6 Tips For Flying While Fat

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Recently I had the pleasure of taking a trip out of state and flying with Southwest Airlines. With limited flying experience and being a fairly round size 28, I was nervous about how the trip would pan out. My anxious mind came up with scenarios in which I couldn’t fit in the seat so the flight attendant kicked me off the plane and I missed my trip. I then panicked at the idea of scooting by all of the disgusted thin passengers who would block me from being able to sit next to them. It is so unfair how much thinking and preparing we as fatties have to do when trying to accomplish tasks that thin people commonly experience with ease. Luckily, I had some seasoned fliers express their tips for having my needs met and advocating for myself on the trip. Following their advice, I had a surprisingly successful and pleasant experience.  Here are 6 tips for flying while fat:

  • Call the airline as soon as you can, well before your departure date, and ask about their “passenger of size policy.” Or, do a little research online if you hate talking on the phone like I do. They will either have a policy with this exact title or know what kind of policy you’re asking about and have an answer for you. The worst case scenario might be that you have to purchase a second seat – with or without reimbursement depending on the airline. This is absolutely awful and a form of oppression against those unable to afford the cost of another seat – yes. And still, it is an option available to some. In the best case scenario, they may be required to give you a second boarding pass that says “seat reserved,” at no cost to you. You have to ask for it. When you check in with the ticketing agent on your departure date, ask for it then and they’ll print it for you along with your boarding pass. Then you’ll simply place this paper on the seat next to you and no one will be able to sit there. Unfortunately, this does mean that someone may be booted from the flight and moved to a later departure time if it was already 100% full. This feels icky – but doesn’t change the fact that you have accommodations that need to be met.
  • Your boarding pass will probably not say this, but with your additional “reserved” seat, you have authorization to board the flight during the “pre-board” section. This is the group of folks who have higher need for getting first choice at seating options and/or who need greater access when boarding the flight. This might feel uncomfortable at first, to be in line with folks that you might believe deserve the pre-board option more than you. Acknowledge those feelings and then let them pass you by. You’ll be so thankful when you can comfortably find your seat and store your bags without the pressure of finding a seat (or two!) amongst a nearly full flight.
  • Don’t expect too much extra free time with pre-boarding. If you’re like me and walk slowly, there won’t be a whole lot of extra time for a casual walk down the aisle before you start hearing other passengers approaching. They tend to move right to boarding passengers with children/families, first class, and other boarding groups. Find your seat, toss your bag overhead if you’ve got one, and place your “seat reserved” boarding pass on the extra seat facing out so that folks passing by can see it.
  • Wear comfortable clothing. If you have shoes that are comfortable and easy to take off and put back on, wear them. Wear layers that are easier to take off for the full body scanner. For super fats like me, that full body scanner looks fairly intimidating. It might feel like only slender folks can fit through it. Act like you own the place and shove yourself through as if this is something you do all the time. I built it up in my head as something that was going to be very embarrassing, and it ended up not being a big deal. Remind yourself that everyone there wants us to get through as quickly and smoothly as we do. Take a deep breath, focus in on your own belongings, and move on through.
  • Get there early. And I mean MEGA early. Here’s the deal: sometimes gate changes happen. It can be really frustrating for some, but for disabled folks and people of size who may walk more slowly or can’t run if needed, it could also jeopardize being on time for boarding. You want to be there early enough to take advantage of your authorization to participate in the “pre-board” option. Make sure you have enough time to be seated and waiting in front of your correct gate a half an hour (or greater) before your expected departure time. Check in with staff once you get there to make sure the gate is correct. Don’t worry about being bothersome. Say something like “this is my first time flying…am I in the right place?” They will be happy to help.
  • Seat belt extenders! These are so scary to ask for but I have been consistently surprised at how smoothly it has gone for me. As you board the flight, ask the first attendant you see for a seat belt extender. They are trained to handle the situation respectfully and discretely. I have heard rumors of there being very few extenders packed onto each plane, so ask right away. They will find another if needed. You can also purchase your own seat belt extenders on Amazon!

And finally, remind yourself that in this capitalist society, airlines intentionally cram as many seats as possible onto the plane and make the aisles painfully narrow in order to maximize passengers and therefore profit. It is not unreasonable to be nervous about flying while fat. It is also not unreasonable to ask for accommodations. You deserve to feel safe and comfortable on your flight.

