen the obesity epidemic. By keeping fatties off planes, they’re saving the world from horrible disease, disfigurement, and early death! Maybe security should just stop fat people from passing (instead of metal detectors, BMI calculators?) through–then United wouldn’t even need to TALK to fat people, much less make their passengers sit next to them.

    There. Problem solved. If fat people need to get from New York to LA, they can walk–and as a bonus, if they do it at a vigorous pace for 4 hours a day combined with a low calorie no-it’s-not-torture diet, it will make them lose weight and then everyone will be thin and perfect! Wow, United is brilliant…

  52. Sure the seat was 17″? In the past, airlines have said that anything less than 17 1/2 gets passengers trying to bust the crew’s chops at exit. (Wall Street Journal in re Boeing 800’s)
    Also dangerous to the crew are row placements requiring knee pitch-up. Guess the lines won’t fail to keep away from this.
    But the most miserable passenger? Middle seat / between two big people / long flight.
    Why don’t they come clean with us? What the airlines want is for us to show in our self-contained shipping modules. Suitable for handling by front-loader. Ever see the cross-section of the cabin. We are squirmy Freight.

  53. I just flew AirTran, and I weigh a bit over 300. I fit fine in my seat, no overflow of fat, no seat belt extender, and sat next to men on 3 of the 4 legs of my round trip (one leg, thankfully, I had the row to myself). I’m a bit above average height for a woman, but I have no hips or ass to speak of.

    A few summers ago, when I was at least 50 pounds heavier, i still fit into one seat when I flew AirFrance, but I did need a seat belt extender. No one has ever complained about me sitting next to them (I’ve also flown American and JetBlue in the past few years), and I was actually hoping someone might on this last trip, so i could force them to arrest me before I’d move from my seat if they planned on making me pay for a second one.

    That might be our ‘Rosa Parks’ moment, if you forgive me the analogy-when a fat person risks arrest to protest the 2 seat policy. It almost makes me wish I had an upcoming flight to take, because I’d book United just to see what happens.

  54. I just hate to see, as somebody prone to unnecessary worry myself, people freaking themselves out about flying when it’s extremely unlikely this policy will be applied to them.

    Except for the fact that plenty of the readers here are larger than a 16/18 and do have valid reason to fear being humiliated in public by being forced to buy a larger seat. Seriously, check your privilege.

  55. Sorry, but this doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. I know your intentions are to make us feel better, and it must be great to be on the lower end of fat so you don’t have to seriously worry about anything, but just because you didn’t personally encounter any problems that time you flew once doesn’t mean I’m not going to encounter problems, or a particularly pear-shaped (and possibly tall) size 16/18.

    There have been comments here from a number of posters who are significantly larger than I am who have flown recently, and flown on airlines that have discriminatory policies, who still haven’t had problems. So, honestly, I think a lot of the worry that I’m seeing from women in the size 12-20ish range is probably unfounded. There is no reason for somebody to start worrying now about a flight that’s months away because suddenly they’re worried that, although they’ve never had a problem fitting in a seat, their hips hit the armrests and they might be asked to buy a second seat. They won’t be. Like I said, if they started asking size 16 and 18 women to buy a second seat, they’d likely be asking a dozen or more women on any given flight to buy two seats, and that would not (no pun intended) fly.

    It’s a terrible policy. It’s unfair and discriminatory. It’s worth writing letters about, complaining to the airline about, and arguing against. But, for most (not all, but most) fat women who are suddenly worried because they fear their hips are a couple of inches too wide, it’s not a reason to spend weeks or months stressing and worrying. I think it’s a sucky, awful, and discriminatory policy, but I also think that there’s very little chance, given that I’ve flown fat a number of times, including when I was larger than I am now by a good 30 pounds, and never even came close to having an issue regarding my size, that it will be applied to me. So, I certainly wrote a letter to United protesting the policy, but next time I fly I’m not going to worry that I’m suddenly going to have to pay for an extra ticket at the gate, because that’s just not how this is going to play out in practice.

  56. Except for the fact that plenty of the readers here are larger than a 16/18 and do have valid reason to fear being humiliated in public by being forced to buy a larger seat. Seriously, check your privilege.

    Yeah, I guess you skipped the part where I mentioned that there are people who genuinely have difficult fitting into airline seats and this policy WILL adversely affect them. My comment was directed at the women who have identified themselves as being in the 14-18 range who are stressing out about flying because technically the policy could be applied to them. It won’t be. My point, as I said, was that if somebody has never had any concern about fitting into an airline seat before, but is suddenly worried because the policy reads as if even having your hips graze the armrests will get you bounced from the flight without a second seat available, it’s probably okay to chill out about it and not add an extra level of stress to the already-unpleasant experience of flying.

    Most overweight and obese people are not extremely obese. This policy is not going to affect most obese women. It will affect some, and because of that, it’s awful and discriminatory. It should be protested, because of that. It should be protested because actual larger people who do indeed require two seats to fit will be forced to pay double fares rather than accommodated, which is wrong. It shouldn’t be protested because theoretically a size 14 woman might be asked to buy a second seat even though in practice that will not happen. Otherwise all that happens is that it sounds like discrimination is unacceptable when it’s aimed at smaller fat women, but if it happens to people who really do need two seats, it’s not such a big deal.

  57. KT, with reasoning like that, you’d be right at home sitting next to Rehnquist on the USSC c. 1976. ;)

  58. Have you tried diet and exercise?

    I was hoping we’d get another one of those!

    Nice detective work, SM. It does seem like different aircraft use different kinds of seating, and other than airlines like JetBlue which use the same aircraft for all their flights, it’s hard to know in advance what you’ll be getting because they swap out planes all the time.

    And yeah, a lot of this is going to depend on who your seatmate is. You might not register as a two-seatbelt-extender fatass with any of the airline personnel, but all it takes is one F. jerkwadius complaint and that’s that.

    Big Liberty, if you’re still reading, talk to lawyers. Find out what your recourse might be if they give you shit. I bet there’s some.

