To fat to fly?

When this first became news I wasn’t going to write about it. I know we are, well a lot of us are anyway, trying to lose weight and I didn’t want to rub salt into any wounds but it’s just not going away. It was a blurb on our “Good To know” the other night and I’m putting it right here:

“This story has already made the rounds of cable television and talk radio. An admittedly rotund, famous guy was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight because the captain said he didn’t fit in the seat. Don Shelby said it is good to know that we can still care about such things.

First, the guy is the famous movie director Kevin Smith. If it happened to Bob Smith down at the filling station, it would not have been news, guaranteed. So, there’s that. He is “Silent Bob” in the “Jay and Silent Bob” movies. He says, in his own words, that he’s a fat guy.

Some have reported that he usually buys two seats, but flying standby, he could get only one, which he says he fit into comfortably. But, the Captain didn’t think so.

Smith is having fun with this, but it does raise some questions. Are the airlines making seats smaller just when health officials tell us that we are all getting bigger? Does it mean we all may be looking at double seating one day?

A caller to ‘CCO radio said today, “My carry-on has to fit into a test frame before boarding. Is the next step fitting into a test seat?”

Then there was this one:

“Southwest Airlines has a policy that requires fuller-figured fliers to buy more than one ticket. Flight attendants are trained to be on the lookout for passengers who can’t buckle their seat belts or put both arm rests down. But determining whether a person is too big to fit in a single seat should happen at the check-in desk, not on the plane.

Southwest instituted its “customer of size” policy more than 25 years ago. Like many other carriers, it requires passengers who need extra space to pay for a second seat. If the flight ends up having vacancies, the cost of the second ticket is refunded.

But Southwest blundered Saturday when it ejected Kevin Smith, the Red Bank-born movie maker, from a flight from Oakland to Burbank, Calif. Smith had paid for two seats on a later flight but was on standby for the earlier plane; he was allowed to board even though only one seat was available.

The check-in crew at the gate was wrong to let Smith board without making sure he could be accommodated. That left it to the flight crew to remove him from the plane, embarrassing Smith and inconveniencing other passengers. The airline later apologized.

Brandy King, a spokeswoman for Southwest, acknowledges that when it comes to asking portly passengers to purchase a second seat, “Ideally, that conversation should take place before the passenger boards the plane.” Indeed, an airline that prides itself on customer service should take a far more diplomatic approach with its “customers of size.”

How do you guys feel? I feel a couple of ways. Part of me thinks he usually buys two seats so he must not be comfortable in one. He says he “likes the extra room” but really, do a lot of people do this? I don’t know. I don’t fly. I also know I wouldn’t want to feel closed into my seat and feel I couldn’t get out if someone was that big and blocking my way. I’m very claustrophobic that way but neither would I want to sit next to a baby or a toddler or a talker or a snorer or many other types of behaviors that would make flying seem all the worse to me. I think I would become way to annoyed. But that’s not to be taken as I don’t love heavy people and small children. If I were to fly, I’d want to feel calm and at peace.

What do you think?

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18 Responses to To fat to fly?

  1. joanharvest says:

    Tough question. I know one thing for sure. I will never get on an airplane if I don’t have to and if I ever have to I will take drugs and drink. 80 pounds ago I doubt that I would have felt comfortable in one seat if I were to fly. I don’t like sitting too close to anyone anyway so if I were spilling over onto the seat next to me I know I would buy two seats. I certainly would prefer the airline to be sensitive to a situation that involves wanting someone to buy two seats because of their vastness. Certainly you wouldn’t tell them on the airplane in front of other passengers. As far as babies are concerned, my daughter, her hubby and Lilah are flying to Florida on Wednesday. It’s a three hour flight and Lilah will be on one of their laps. I can honestly say I’m glad I’m not going. I need a break from all three of them and I am looking forward to a week by myself. My daughter is very concerned about the other passengers and I know she will do everything in her power to keep Lilah entertained. She is lucky that Lilah is really good in that type of situation. She is easily entertained. I pray it all goes well. If I were to get on an airplane I know I would want peace and quiet. Hopefully I wouldn’t be to drunk and contribute to the noise. LOL

    • Joy says:

      It’s wonderful to see you Joan. I know, it’s a hard situation. I’m very torn. I would only fly IF I HAD TO and then maybe I still wouldn’t. I have never liked it. I’m not afraid, I just don’t like the feeling of it.

