Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Unfitting Fat in Flight

I returned to work in September as a contract business analyst for the same company, working with all same people, after a two-month hiatus when my original contract ended. During this second tour of duty, I have made several trips out-of-town, but probably the most notable was my first trip to St. Louis last month.

I was given very little notice to make travel arrangements, and both legs of my flight were completely packed. However, the segment from Chicago to St. Louis was a bit more packed than I had counted on.

Wagging my cumbersome computer bag and purse through the skinny aisle of the plane, I passed row after row until I came upon my destination near the very back of the plane. Air travel is so stressful, and I had walked at a fast clip from one end of the Chicago O’Hare Airport to another in order to catch my connection (which is always the case at O’Hare).

Let me just stop right here to say, “I really hate the Chicago O’Hare Airport!” Okay, got that out of my system. Now, where was I? Oh yes…

So, there I was, frazzled, looking at my boarding pass to be sure of the seat assignment. If I could just get there, sit down and relax. Almost there…32, 33, 34A… the window seat…right next to…(insert sigh)…the very obese man in 34B. The big guy was engrossed in both his iPad, which was sitting atop his enormously large belly, and his iPhone, which he was holding in his right hand as he feverishly tapped the screen of his iPad.

I got the attention of my new seat mate, and looked elsewhere for a seat as he rose and moved out of the way. I slid into my long awaited respite. As the gentleman reclaimed his seat, he also claimed half of mine. I silently cursed myself for not beginning my diet sooner and losing another 20 pounds. With all my mental and muscular might, I tried to will all the flesh on the right side of my body to draw in as close as possible to my bones. It didn’t seem to make much difference.

I was being terribly infringed upon, but this was a full flight. What was I supposed to do? I weighed the pros and cons of asserting my right to a full seat, having paid a full fare. But, goodwill won out over comfort, and I decided to endure the hour-long flight to St. Louis without contention.

Feeling somewhat intimate with the unwanted body encroaching on my seat, I opted to make the best of things by starting up a conversation. After all, if we were going to be physical, I should at least know this man’s name.

Mr. Big finally ended his phone call and reluctantly turned off his iPhone when the flight attendant came by a second time, again asking that all electronic devices be put away. I casually asked how he liked his iPad, and Mr. B launched into a discussion about this latest, greatest device, rotating it on its perch of massive flesh so I could see the screen better. As he continued to talk about himself, never asking me any questions, I realized how self-centered this man was, how oblivious he was to my discomfort and feelings.

Unless you’ve actually had a close encounter of this kind, it’s really difficult to convey the many thoughts and feelings I had racing through my brain. I wanted to appear interested, kind and considerate. I wanted to be tolerant and empathetic. But inside my head, the conversation was seething with disgust and feelings of injustice.

Why was I to be put in such an incredibly uncomfortable situation simply because the man next to me chose not to purchase two seats instead of one? “If the flight hadn’t been full,” my alter-ego answered, “it wouldn’t have mattered.” But, shouldn’t it matter?!

Why did the airline allow this man on the plane with only one ticket when he was clearly not able to fit into one seat? “Silly woman! Charging an obese man double the price to travel would clearly be discriminatory, of course!” The voice continued, “Can you just see the lawsuits, the negative publicity? Equal rights for weight-challenged people!” Yes, I could begin to see how pressing this issue would cost the airline a lot of money in the long run. It’s almost as if I could hear the airline executives saying, “Let’s just ignore the whole obese passenger situation and hope no one makes a fuss.”

About that time, Mr. Big began to snore. Oh joy.

Notice the nice soundproof earphones? Mr. Big obviously knew that in order for him to get any sleep he would have to shut out his own loud guttural snoring. Wish I’d had a pair. And, just in case you’re not feeling my pain yet, here’s another shot to further make my point.

The only real solution, in my opinion, is to have all passengers take The Seat Test. As with our carry-on luggage having to fit into the overhead compartment, so should all passengers have to fit into one seat if they only buy one ticket. You take up more than one seat, you buy more than one ticket. Period.

As for my most uncomfortable travel experience, I am still deciding whether to demand the airline reimburse me for half the cost of my seat. I figure I could probably get a jury to award me emotional damages as well. I do feel I was violated and did not get my money’s worth of a seat!

As I relive that very long hour of my life, I can hear another voice inside my head saying…

“Good grief, Grayson! Enough already! You should’ve spoken up when you had the chance! Get over yourself! Somebody hand that woman some cheese to go with that whine!”

Yeah, yeah, I hear ya.

As a fitting follow-up to a fat blog, stay tuned for another fabulous food review coming soon to the Texas Twang.

Happy Trails to You and All Your Voices, Y’all!


  1. Grayson,

    I would like to tell you that the "Seat Test" would only work for so long....look at the baggage situation (how many times has someone rolled onto the plane with a full suitcase and tried to shove it in as if were a carry on??? More than I care to admit being mad about).

    But I have a few thoughts for you....

    1. Big Joe there has issues. From mental and physical health, he has issues.
    2. It would not have mattered if you were 50 pounds lighter. He is the pearl in the oyster we all live in (making himself the universe). The man did not have any clue how uncomfortable you are.
    3. When Mr. Big is standing before our Heavenly Father, the Lord will ask him about that day. Mr. Big will of course remember it and the Lord will have one question for him...."B, you knew that were over weight and sitting next you was a very nice woman doing all she could to sit comfortably in her own seat, yet you never said a word. So my question for you is: WHY DIDNT YOU BUY AN EXTRA TICKET???" And as Mr. B tries to justify why he was too self absorbed to consider the rest of the world, I just might be doing the happy dance inside my head...I just might.

  2. LOL...very good thoughts, Liz! Love you!

  3. I just had this experience on SW, DEN to BOS 4+ hours. The guy tried to fudge ( no pun intended) locking the seat belt. He took a full third of my seat overflowing with his fat arms. I was in the exit row. There was no way he could get out that window. I made a complaint. And I intend to do more. Some kind of class action?

  4. Maybe they should add a weight-factor fee inclusive of carry on luggage and I do like the Seat Test!

  5. I am an obese person, though not as large as him, and I am going to have to go on a plane in one month, from the US to Japan. I am only buying one ticket. Why? Because it costs $1,500 dollars. I have not taken "the chair test", though I wish I could because I am incredibly nervous about whether or not I will fit, having never been on a plane before. But being a broke college student about to study in one of the worlds most expensive countries, I really can not afford to buy another plane ticket. I don't even know if I will be able to afford to support myself by then end of my stay there.
    I can tell you that if you were the one who sat next to me, and who did not say anything to the staff about my weight, and who did not make me feel bad about my size, I would be so grateful to you. He may have snored, but I am sure he was too. Not everyone is blessed with the good fortune to be able to just purchase two plane tickets.

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