  59. Sorry, The NKS Blog Team = Big Liberty. ;) I’m hard at work updating my work blog and am too lazy to sign out and sign back in and then sign out again! :P

    @Meowser — I’d love to think I’d have the nerve to stay in my seat until forcibly removed…I’ve always wondered if I would have the nerve to get arrested. I’m not sure…we’re dependent on my salary to pay the mortgage and child support :P I’d be making a statement, but I’d be potentially hurting people I love by putting my job in jeopardy.

    However, maybe my foot-in-mouth syndrome would save instead of shame me for once, and my belligerence would finally pay off. ;)

    @Lori —

    Most overweight and obese people are not extremely obese. This policy is not going to affect most obese women. It will affect some, and because of that, it’s awful and discriminatory. It should be protested, because of that. It should be protested because actual larger people who do indeed require two seats to fit will be forced to pay double fares rather than accommodated, which is wrong. It shouldn’t be protested because theoretically a size 14 woman might be asked to buy a second seat even though in practice that will not happen. Otherwise all that happens is that it sounds like discrimination is unacceptable when it’s aimed at smaller fat women, but if it happens to people who really do need two seats, it’s not such a big deal.

    1) I’m curious how you’re so certain of what will happen in the future. I wish I had your confidence, I really do. Perhaps I’m getting cynical after blogging about fat issues for a year and a half — if moral panics/crusades have a peak, I think we’re on the up- rather than on the down-swing. That means that I’ve only seen more stories about fat discrimination cropping up, not less. I’ve only seen a wider perpetuation of Healthist myths. I’ve only heard the cries about “the children” getting louder. I’m interested in how moral panics perpetuate — it’s an emergent property from the complex system that is a particular society (this is the stuff I think about at work, see my work blog lol). It’s a wicked study in the psychology of the masses, but it can be summarized simply: this policy is only adding fuel to the fire of fat-hate already burning brightly. It’s getting higher, and we cannot predict the anecdotal data the posters on this board have presented thus far is predictive of a future where thinner travelers will feel even more entitled to not be seated next to the fat person they’ve been told over and over again they should hate, fear, and feel superior to.

    2) I don’t think anyone has argued here that this policy isn’t okay because it could possibly be aimed at smaller people. I think SM’s post was meant to show that, in fact, if *properly enforced the way the airlines have stated they can if they so desire*, you don’t have to be “extremely obese” in order to technically “break the rules.” When it comes down to it, one shouldn’t have to wonder at the gate whether or not this is the time they’re going to be disallowed to fly because they technically break the fatty rules. Many more people than the “extremely obese” break or bend these fatty rules. How can those of us (the group in which I’m included, for instance) feel confident? In a previous life I was a physicist, and I learned very well that probabilities matter. If there’s a chance I won’t be allowed to fly to my very important summer school on which hinges my career, I’m going to worry weeks, nay, months ahead of time. And I don’t think I’m some anxiety-ridden loon for doing so, and I resent the implication that what I’m feeling is foolish, and I resent my very real concerns being marginalized, especially by people who claim to be compassionate to the cause.

  60. Ugh, I realize that my point 1) is grammatically convoluted and the last line doesn’t make sense (that’s what one gets when one plays with double negatives). This is what I meant:

    It’s a wicked study in the psychology of the masses, but it can be summarized simply: this policy is only adding fuel to the fire of fat-hate already burning brightly. It’s getting higher, and it isn’t correct to claim the anecdotal data presented by the posters above isn’t predictive of a future where thinner travelers will feel even more entitled to kick off the fat seatmate they’ve been told over and over again they should hate, fear, and feel superior to.

    Also, for some reason my handle isn’t connecting to my work blog, but a little ditty project I’ve been playing with on the side. I tried to fix it, but who knows if it will stick.

  61. I really hope that if we keep repeating this enough it will divert some of the blame-it-all-on-fat-people response to this and back to where it belongs – the seats are just too damn small. I’m a relatively small person – 5ft 2 1/2, sz 6-8, and I’m not comfortable in them. They’re made for hobbits, not humans.

    The puddle jumpers are definately the worse, though. The most uncomfortable trip on a plane I’ve ever had was Oakland to Phoenix. I could barely squeeze into that space and got off the plane with sore legs from not being able to move them and bruises on my knees from the seatback in front.

    Also note that it was not a fat person sitting next to me that made the trip extra-miserable. It was the asshole college boy who GRABBED ONE OF MY EARBUDS AND ATTEMPTED TO PUT IT IN HIS EAR because he wanted to know what I was listening to. WTF, dude? I think the plane needs a special asshole section where they can all bother each other.

  62. Also @BigLiberty – this is OT a bit, but your comment under the other blog name tied into a wierd thought I had the other day. I’m starting to wonder if the whole OMG OBESITY EPIDEMIC EVERYONE PANIC thing is actually part of the reason it’s so hard to get people to take population growth and the effect that has on both food and water supplies seriously. Hmm, it’s hard to explain what I mean (made sense when I was in the shower thinking about it!). I guess I’m wondering if the emphasis put on the moral panic about fat is leading people to somehow not take seriously the fact that yes, climate change + high population density + dwindling potable water per person avaliable might actually lead to all kinds of problems down the road. I can’t help thinking that maybe all of this public freakout about fat and the insistince that it’s due soley to people eating too much is leading people to think that we don’t have the looming resource allocation problems that we do (especially with water). Does that make sense to anyone else? I know there are a lot of smart academic types who read here, maybe someone else will understand what I’m trying to get at and be able to phrase it more clearly.

  63. Or maybe United’s policy is actually a public service. After all, fat people might be bioterrorists, trying to spread their contagious fat to all corners of the world and worsen the obesity epidemic. By keeping fatties off planes, they’re saving the world from horrible disease, disfigurement, and early death! Maybe security should just stop fat people from passing (instead of metal detectors, BMI calculators?) through–then United wouldn’t even need to TALK to fat people, much less make their passengers sit next to them.

    KT, don’t give fat-haters any more ideas! Next thing you know, they’ll be blaming us for the swine flu outbreak.

  64. if any employer ever asked me for my opinion on whether they could dock added airline fees for fat employees, or terminate fat (and traveling) employees b/c of the added expense of flying them, I’d make damn sure to advise them that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen

    Is that true? I know there are a few cities that offer protections to fat people, but most of the country doesn’t, and if you’re not in a protected class, your employer can fire you for pretty much any reason, right? They’re firing smokers with no repercussions.