      I hope you enjoy your time alone. I’ll bet you’re so excited.

  2. Tessa says:

    I agree with you, Joy. I feel bad he was embarrassed, but the airline I can understand not allowing him to fly if he does not fit in the seat. This makes the person next to him very uncomfortable. I know how small the seats are, I am thin and there is not more than an inch on each side of me. I felt bad when I flew last summer solo with my 9 month old, and got stuck between 2 men!! The younger gent wasn’t happy, but the grandpa next to me was very sweet about it. Luckily, Ben slept and I kept him happy with the help of the grandpa at times. At Christmas, Eric and I were lucky to have an open seat next to us on the way there, and on the way back a girl my age who was just so sweet to us and Ben. I am really PRAYING that the Navy will pay for Ben to have a seat to Japan, otherwise we will probably pay for it because that is too long for him to be in a lap!!

  3. Laura says:

    This is a really touchy subject for me… yeah, I’m heavy, and yeah, I still fit in those seats. But….

    When I went to Alaska last summer, it was two combined flights, totaling about 9 hours in the air, one way. On one of those flights, there was a gentleman in the seat in front of me with one of the worst colds I’ve ever witnessed. He was sneezing, coughing, hacking, snorking, gakking all over the place. He must have gone through a full box of tissues and then some. Nobody said a word, even though I could tell that his seatmates were uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable, and I was behind him! It was disgusting, to say the least.

    On another of the flights, I sat next to a woman who must have been wearing a gallon of perfume. And not the good stuff. You could smell her a mile away, and we were in close quarters, so I got to smell her for six hours straight. By the end of the flight, my eyes were burning, and my nose had shut down.

    Both of those people made me uncomfortable, their habits encroached in my personal space. And yet, neither were asked to leave.

    Our society has decided that there are a few people on which it’s ok to pick: White men, fat people, and parents with less-than-Beaver-Cleaver Children.

    Should a person who obviously doesn’t fit in a single seat be asked to leave the flight? Probably, especially if it’s a safety issue. If that person can’t buckle the seat belt, or cannot get out of his/her seat quickly, cannot exit the plane quickly in an emergency, perhaps yes. But we must be careful, because those parameters may exclude someone in a wheelchair, as well.

    But don’t talk to me about “making others uncomfortable” – because the airline’s job is not to make you comfortable. If that was the case, they wouldn’t be cramming passengers in like sardines, adding extra rows without making the planes bigger, or charge ridiculous fees for blankets and pillows.

    And if it’s the airline’s job to make you comfortable, then that guy with the nasty cold and the woman with the gallon of perfume should have been standing on the tarmac next to the fat guy and the woman whose child dared be a kid and cried for more than three seconds.

    • Joy says:

      I know just what you mean Laura. There are MANY cases in which I wouldn’t want to sit next to someone. The perfume lady is one of the reasons I don’t like going to movies in theaters. I HATE most perfumes and they make me sick. Literally. I’m not sure I could have tolerated that like you did.

      I don’t know, I hate to fly. I hate the stale air you breath and I hate being in such close quarters as all those people that I don’t know. I haven’t been on a plane since roughly, 96 or 97 and I probably will never fly again.

      The whole “fat thing” has me really thinking that it’s just not okay to pick and choose who we treat so badly. When I read that this man always bought two seats and he himself said he’s more comfortable that way, it made me think “really, people always buy two seats?” Who can afford that? I mean, that’s doubling the cost of your trip. Now I realize this man is a movie director but what about poor Jane Doe down the street who can’t afford that? I also heard one news anchor “kidding around” *of course* saying that “if he bought two seats, he got two lunches.” Figures right, fat people and eating….that ticked me off. Not everyone who is overweight is an overeater. There are more reasons for it than that. Me, I’m not an overeater but I tend to get very lazy and lax and don’t move around enough.

      It also makes me think back in the day when flying was an honor to do. We would get all dressed up. There was no flying is sweats. People took pains to look nice and act nice. Flying was something very special to do. In my honest opinion, I think people just hop on and off planes way to much. It’s turned into such a nasty thing all these airplanes. Charging you an arm and a leg to fly in the first place and now they charge for extra bags. They cut way down on the food. They are now charging for pillows and blankets. You have to be almost strip searched and treated like a criminal and they have the police waiting to escort you off the plane if your kids cries or someone swears.

      Why do so many people put themselves through this is beyond me.