18 Comments

  1. I’m a size 26, 180 cm/ 6 feet tall and I flight 8-10 times a year, at least 4 of them being long haul (we’re talking 14+ hour) flights. I had no idea that you could get a reserved seat pass! Is that only for American-based airlines, or for most airlines? I’m absolutely fascinated by this. Flying is so uncomfortable for me most of the time, and having an empty seat next to me would be a game-changer.
    Also, to those of you getting anxious about asking for a seat belt extender: OWN IT! Be polite, stick a huge smile on your face when you ask for it, and the flight attendants will get it done. I find that being exceedingly pleasant to staff on an airplane can bag you all kinds of perks.

    • Hi! I know that for Southwest Airlines you can get an extra seat at no cost. I believe other airlines require you to buy an extra seat unfortunately.

  2. For flights within Canada, there is paperwork you and your doctor have to complete (which is good for 3 years), but airlines are required to provide a second seat at no charge if needed for accommodation (including being fat).

  3. Also beware seats with “extra room”! The extra room is legroom, but often the trays are then integrated into the seats, which can mean up to an inch less seat room, and no movable armrest. Ouch!

  4. Hello,

    I am flying for the first time in April 2018 and I was so nervous being fat and disabled. My wonderful girlfriend has already set up a lot of things to help my flight go smoothly, but I am still nervous. This post helps me feel a bit better, and helps me know I am not alone.

    Thank you for this post!

  5. This is great stuff to know, I am a big and tall woman and I never knew about many of these options. Southwest for the win!!

  6. Did you fly in a regular economy seat with a seatbelt extension? I’m looking at flying with Southwest soon and I’m a size 24-26 and I’m worried I won’t fit in one seat in economy with the extension.

    • I would suggest asking for a second seat at the ticketing booth when you check in. Youll get one for free and youll definitely be comfortable. Ask for a seatbelt extension when you board the plane. The flight attendent will discretely give one to you 🙂

    • I am a size 24/26 woman and can fit into Southwest economy with extension as long as I raise the arm rests (the lever in on the bottom of the arm towards the back). I fly all the time and while it is uncomfortable it is not nearly as bad as Alaska Airlines! I plan to ask for a “reserved seat” from now on since they do this. Good luck!

      Side note: When going through a full body scanner spread your legs a bit wider than the feet markings and the TSA agent will make a comment “oh you must be a seasoned flyer”. Because of our size it is harder to view the crotch area so by having wider legs the agent does not have to ask for it! Just a little tip I learned 🙂

  7. I’m so happy that I stumbled upon not only this article, but the comfyfat site itself~! Here in a couple of weeks, I’ll be flying to the Bahamas and have worked myself up so much, the anxiety is almost unbearable. I hate taking up too much space and hate thinking that people may be oogling me or judging me for my size. In regards to purchasing my own seat belt extender, I assume that’s something security will let you take on your carry on? I’d hate to be going through & have them confiscate it.

  8. I am now a size 24 and the last time I flew anywhere was 6 yrs ago with much smaller tummy, hips and thighs. For Thanksgiving I am flying REPUBLIC AIRLINES AS AMERICAN EAGLE. From St Louis to Philidelphia. I have always been fat while flying but seeing all the hate towards us now on a plane really scares me. I am 62 so I do have age going for me but I am scared I wont fit in the seat or will offend whoever I am sitting next to. Should I just be nice and friendly and act normal as I always have or do I need to slink around in shame now? So much has changed.

    • You should never feel like you’re supposed to slink around in shame. That is the opposite of what we want here, right? We want you to feel comfortable in this world and be able to advocate for your needs. When you board the flight, ask the flight attendant for a seatbelt extender. They should get you one discretely. As for the seating, I’m sorry. It might be tight. Do not apologize for yourself or your body. You deserve to be there. It is a problem with the airline…not you <3

  9. YOU ARE PERFECT!

    Thank you so much for this. I am taking my first trip to Europe a week from today and I am terrified traveling on an 8 hour flight at a solid 26/28 and 332 lbs. Luckily my darling travel partner is all of 160 lbs and doesn’t mind my delightful fat in her space.

    The good news is, I am also a fat activist. I understand the importance of advocating for my experience, and requiring base levels of dignity and respect. I have my own extender, and we purposely bought seats that are a set of two seats together to avoid any sort of issue with fat-phobic society. I do not apologize for taking up space, however, i’m also not into a super long flight, with angry vibes.

    Being proactive in my thought process and action with this has given me a lot of confidence not only with traveling while fat, but also in my own advocacy.

    Thank you J for being a creator of safe spaces, good vibes, and all your fabulous fatness.

    Jess

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