  65. I just hate to see, as somebody prone to unnecessary worry myself, people freaking themselves out about flying when it’s extremely unlikely this policy will be applied to them.

    As someone who is prone to worry you must realise that telling a worrier not to worry is pointless! Worrying is not logical and you can’t reason with it.

  66. @ BigLiberty
    I absolutely agree with you, that is what got my snark up as well. My whole life I have been told to ignore the insults, don’t listen to them, just pretend you don’t hear and it will all go away, oh don’t worry about that that is stupid, or that I was just making to big a deal about it. Which made me not only ashamed to be who I am, but ashamed for the feelings I was feeling, and for possibly expressing them. So instead of being able to vent my hurt, pain, shame, embarrassment, anger, or whatever negative feeling I felt because I was ABUSED. I am sorry but of course I fear it happening, because it HAS happened to me before and that iw when I could fit into the seat but not as well at the person next to me thought I should. Right ok maybe it won’t happen but the fear that it could is very valid and is a horrid thing to deal with.

    I am sick of shutting up and “ignoring” which is hard to do words DO hurt and they stick in your brain and build up over time. I have alot of anger because so often I have been talked down to or that I just shouldn’t feel that way, my feelings being totally brushed aside.

    What you are feeling is valid, you have every right to feel that way and I totally and completely understand it though I am sending you some wicked awesome mojo in your direction in the hopes you won’t have to deal with it and things will be good!

    @Sniper
    i know how you are feeling, the comments that I have read have been to full of absolute hatred that it just shocks me. I honestly wouldn’t treat my enemy the way some people talk about fat people and it just cuts me right to the core I have to admit. I find myself thinking the same things as I look to my future. I know I shouldn’t read the comments but I keep hoping to maybe see some people actually sticking up for people and speaking against the discrimination this is. There is that glimmer of hope, and then all I read is hate and it does scare me.

  67. Y’all, I was so wrong in this post. A very helpful man in the moderation queue let me know that it’s not that I’m fat as a whole person, but my *ass* is fat and therefore I should just admit it and pay extra money. Thank god there’s a man out there to tell me what’s what!

  68. Thank god there’s a man out there to tell me what’s what!

    Somehow, there’s always a man around to tell a woman what’s what.

    I honestly wouldn’t treat my enemy the way some people talk about fat people and it just cuts me right to the core I have to admit

    Unfortunately, I know exactly how you feel. (())

  69. Yup, I just measured my hips sitting down–21″. Goddamn, I have been considering myself a thin person all this time! What was I thinking. My normal-range BMI lied to me! I’m sorry, America, mea culpa, I have an ass. If I were just less hourglass-y, and carried more weight in my gut and less in my hips and ass, I could weigh what I weigh and be thin enough to fly.

  70. Sweet Machine, does it therefore follow that your ass will die 20 years before the rest of you?

  71. my *ass* is fat and therefore I should just admit it and pay extra money.
    Reminds me of my favorite comment of this whole series, by krismcn, where she does some math about seats and space. So, if SM has to pay extra money for her “fat ass,” how much extra money does the commenting ass have to pay for his foul logic?
    I mean, if bigger asses are going to be charged more, this guy appears to be a huge ass, and should be charged accordingly.

    Also, upthread, the whole idea that airplanes are the public transport of the middle class and wealthy, and that somehow, they deserve to be protected from ever having to have another person’s body accidentally touch theirs is at issue here. “Oh my god, a fat person’s body came in contact with mine. Someone must pay! This can never happen!”

    Maybe having a child who is always wanting to be on me in some manner, who is happiest when she is actually on me has made me less concerned about personal space.

  72. A very helpful man in the moderation queue let me know that it’s not that I’m fat as a whole person, but my *ass*giant invisible schlong is fata proportionate actual vagina and therefore I should just admit it and pay extra money.

    There we go.

  73. I think the thing that gets me about this all, is the fact that we are supposed to buy two tickets or risk getting bumped so that “normal” people will be comfortable in their seats. Even if I buy an extra seat I still won’t be comfortable, it is not comfortable to have your rear crossing over the divide of the seats and certainly in no way is comfortable to have a arm rest that even though it is up still digs into your back. I wouldn’t have too big of a problem paying a little bit more for A seat that I can also be seated comfortably, I would still think it was pretty stupid but at least it would seem a bit more fair and less “lets stick it to the fatties and dump the blame for our crappy service on them and maybe it will motivate them to lose weight”

  74. I don’t know if I should bring this up or not, so if y’all don’t think this is a valid concern, let me know, but I’m a little concerned by so many people posting their weight, size, and measurements. It’s just that I know I must not be the only one here who has trouble not comparing herself to others and to numbers that don’t really mean much like weight. Certainly one can say that they’re smaller or larger than most without posting their size. There is the potential to cause a competition of sorts…and for people to define themselves by their size… I’m not asking for y’all to stop, just asking if this is a valid concern in the first place…

  75. KC, I think that’s totally valid. Personally, as someone in recovery for an eating disorder– someone who has literally had panic attacks after reading numbers on a scale– I have actually (and to my surprise) been gathering strength by repeating and internalizing the sheer random chaotic illogic of these numbers. The more such numbers I read, and the more new associations I make, the more I am desensitized. If you look at The Rotund’s Guess My Weight posts, this site’s BMI project, the Photographic Height/Weight Chart, etc… It’s all just confirmation that you can sell a lot of things– including an OMGOBESITYEPIDEMICBOOGABOOGA– with a few contextless, serious-sounding numbers and arbitrary calculations.

    I mean… The whole idea that 200 pounds or 300 pounds is shockingly!! obese, that (in the experience of friends who were phone sex operators) men would HANG UP on them if they gave a weight over 130-135, no matter what height they claimed, heck, even that so many women are running around wearing the wrong size bras because I can’t POSSIBLY be something as granny-like or bovine as an F CUP… It’s oppressive because the goal posts are arbitrary and constantly shifting (mainly farther down the field). Because, hey, if the whole thing made sense, it would be easier to fight.

