Flying While Fat: A Story That Doesn’t Involved Humiliation
I’m a member of a few travelling-while-fat online groups, and one thing that comes up over and over is people’s fear of flying as a fat woman. One of the shittiest things about travelling is the anxiety airlines cause for people on the regular. Which is doubly annoying, considering flights are often the most expensive part of the trip.
Every day I do my best to approach the world with weight-neutral eyes.
Most frequently this means reworking my internal scripts about my body, but not always. There are still activities that cause me anxiety with my size. Flying is one of them. And I’m coming from a relatively privileged place on this front–I’m a US size 20, with most of my weight around the middle, and I have never needed a seat belt extender while flying. I can keep the armrests down. But even so, look. I realize I’m not the one you want next to you in the middle seat. Trust me, I don’t want to be there either.
I keep trying to write more about airlines and their accommodation (or lack thereof) of customers of size, and how staff and other customers turn it into a dehumanizing experience for fat people, but frankly I get so aggravated I have to step away. I’m going to state this clearly, up front: I am a firm believer in one person, one fare. If an airline’s seats are too small for someone, that person should be accommodated with an additional seat or a seat in another part of the aircraft free of charge. If you’re not on board that’s fine, but I am absolutely not going to argue with you in this space.
One of these days I’ll actually get that post together, but for today I’m going to share a positive story about flying while fat.
One year ago, my husband and I went to Namibia for three weeks. We worked with Discover Namibia Safari (highly recommended) to create an itinerary for a self-drive safari, and it was amazing. There were a few things I really wanted to see while we were there, and one of them was the Long Wall and the Skeleton Coast. The best way to get those incredible aerial views is, perhaps unsurprisingly, by plane.
Our travel agent suggested Scenic Air Windhoek. When we booked our seats, we were informed that the ultimate price would be dependent on whether they were able to add additional people to the flight. For budget purposes we penciled in the price if it ended up just being the two of us, but hoped they’d book a few extra fares.
Then I got to thinking.
Another company I had seen mentioned weight limits for shuttle flights, and while there wasn’t anything on Scenic Air’s website, I wondered if that might be a factor for a scenic flight. I figured I’d rather be safe than sorry (and worried about showing up and needing to be weighed and potentially turned away) I emailed them. Sure enough, they have a limit. For women, 70kg (~154 pounds) and 90kg (~198 pounds) for men.
HAHAHA154 pounds? I don’t think I’ve weight that since high school. I thought I’d be embarrassed, but that’s a hilariously low limit considering the average U.S. woman weighs ten pounds more. My trim 6’2” husband isn’t too far below the male limit, even. Also, why are the two different? Doesn’t matter. I emailed back and said I was over the limit. My email did not include an apology. Scratch that, it probably did but I edited it out before sending (#knowthyself).
^Basically me, always.
We were given two choices: hope the flight doesn’t fill and risk being turned away, or book a small charter the flight for ourselves. In tiny, four or six-seater planes, I get it. You have to budget for fuel on the spot in a way an international commercial airline doesn’t. There are strict rules about how much additional stuff you can bring with you, too. They can’t have people lugging 60 pounds of camera equipment, because there literally isn’t room in the plane.
And you know what? I am really fucking lucky. Because I’m in a position to charter the flight. We knew it would be the most expensive part of our trip, but I didn’t want to pass it up. I had originally budgeted around $1,000 for it, but I was *really* hoping to spend less than that. Chartering a small Cessna scenic flight for just my husband and I came in around $620 total. It was worth every penny. One of the most incredible things I’ve ever done. And when it comes to flying while fat, I’ll take a win anywhere I can get it.
The moral of this isn’t a flippant “just pony up for the extra seat”–and I don’t want it to be construed that way. Rather, I just wanted to share one positive story as a counterpoint to the ceaseless deluge of shitty things airlines do on the regular. There was a time in the not-so-distant past that I would have either: (1) not booked the flight out of fear of being too fat, (2) upon finding out the weight limit, found some other excuse to weasel out of it without admitting I had a problem with the weight limit, and/or (3) burned with shame and take the whole thing out one myself. But I remind myself: I am allowed to take up space. I am allowed to ask for what I need. So are you.