      I have another article that I’m going to scan right now and put on here. It kind of goes hand in hand with this subject. I don’t like posting twice on the same day but it fits.

  4. Vicki says:

    I dont know why he just dont fly first class, those seats are roomy, although expensive. Noway shouldve that airline confronted him infront of all those passengers, how embarrassing for him and how rude. When i was flying to the Uk i had to go thru Atlanta, from Mpls to Atlanta i sat next to a HUGE man, he was a college football player, He was tall and big all around mustve been pushing 275-300 lbs atleast, Im not a small person myself but i tried to make as much room as possible for him so he wouldnt feel uncomfortable, although with his size he couldnt of possibly felt comfortable. i was not bothered by it because it was just a 3 hour flight, now had this been on the 9 hour flight it wouldve been an entirely different situation.

    • Joy says:

      I was thinking the same thing about why he didn’t fly first class Vicki. Does first class cost more than buying two tickets? Besides, if a movie director can’t afford first class, who can??

      It also proves a good point that there are some people who are just bigger than others and sometimes it has nothing to do with being fat.

  5. SKL says:

    Well, first of all, I am a little skeptical as to whether this guy was seriously abused or whether he was just using this opportunity to make a statement at the expense of the airlines. You know what they say, nobody can make you feel crappy without your permission. I’m sure they didn’t go up and say “you are a big fat pig” so if he decided to take it that way, that’s partly his fault, isn’t it? Also, it is clear that he knew he was likely to not fit into the seat, so in my opinion, he was wrong to embarrass the flight crew by forcing them to tell him he was fat. I mean, who wants to be in that position? There’s no nice, comfortable way to say that.

    I’ve been the skinny person who had to sit next to the “overflowing” one. It was not fair to me that a grown woman (stranger) was basically sitting on my lap for hours. And believe me, I scootched over as far as I could, and we were still way too intimate. I paid full fare for only part of my seat, and an extremely uncomfortable ride.

    I don’t think they should make the seats too small for most of the population, but if we’re honest, that’s not what’s happening here. Yes, the seats are fairly snug, but it is only a small minority of people who actually have to purchase a second seat on account of their size. I have flown with plenty of obese people who fit into the seats just fine. So no, I don’t think the airlines are making the seats skinny just to force people to buy two. I think they are doing it so they can fit more people on the plane and reduce the cost per passenger. Which, in turn, reduces the fare per passenger. I mean, we all know the airlines aren’t making huge profits nowadays. So if they made all the seats wider, are we all willing to pay a lot higher fares for that convenience? People who are willing to pay extra for a wider seat can fly in a higher class. The rest of us would rather not pay more, and I think we shouldn’t have to.

    Now, I do have a few ideas for the airlines. How about having a few broad but non-first-class seats on the plane, or a few seats where there are no arm rests and it can be used for 2 or 3 (or even 4) people depending on the width of their butts? They could charge more for the wider seats, but it wouldn’t be as much as buying a whole new seat. And if they didn’t have any extra-heavy people on a given flight, they would still be able to seat almost as many people on a full flight.

    The idea to measure the butts before boarding would basically require having demo seats for every plane (they are not all the same) in every boarding zone. (I mean, it’s not the size of your butt when you’re standing, but when you’re sitting, right? Not the same.) That sounds like a big outlay of money for an industry that has been on the verge of bankruptcy for years. The other suggestion – that all the employees look us all up and down to see if we seem to cross the line of rotundity – aside from distracting them from their other duties, e.g., keeping terrorists from boarding the planes, that is just too subjective. I wouldn’t want to be in that position. Can you imagine being fired because you failed to realize someone’s ass was a half inch broader than the benchmark? Or a half inch narrower?

    Most of my friends and relatives are what they themselves consider “fat,” and none of them is blaming it on the airlines. (None of them has needed to buy a second seat yet, either.) It could be worse – at least the airlines offer a solution that works in most cases. I remember when my granny got thrown off an amusement park ride because they couldn’t close the bar over her belly. Oh, well! She laughed it off. It is what it is.

    • Joy says:

      Yes, it is what it is. That’s the bottom line.