    And nobody wants that.

    I didn’t mean to go off on a whole rant there (it’s way past my bedtime, INSERT DISCLAIMER BORNE OF FEMALE SOCIALIZATION), but it’s obviously something that’s been lighting a fire under me lately. The truth is that your discomfort is totally valid and completely understandable. It is one that I have shared– and sometimes still do. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the way you feel, particularly given the way we have all been raised to value and devalue ourselves based on these numbers. I just know that I, personally, have also found some value in this kind of discourse. Seeing the incredibly random and not-particularly-“sensical” truth reflected so plainly… It makes me feel, well… a little less crazy.

  76. @CassandraSays — I think it’s fairly reasonable that it is the general dwindling of resources to which people are really reacting when they point the fingers at fat people for “eating the world.” Just as I view Healthism as having emerged from a Baby Boomer population that is, on average, getting older and has to deal with the onset of diseases of aging (heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and some cancers…a familiar list, no?), I view the Obesity Epi-Panic as both emergent from Healthism and fears of overconsumption. The Baby Boomers are starting to face the specter of Death, and are afraid of the diseases of aging (blame the fatties!) and also afraid of leaving their children in a world where ocean waters are rising, and fuel is dwindling (blame the fatties!). And so forth.

    @scattered marbles — Yes, I’ve been abused because of my “wrong” body before, too. And that was 60 lbs thinner. So yes, I think there are people capable of using their privileged status (by *virtue* of their relatively lesser adipose tissue, or shorter legs, or phantom schlong) to argue I should be ejected. Should I, by virtue of the shape of my body about which I can do nothing and for which I carry no moral responsibility towards my fellow man, have to gamble every time I’m waiting in a boarding line?

    @KC — that’s a great point. Certainly we’re not trying to define ourselves or compete with each other using our heights and weights. However, just like taking back the word “fat” is empowering, I think it’s empowering for many people (myself included, at times) to post our true measurements, those same measurements we’ve been told since youth to deflate, inflate, be ashamed of, be proud of, etc. In this space, they’re simply *descriptive* and shown to add context, like the word fat. We’re, in a sense, taking back our unique bodies by taking back our measurements. Does that make sense?

  77. This is the (non-headless) face of obesity, people:

    Huh. I recognize you. Interesting.

  78. They’re made for hobbits, not humans.

    Can we not say things like this anymore? Little people and thin people are humans. The problems are that the seats are so small as to be inaccessible for a huge part of the population, AND the airlines are not accomodating people for whom their facilities are inaccessible free of additional charge, making the accomodations + ticket policies extremely discriminatory.

    KC, like a couple others have said, I think people share their size and weights on sites like this one because it is empowering for them to no longer feel like they need to hide or lie. Also, if more people share their actual weights, maybe general perceptions about what those numbers mean will start to be slightly less distorted. I don’t sense a competitive tone with it. (When a competitive tone has been sensed, like a while ago when one or two people kept mentioning how few calories a day they were eating in a way that sounded like bragging, that got shot down pretty hard.)

  79. I now avoid flying as much as possible with all the accumulated hassles, so I deal with the issue Kate raised in the post you linked to more on the subway: men with broad shoulders encroaching.

    So, if I ever encounter someone being discriminated against based on this policy, I will most certainly point our the broad shouldered men who are also encroaching and therefore must also be held to the same standard.

  80. A very helpful man in the moderation queue let me know that it’s not that I’m fat as a whole person, but my *ass* is fat and therefore I should just admit it and pay extra money.

    It’s almost cute when they try to join the conversation at the grown-ups’ table.

  81. Can we not say things like this anymore? Little people and thin people are humans.

    I was about to say that, but Volcanista beat me to it. There ARE adult human beings who fit fine in the seats, and there’s no need to other them. Doesn’t change the fact that air travel blows for everyone, and the seats are simply unacceptable for people of many sizes and builds.

  82. KC, I agree with you in part because of my eating disorder background. Anytime I see weight numbers less than mine, I think that I ought to be like this person or that person on the blog so I won’t be “as fat” as I am now. I recognize, however, that this pressure comes from a society that values women more as the numbers shrink. To a point (many 80 lb women are pathologized, not praised).

    Last night I was fitted for a new bra. We have a new store called intimacy that is very accepting of fat women and does an amazing job fitting us. I left the store with a beautiful new bra in a size K cup. I had thought I was a G cup. I came home and cried. I felt like a failure because I am so big. But then I started thinking of the beautiful boobies on the women in the “fatties with heads” picture. I remembered how proudly they displayed their cleavage and didn’t look tentatively at the camera and cover their chests. It empowered and validated me. It gave me hope that I could have this attitude someday.

    So now, when I read the weight numbers, I think, “One day I want to be proud of my body and freely display my numbers too.”

  83. Sorry if my numbery posting caused anyone any distress. Not my intention, at no point do I want to engage in a “measuring contest” with any of you. But I realize sometimes that if you have a tendancy to compare yourself it is hard to not do that in your own head. So… yeah… Sorry.

    Though, I do think it is difficult when we’re talking about trying to fit X amount of human in to Y amount of space to discuss it without discussing the sizes of X in relation to Y.

  84. I think the thing that sticks in my craw about the ertswhile commenter and his ilk– and really, every justification for this breed of airline policy– is how illogical and unenforceable (at least not equitably or rationally enforceable) the whole thing is, once you scratch the surface.

    If it were really about safety, then they wouldn’t allow babies to fly on their parents’ laps.

    If it were about weight and the cost of fuel, the vast majority of men would be charged more than the vast majority of women. A 6’4″ man whose hips (if not his other body parts) fit comfortably in his seat might be charged almost twice as much as I would, and a young child about 1/3 as much as me, even if she takes up the same size seat.

    No, no– it’s about comfort! The comfort of, well, everyone who’s not fat! Okay, okay, not exactly! Because they’re all pretty uncomfortable! But they shouldn’t have to touch fatties!

    Except, well… Women (whose hips are primarily the issue here) are much more likely than men to be flying for “leisure,” and therefore much more likely to be flying with a companion.

    Let’s see.

