What It’s Like to Be That Fat Person Sitting Next to You on the Plane
Have you ever tried to fit into a space made for someone else?
My breath tightens immediately when the call comes. It’s my boss’s boss, telling me there’s an important meeting in another city. Or maybe it’s a friend, inviting me to her wedding in California. Sometimes, it’s a family member whose health is failing and the time has come to say goodbye.
The news hits hard — it’s a high-pressure time for my job, friend, family. My heart is pounding and my breath is tightening. I close my eyes, feel my feet on the ground and my breath in my throat, trying desperately to avoid the embarrassment of a full-blown panic attack at work.
I will have to get on a plane. And I am fat.
A Letter From the Fat Person on Your Flight
When another passenger humiliates a fat person, what do you do?
There is a common trope about this very situation, shown frequently on TV, in illustrations, and in casually irritated conversation. Fat people are shown on planes all the time: loud, obnoxious, elbowing people, taking up space, getting Cheetos crumbs all over ourselves and you, our whole existence designed to make you miserable. That caricature doesn’t just hurt when I see it — I crumble under its weight. I am a confident woman with wonderful friends, like you, and a fantastic job. But when I see that caricature of who I’m expected to be, I crumple, sinking quickly into a wave of depression and alienation. It couldn’t be further from my experience.
There’s so much that happens before I even buy a ticket. I research policies because every airline has one now for “passengers of size.” All of them include the possibility that I will be charged double, or denied a seat on the plane the day of the flight, leaving me to explain to my boss, partner, friend, family why they won’t be seeing me this week.
Southwest famously let director Kevin Smith board, then publicly escorted him off the plane for looking too fat for his seat. United will refuse to board you unless…