      I love your idea of the seats with no hand rests. They would be used no matter what and maybe get rid of some of the embarrassment. Kevin Smith himself said he was going to “use this and make a point” but I’m not sure what his point really was. I don’t know if he’s been abused before this way or what. I also agree with everyone on the fact that they shouldn’t even have let him board if he was “to fat” to fit into one seat. I saw him in an interview and he doesn’t look “that fat” to me. He’s big but…..There was also an idea that there should be some kind of a “test seat” and if you can’t fit into that, you need two seats. There’s no way I feel any Tom, Dick or Harry should be responsible for judging someone to fat to fit into a seat. Unless of course it was in the job description and I highly doubt it is. Is it???

      • SKL says:

        The problem with a “test seat” is there are probably over 100 different shapes/sizes of airline seat. Plus, this would be just as public (or more public) versus what happened in your linked story. I really think it should be up to the large passengers to figure out whether they have an issue. Look it up online (airlines should post the seat widths for each flight) and find out what the parameters are for the seats, sit down and measure yourself in the privacy of your own home.

        It floors me that some people think they should be allowed to sit on the person next to them. I could understand complaining about the cost, the seat widths, the method of communicating limits, etc., but ultimately, you can’t overflow into the next occupied seat.

  6. mssc54 says:

    Looks to me like someone got their 15 pounds of fame. 🙂

    It’s not just about the portly passengers. It’s about the other passengers that are invaded upon who have paid for their full seats too. Heck I get annoyed when I can’t get both arm rests in the movie theater. lol

  7. Laura says:

    I think the first thing that everyone – fat, skinny, rose-smelling or skunk-smelling – has to realize is that flying is public transportation. Nothing more, nothing less.

    It may have been more, once upon a time, when flying was a privilege of the rich, and then something that you did for special occasions only. But after a while (was it “deregulation”? I was too young to remember any details of that), it became less a privilege and a special thing, and became just a bus with wings.

    The airlines haven’t accepted that, and lots of people haven’t accepted that, either.

    Buses have removed armrests (or never had them in the first place). They’ve made bench seats, some have even removed seats and put in locking devices to accommodate wheelchairs. And they have not sacrificed the safety of the passengers – not the crosstown bus, and not the cross country bus. The same can be said about commuter trains. I’ve not had experience with cross-country train travel.

    The airlines, as I said, have continued to add seats to the planes, which has narrowed aisle space while adding to the cargo (including people cargo), making the load heavier. And then they get reactive, and tell people that they have to bring less luggage and be skinnier, or pay more.

    If there are THAT many more passengers (and the fact that planes are full, and continue to be double-booked suggests that there are), that they have to reconfigure the planes and add seats, why not add another flight to the route, and stop stuffing the plane? Put in slightly larger seats. FIND A WAY to make your flights economical while treating your passengers like people, not like sardines. I’d venture a guess that most people, if they know they’re not going to eat on the plane, will leave a few minutes earlier and grab a snack on the way to the airport. If your flight is two hours, honestly, you don’t need to eat in those two hours! If they know there’s not going to be a blanket, they’ll bring a sweatshirt. People can adapt. The airlines need to, as well.

    On the other hand, I don’t think people have accepted the “mass transportation” nature of flying, either. They remember, or have been told, of the days of “The Friendly Skies”, where their every whim was satisfied, where they could choose their meal and it was cooked to order, where the stewardess fluffed your pillow, and folded your coat away for you. Does the bus driver do that? No. Does the conductor on the commuter train do that? No.

    A flight is a couple-hour slice out of your life. A way to get from point A to point B, where there will be more comfortable seats, with quiet children and sweet smelling, healthy non-horking people. But for two hours, you can be uncomfortable. I know you might be skinny, and squishing over to make room for that really large person next to you is uncomfortable. But do you think it’s a bed of roses for her? Think it feels like her comfy couch at home to be stuffed into that seat? Think that linebacker next to you enjoys having his knees crammed against the seat in front of him, and the armrests digging into his sides for two hours? No. EVERYONE is uncomfortable. EVERYONE has to accept that human beings were not cut by cookie cutters, and are not the same size.

    And it’s time we made our machines conform to us, and stopped trying to make humans conform to the machines.

    • SKL says:

      I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree here. If someone had forcibly imposed his/her body upon mine in any other situation, it would be a crime. If it’s not so bad on an airplane, why is it bad anywhere else?

      My question is, how much fatter do the seats have to get before they are fat enough? Does the 800-lb man have to be able to fit in the seat? Where should the line be drawn? I think if most obese people fit in the seats (and they do), the airlines should not be held accountable for the few who don’t.