    Most planes have no more than 3 adjacent seats per row. In general, one can almost always book two seats together, and even when one cannot, one is usually able to swap seats in order to sit with her companion. Fat (or just hippy) women are fairly likely (perhaps even more likely than not) to be traveling with A) not-so-hippy men, B) children and/or C) less-hippy women. If we did a little mathematical proof, we’d conclude that most Suspected Seat-Encroachers (SSEs) travel with non-SSEs, most of the time. Given the logistics of airplane travel, SSEs should, most of the time, be able to sit in an aisle or window seat, and their companions in the middle seat. Their companions are unlikely to complain or even really care about any seat encroachment (they probably have the armrest up anyway). And the third customer in the row is not being encroached upon by the non-SSE companion, unless he has a giant invisible schlong entitlement, so… there is no “problem.”

    QED

    At least most of the time.

    So even folks who would cause absolutely no one any discomfort– probably the majority of even “the obeses”– are, can be and may be charged extra for… what? Breathing skinny folks’ air? Or, more to the point– male air?

    Well, it’s a small price to pay to prop up the kyriarchy.

  85. Ugh! Stuff like that is so annoying especially when a company’s definition of normal is so far removed from the truth. My husband is 6ft 4in, and that’s 6ft 4in of big solid healthy fit active man. And he weighs about 110 kilos. For the last couple of years, he went through an office chair about once every six months. There are machines he can’t use in the gym. He can’t sleep on fold-out beds comfortably. You get the picture.

    WHY is furniture all weighted to 100 kilos? Who decided that was where ‘normal’ ended? Why can a perfectly in-proportion tall man have so much hassle getting decent furniture? And clothes, since apparently everyone over 6ft 2in has normal-sized shoulders and a gut the size of a small country…according to the people who make clothes.

    Grr!

  86. I wonder how many of those 700 complaints came from someone sitting next to an acceptably thin person. “Her hips touched mine! Oh the humanity!”

    This. I am waiting for this.
    It is horribly non-PC of me.

  87. Also, upthread, the whole idea that airplanes are the public transport of the middle class and wealthy, and that somehow, they deserve to be protected from ever having to have another person’s body accidentally touch theirs is at issue here.

    Makes you wonder if these people have ever been on actual public transportation, doesn’t it?

  88. Uh, I AM a little, fairly thin person who fits in the seats just fine. Doesn’t change the fact that they’re not appropriately sized for the majority of the population. Sorry if anyone felt othered, but that really wasn’t what I was going for. Why would I be trying to other myself?

  89. Sweet Machine, does it therefore follow that your ass will die 20 years before the rest of you?

    HAHAHAHAHA. I’m glad I already ate, because if I read that with a mouthful of food, I’d be doing a spit-take.

  90. I’m about 2″ taller and 1-2 clothing sizes larger than the “average American woman” (whatever the fuck that means). Last time I flew I fit into the sit, but not comfortable. It was from JFK to Buffalo, so it was a tiny puddle jumper (you know, roughly the same model as what plummeted into a house six months later). I don’t know what that means for the seat width, but I happened to be in a single-seat row, so there was no concern about ass spillage. I have a feeling if I had been sitting next to someone there would have been some outer thigh on their seat.

    And, to be honest, I carry my weight frontally (belly and boobs!) ore than thigh-ally, so someone the same height/weight as me but with more ass and hips could have a vastly (ha) different experience.

  91. Sweet Machine, does it therefore follow that your ass will die 20 years before the rest of you?

    I think this bears repeating, because Richelle totally wins the internets :D

    I’m horrified as well. I’m going to fly for the first time ever in my entire life this December, and our local cheapass airilne (Ryanair) is also considering extra fees for ‘overweight’ people. I don’t know any specifics, so I have no idea if it’s about size or weight, and it makes me even more frightened. I’m going to fly with a friend, our butts are about the same size. She apparently fits just fine, having flown with them a lot before, but what if it is about weight, not size? Then I’m totally fucked.

  92. Women (whose hips are primarily the issue here) are much more likely than men to be flying for “leisure,” and therefore much more likely to be flying with a companion.

    How do you figure?

  93. Sure the seat was 17″? In the past, airlines have said that anything less than 17 1/2 gets passengers trying to bust the crew’s chops at exit. (Wall Street Journal in re Boeing 800’s)

    Yep. Check out seatguru.com. They mostly range between 17.2″ and 17.5″.

  94. I was discussing with my mom which airline we were taking to Disneyworld this winter, cause I didn’t want to give any money to these jerks.

    She said actually United is incredibly cheap, having only one flight per day with first class available. So that’s probably why they’re pulling this nonsense, desperation.

  95. Sorry if anyone felt othered, but that really wasn’t what I was going for. Why would I be trying to other myself?

    CassandraSays, there’s a difference between intention and effect. There’s also the fact that it’s not all about you, and when you talk shit about certain bodies, there is always going to be someone who feels targeted. We don’t do “real bodies”/”humans are all like x” talk around here, and frankly you should know that already. Either apologize or don’t, but cut out the non-apology apology bit.

  96. I have extra space in airplane seats since I carry my weight in my boobs and stomach. That was even when I wore a size 14. My bf is large so I tease him about sharing my seat when we travel together.

  97. Az– I had actually read a statistic on this recently, and it somewhat logically follows (though “conventional wisdom” cannot necessarily be trusted). Men are more likely to use airplanes to travel in general (my guess, besides the business aspect, b/c it is more expensive) and significantly more likely to travel for business (b/c they are more likely to work white collar jobs). Thus women, by default, do more “leisure” (non-business) traveling. Not because women don’t travel for business or have lots of leisure time, but because men disproportionately travel for business.

    Beware! PDF!

    -44% of all air travelers are female, 56% male.
    -77% of business travelers (via air) are male, while 56% percent of leisure travelers (via air) are female.

    I’m not sure if 77% of business travelers are actually male, or if (as I suspect), 77% of the time, if you encounter a business traveler, he is a man. i.e., if 5 people have traveled for business in the last year and 3 are male and 2 female, only 60% of your travelers are male. But if the males travel a total of 7 times, and the females only 3, then 70% of your passenger-trips have been taken by males. YKWIM? That was a big factor in my reasoning.

    As for leisure travelers being more likely to fly with companions than business travelers, I cannot say I have a statistic for that, but I would be fairly surprised to learn otherwise. I’m not sure I can even imagine what would have to be true for that conclusion (that business travelers are more likely to travel with companions than leisure travelers are) to follow.

  98. I’m moving to a new city this summer and United is pretty much all that comes up when I search for flights from new home to parents’ place, where I’ll be flying to the most. As a single woman, and a poor grad student, I very rarely fly with another person, and most of my travel is “leisure”–visiting my family. But I don’t have the luxury of bringing someone else along with me. My dad is a very big guy, and flying is very uncomfortable for him, but he usually has my mom with him to be the person whose body he touches in the plane. I’ve never encountered any discrimination on flights before, but I think I’m going to have to stop doing what I started doing a few years ago, which is I would firmly tell my seatmate, “No, the armrest needs to be up for the duration of the flight (aside from takeoff/landing) because I’m fat and it’s uncomfortable to have it jammed into my flesh.” Men are most often rude about this, but I’ve never had anyone refuse to do so. Now I guess I’ll just have to accept that they have the right to dig the damn thing into my thigh for fear of being called out as a fattie and have to pay extra or get off the plane.

    How do you think this will logistically work? If it’s our seatmates who will be the informers, will the flight attendants kick us off the plane, demand we may right then and there (and still likely not have an extra seat) or will it be a gate agent? I’m trying not to freak myself out about this, but it does worry me. Even if I had the money, how would you go about buying two seats in your name? I just tried to do it, as a test, on orbitz, and it kept correcting me that the names were the same.

  99. Even if I had the money, how would you go about buying two seats in your name? I just tried to do it, as a test, on orbitz, and it kept correcting me that the names were the same.

    My last rooomate was a cellist; she solved this problem by putting in a fake name for the cello.

  100. Do you think that United is setting a precedent that other airlines will follow? I am short (5’3″) and fat (250lbs), which by their standards is hugely overweight but I have never had a serious probelm fitting into a seat and fastening the seatbelt. It seems to me that this is an absurdly subjective policy that in all likelihodd will be made by unqualified people based just on a visual – it’s bonkers. And how about pregnant women? Do they have to get two seats because they can’t fit into one? How will attendants tell if someone is pregnant or just fat? This makes my head hurt…

  101. I would hesitate to say that there’s a significant difference between leisure and business travelers as far as who travels with a companion and who doesn’t.

    A lot of companies send more than one person to a conference, and those people often travel together. Some people travel for business but bring their partners along. And then there are people like me, who travel only for leisure but haven’t flown with a companion in over six years.

  102. LilahMorgan, please tell me that there were a least a few questions asked before a cello lacking a government-issued ID was allowed to board the plane. Was it ever selected for one of those “random” security checks?

  103. So, I have a question — what do you all think would be a good thing to do to support folks who have this policy pulled on them when they show up at the airport? Are there any lawyers who would be willing to put their phone numbers out there, or are people going to have to go through this and then put together a class-action suit?
    I am hoping that there will be a way to have the people who are impacted by this not have to simply suffer or be shamed — knowing it could be me that goes through this. I could probably take the financial hit if I had to — right now, travel in my work is highly restricted for everyone for financial reasons, so the only reason I can see for needing to fly is to visit my family — but I know there are many folks who have just enough for the ticket and not more.
    I don’t know if there’s a way to mobilize a “hotline” or something else, or to get some legal advice about what to document at the time to indicate that the policy is being implemented unfairly (I know the whole thing is unfair).

  104. I kinda just wanna throw somethin’ out there, just because it’s something that’s really been rolling through my brain ever since I’ve heard about the whole 17 inch seat thing.

    If the supposed “ideal” woman is supposed to be 36 – 24 -36 then even 17 inches won’t even fully cover half the “ideal”/”normal” woman’s ass. (right?) Plus… I dunno, but I mean, I’d assume that since my backside is squishier than my front side that I’d actually need more inches allotted for my bum. So I mean, at the least, the seats should be 18 inches wide, but if you’re one to swallow the “men are naturally larger than women” pill, then uh… shouldn’t the seats be at least like… 20 inches just in order to accommodate the supposed “normal” or “ideal” ass? Not to mention the squishier backside thing.

  105. Of course, the seats shouldn’t be catered to “ideal” bodies (whatever those are) but I’m just theorizing all this because even for supposed “normal” people the seats aren’t a reasonable size.

  106. I think it’s a big jump to say that women more often travel with a companion. I’ve traveled with a companion twice. I fly a lot (rarely for business) and I’ve flown with a companion exactly twice (once for business, once when I was a child). I’d be very careful before spouting stereotypes, especially as an activist. We all know how unreliable and biased statistics can be.

  107. slythwolf– Of course, all of those things absolutely occur. I wish I could find more general statistics (I <3 statistics!), but I still find it unlikely that business travelers are more likely to be traveling with a companion than leisure travelers are.

    According to a 2006 LAX Survey (PDF– Figure 30), business travelers were more likely to be traveling alone than other travelers– 70% of business travelers traveled alone, vs. 33% of vacationers and 58% of personal/other travelers. LAX is not the end-all, be-all of airline travel, but it is an extremely busy airport that has lots of business and leisure and “personal business” travelers. Other stats I found confirm that business travelers travel in much smaller parties (less than 2, on average) than other travelers (generally 2.5-4), although those stats are general, and not specific to air travel.

    Though it’s important to question these assumptions, and I’m glad folks brought it up, it’s not critical to the primary point I was attempting to make. The bottom line is that many, many people who would actually cause no one else (who would complain) any discomfort would be preemptively punished under these kinds of policies. Which is not to say that anyone who might cause a stranger discomfort should be victimized either– we don’t have a right to “comfort” on an airplane, when it comes to our fellow travelers. We don’t have the right to any particular hygienic, non-coughing, non-snoring, attractive, introverted rowmate with a heart of gold and a pocketful of chocolates to share– although some people can’t get that through their entitlement complexes. We have the right to roll the dice when it comes to our row-mates, and to spend more to put extra space between them and us. The end. But considering the practical applications (and who they would exclude) does kinda highlight the absurdity of these policies.