      I agree that flying isn’t “comfortable.” I’ve flown many, many times; my previous job got to the point where I was traveling more often than not. I hated it at first, then pretty much got used to it. But just that. Whether or not you have someone encroaching on your little space, it’s still little and, for someone like me with a spinal curvature and arthritis, it’s damned uncomfortable to begin with. You have an assortment of nice people and assholes all around you, whether you’re skinny or fat. You still have to cut back on the caffeine to reduce the chance that you’ll need to go to the plane bathroom when the service cart is in the aisle (which is pretty much always). If you do go to the bathroom after the first 15 minutes of flight, you have someone else’s pee to deal with. Chances are, you’re on your way to a business meeting that requires you to spend most of the time working (hard to do if someone is sitting on you!) I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to expect a little tiny “self space” even if it’s less than an inch on each side. And no matter how wide they make the seats – up to a point – there will always be someone whose butt is wider.

      I’m not saying that isn’t also bad to have to breathe in perfumes and listen to little monsters scream for hours. Been there too! And my personal pet peeve is when couples are practically having sex in the seat next to me. But those issues don’t negate the fact that I don’t want to become a couch cushion as soon as I board a plane.

      • Laura says:

        I agree that the 800-lb guy should buy two seats, fly first class, or make other transportation arrangements. You’ll find no argument there.

        I just feel like, whenever this discussion comes up in any forum, there is a lot of “just eat salads, fatty, and slim down!! Stay out of my space!”

        And the airlines tend to come down on that side of the argument.

        But, does anyone remember – perhaps you do, SKL – back when a 737 had one row of 3 seats and one row of 2? The aisle was a little wider, or perhaps the seats were a little bigger. I don’t know. But now, there are TWO rows of 3 seats each, so they can cram more people on the plane.

        Instead of planning a flight with 3-5 seats unoccupied, in case this situation arises, planes are being double-booked, and if you’re crammed in, too bad, so sad, eat a salad.

        The blame falls on both sides of the aisle.

        And it’s unreasonable to expect one segment of the population to just pack up and go away. As I’ve outlined, I’ve had people coughing, stinking, even their baggage overflowing into my space, and never seen any of those people removed from the plane. It’s just the ones we, as a society, have deemed “fair game”.

        • SKL says:

          I think “stay out of my space” is not the same as “eat a salad.” I think the airlines are accommodating by offering the option to buy two seats. I think they could do better, and I’ve offered a couple of suggestions. But under no circumstances should the passenger in the next seat have to “bear the brunt” of the problem.

          Maybe they should let wide people pay the narrow people to give up some of their space. As long as it is consensual on both sides, right?

          Regardless of what anyone thinks of heavy people, they can’t change their weight the way stinky people can take a bath (which reminds me of a whole other airline peeve). I figured that out long before I ever sat on a plane. The wide lady who sat on me was otherwise very nice and I am not saying she should have been thrown off the plane. But I shouldn’t have had a third of my seat taken away from me, either, at least not without compensation.

          I had a boss who was 6’6″ and had a very hard time sitting in the regular seats, even for the shortest flights. Knowing this, he went out of his way to arrange for a seat with enough leg space, e.g., the exit row, first class, or an airline that had lots of leg room. This required advance planning. If he had to change his flight late in the game, he was screwed. Nobody cried any tears for him. Being tall was not something he could solve by eating a salad, either, but it was his problem, not any other passenger’s. While I am sorry that some people are cruel toward heavy people, I also think “fat acceptance” groups get a little too excited sometimes.

  8. Nikki says:

    You know he later flew in a private jet with much wider seats. If he knew this was going to be a problem he should have just done that in the first place. It’s not like he doesn’t have the money to do so.
    On the other hand, he has the right to fly on a commercial airline. The airline should have addressed the issue before hand. If it were me, and I knew I was too heavy to comfortably sit in one seat I never would put myself in the situation to be embarrassed. I don’t know what his motives were, if he had any but it sure got the publicity I think he wanted.

    • SKL says:

      It was a standby seat, and he already purchased two tickets for a different flight. So I don’t think the airline was in the wrong by not accommodating him when there was only one seat left.

      • Laura says:

        In this case, HE should have said, “no, I need two seats, thanks all the same,” and waited for another standby flight to come along. Or simply waited for his own flight.

        He was completely in the wrong – and should just shut up. In his case, in particular, it really feels like he’s out for the publicity. Maybe he’s looking for his next movie idea.

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