    Related again to demographics, a BTS report states that “The typical business traveler is likely to be male; work in a professional, managerial, or technical position; be 30 to 49 years old; and have an income well above the population average.” Business travelers/men mean more $$, and it would be my guess (and of course, I’m not the only one who has conjectured it) that, on average, they are the fatphobic complainants. So again, on average, we are talking about wealthier white men complaining about less-wealthy women, which is pretty much the entire reason we have these policies and less outrage about them than one would hope.

  108. And AZ… I’m not sure why you would characterize statistics as stereotypes. Isn’t it more likely (or at least as likely) that one will end up reinforcing stereotypes when one relies on anecdote and personal experience? As a general rule, of course.

    I certainly don’t think stats always supercede other kinds of evidence, but neither do I think, in this case, that they reinforce stereotypes. Women as a group are less-wealthy, less likely to travel for business, more likely to travel with children, etc. Stereotypes only come into the picture when one uses these facts to make a moral (or oppressive) judgment. These things are true not because women are less-than, or because they don’t have heads for business, or are any more naturally nurturing than men. They are true because of sexism (among other oppressive forces). And I bring them up to point out, as Sweet Machine has, that fatphobia– specifically in this case, but also in general– is an intersectional oppression that hits women, the poor, POC, et al. the hardest.

  109. I have never flown with a companion, I have always been by myself, which is a little frightening anyway lol, and being that I don’t see having my significant other around me anytime soon being that he lives 5 states away and our situations don’t allow a change in that anytime soon. I will not be flying with a companion anytime in the foresee-able future either. The one time I was going to be flying with companions, sister and brother in law, they really didn’t make it any easier and kind of seemed reluctant to fly with me, which in a way I could understand and is why I called off my trip to Africa to visit the place I was born. So no just cause the person is female doesn’t mean they would be flying with a companion.

  110. It’s interesting that the view of all non-business travel is automatically leisure. As if people do not use air travel to move, go to job interviews, or take care of any number of non-employment related business.

    I’m excited. If I’m not allowed to fly at the price of one fare, that means that they’ve discovered immortality and there won’t be any deaths in the family I’ll have to travel for. Right? It couldn’t be that they’re just screwing me out of my right to go to funerals.

  111. So no just cause the person is female doesn’t mean they would be flying with a companion.

    Yes… of course.

    It’s interesting that the view of all non-business travel is automatically leisure.

    Sometimes (as in the LAX survey) “leisure”/non-business is classified separately as vacation/leisure and “personal business,” i.e., traveling to visit family, medical travel, etc. Although I’d guess going to a job interview would be counted as business, but IDK.

  112. Here’s my nightmare scenario:

    At the airport. Had to book a United ticket because it was the cheapest fare and I’m trying to set a good example and save T&E money which particularly now could mean the difference between saving or cutting one of my colleagues’ jobs. Waiting area is packed. Flight is delayed. People are cranky.

    Instead of asking for volunteers to give up their seats, United starts pulling large people aside as we board. (Taking even more time, as the crowd at the gate mumbles hostilities.) As I get closer and closer to boarding…am I going to be one of these people? I want to say something, scream, but — I have to get to Chicago.

    I make it past the gauntlet and board the plane, simmering with rage at United, the world, myself. I reach my window seat sit down, buckle my seatbelt. The armrest lifts a bit under my thigh…

    My seatmate, a twitchy elbowy woman OR man with phantom giant schlong, notices the armrest is lifted up. Does he/she: a)jam the armrest down, rolling eyes and sighing loudly; b)complain loudly and bitterly to everyone around them; c)ring the call button to have me escorted off the plane; d)all of the above?

    How late will I be for my meeting? What price will I be charged? How will my company respond?

    Etc., etc.

    It’s insane that this is something we, meaning mostly women size ten and up, “qualify” for and have to worry about; that we can be made a target of others’ frustration in lieu of the proper target, the airline itself, with no recourse; that we will be humiliated AND overcharged AND have our plans subject to change at the last minute, or that we will be made to bear witness to this happening to others.

    An entity like United institutionalizing this kind of bigotry is something everyone should be concerned about, whether or not it specifically affects them.

    “Rosa Parks moment,” interesting. Yeah…I might go ballistic if I see this happen, I mean, I hope I go ballistic and don’t just meekly board. Dunno.

  113. I think it’s worth noting that Rosa Parks’ action was well-planned in advance, and that she was specifically chosen to represent the movement because she was “respectable”– i.e., she wasn’t a pregnant teen like Claudette Colvin. And of course, that even Parks’ arrest was not the turning point for segregation. Going ballistic or anything that even hints at anger/”low-class behavior” tends to result in unpleasantness and condemnation as per my link above to the story of Tamara Nopper. Which is bull, but is what it is.

  114. The person next to me on a plane doesn’t want a FATTY next to them? That’s funny, I don’t want a MORON next to me either, but I’m not allowed to complain about that.

    Great blog. I mostly lurk, so I thought I’d step up and say hello. :)

  115. Well, then, to your point:

    I and others have written to United and gotten a canned response.

    I have contacted my federal reps (deafening silence).

    I am going to do my best not to give United my dollars — but when they are my company’s dollars, that’s another issue altogether.

    And…after that?

    Dignity is great and all, but I’m afraid we live in a media culture that rewards the squeaky wheels.

  116. Here’s a suggestion for all fliers, not just those on UA (since many other airlines already enforce a similar policy):

    Have a notebook handy in your carry-on, something you can easily pull out. If anything, *anything* starts happening to yourself OR another person with respect to size discrimination, write down the time, the name of the staff member if you can see it, and start writing.

    After the entire incident has concluded (for good or ill), blog it. Send it to newspapers and news channels. Send it to me (I have a new blog that will be a collection of everybody’s personal experiences with size discrimination). Get it out there.

    That’s what I plan on doing. That way I’ll have a record. Additionally, the idea of you writing down what’s going on might even deter some people — the “anonymous troll” effect, you know. They might not want to be possibly held responsible, even if they were trained to enforce these size discriminatory rules.

    The pen is mightier than the sword!

  117. I just traveled from Portland,OR to Portland, ME twice on United as a 355 pound woman. No problems with my weight at all. I think the trick is to have your husband carry your screaming 1 year old in front of you- no one looks at your cute tooshie as you strut your stuff when your devil spawn is having a tantrum . ( am I death fat?, just curious,never heard that term before) My very favorite airline to travel on is Alaska-so great!,Delta is OK and I was never going to fly on united again anyway because they stranded us in Chicago for 3 days (at our expense)and then put us in the very back row where the seats don’t even recline and expected us to be grateful as poop smells wafted out of the lavatories.

  118. write down the time, the name of the staff member if you can see it, and start writing.

    Ugh, obviously you’ve already started writing at this point…needz cofeez 2 improv grammer… ;)

  119. bigliberty, it would be interesting to start recording it too, if one had a camera or cell phone that could.

  120. After the entire incident has concluded (for good or ill), blog it. Send it to newspapers and news channels. Send it to me (I have a new blog that will be a collection of everybody’s personal experiences with size discrimination). Get it out there.

    This is a good idea, I think… but be careful. I have a good friend who had something very scary happen to him in a foreign country involving staff of a U.S.-based airline, and the lengths to which the airline and its legal staff were willing to go to keep their staff out of prison and then keep the story from getting into papers was very frightening. So cover your legal bases, if you can.

  121. @scattered marbles – Thanks. I’m really interested in making a space where people can just get their story out and know there’s a support network. Hopefully it can encourage some people out of the woodwork who shy away from blogging — I know blogging isn’t for everyone. I’m interested in really capturing our voices, putting the heads back on the “headless fatties,” or something like that ;)

    @car – You know, I was thinking about that and was a little hesitant. The last thing I want to do in a post 9/11 world is make someone think what I’m doing is a security risk (a creative security member could argue filming the inside of the terminal is a security risk, I’m sure). Writing with a pen on paper, now, not much they can do with that.

    @volcanista – Yeah, I hoping to intimidate with my wily facts and figures and my patient writing down of whatever they say, so hopefully that will convince them it isn’t worth their while to try to bump me. I don’t know if I’m prepared to really *be* bumped. :P

  122. 1) Thank you to everyone who responded so kindly. It means a lot. I understand what you guys are saying – seeing all the different measurements and sizes does pretty much prove that the assumptions made by the media and clothing companies and so-called authorities on “health” are ridiculous. To tell you the truth, I am a little envious, because the thought of saying, “This is my size/weight/measurement and when I post this the only meaning behind those numbers are that they describe a physical feature-they have no other meaning” would be a total lie. At the present moment, I do not know what I weigh, because to know the number would cause my mind to focus purely on that number, instead of anything else. Perhaps by continuing to read this blog, I will eventually be able to know my numbers without it causing to question my very existance. Ugh! Our society is SO incredibly messed up!

    2) No one has to apologize, as this is my own problem. Perhaps reading the numbers can be part of the healing process. If I ever feel overwhelmed, I figure it’s my own responsibility to figure out how to handle it.

    3)bigliberty – Be sure to let everyone know where your blog is once you start it!

    4) “I’d assume that since my backside is squishier than my front side that I’d actually need more inches allotted for my bum.” OMG That made me laugh out loud. Not many people have buns of steel! Soft and squishy seems to be the norm.

  123. A bit late, but a thought about the logistics of bumping that I haven’t seen mentioned, and that make me question how far these proposals are really practical (on the plane, as opposed to practical for frightening people with, which they clearly are).

    Assume a scenario in which the plane (or the relevant section of it) is full. Upon boarding, Person A complains that Person B is encroaching on their seat and should be moved. The only place to move Person B is off the plane. Again assuming Person B agrees to go, that is absolutely not problem solved, because Person B’s luggage is still in the hold. So now the plane will be delayed whilst the luggage is unloaded and Person B’s belongings are located – which could be anywhere, because there’s no baggage sticker saying “Belongs to fat person: load last”.

    Result: one passenger is appeased, but in all likelihood has also been embarrassed, because Person B won’t actually have gone quietly, and everyone nearby will have been loudly tutting at A for making a fuss (at least if they’re British). One passenger is significantly disadvantaged in several ways. AN ENTIRE PLANE-FULL of passengers is absolutely livid that some whiner caused the plane to miss its slot, and some of them may now miss onwards connections, and some of them are probably feeling really uncomfortable both about what happened, and that they might be the next victim. The stewards are probably stressed. The airport management is annoyed with the airline. This is not going to be a happy flight. This does not seem to me a win win outcome for the airline, even if they rustle up two extra seats on the next flight and are able to charge for them.

  124. @KC – I completely understand being numbers-shy. It’s a trigger for a lot of people, because for a long time we were told that those numbers had the power to determine our worth as women and/or human beings.

    Oh, and I’m sorry, I must have forgotten to link the blog! It’s ready to go if anyone is interested in sending in a story or two.

    fathate.wordpress.com

  125. It’s hard to find skinnier than me (although I have shapely and squishy butt/hips/thighs) and I am 16″ across the hips when I sit down. I fit a coach seat pretty neatly. I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS SHIT.

  126. As someone who used to fly recreationally–

    IF they want to do this fairly, the only logical thing to do here is to use poundage in calculating ticket cost, NOT width or how many seats you take up or whatever.

    I assure you the ridiculously buff football linebacker costs three times as much fuel than my (or the OP’s) ass.

    Of course, that assumes a fairly straight up correlation between what your ticket pays for and the percentage of the added fuel needed to transport everyone from point A to point B, which is not a given.

    At the commenter who complained about the reshuffling on puddle jumpers: that could actually be a weight and balance problem. I can understand it would be frustrating and humiliating, but so is having the plane tilt because one side had all the kids and their families, and the other all the adults. Now, the “eyeballing it” criteria they are using are probably not accurate, but the need to balance out the payload is very real.

  127. Oh, to add: “poundage” there SHOULD include the weight of your carry ons. I don’t know why they don’t factor that in and instead go only by volume. Volume=! density.

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