When horrifically cruel letters to fat people on planes go viral, and even the occasional attendant can appear to be judgemental, well...flying isn’t on the list of “Fun Things Fat People Can Do.”
I was surprised (but only kinda) at the responses that appeared on my Facebook page and Instagram when I recently posted a picture of my lap on a plane with the caption “Not all seat belts are the same length, and today finally needed to request a seat belt extender. Here's the worst thing that happened: I was comfortable.”
What followed was a flood of comments confessing the terror that plus size people feel when they contemplate boarding a plane. They shared the shame that accompanies the side eye, the fit of the seat, the unpredictability of the seat belt length...the list goes on and on.
And I GET IT. When horrifically cruel letters to fat people on planes go viral, and even the occasional attendant can appear to be judgemental, well, flying isn’t on the list of “Fun Things Fat People Can Do.” But there are tricks that you can utilize to make it less difficult, and, dare I say, fun. I fly A LOT for work and some flights have become enjoyable as I’ve learned more tricks to keep me comfy. (Although, my favorite flight had nothing to do with comfort and more to do with the fact that it was Christmas Eve and the pilot would give the kids updates on Santa sightings).
I’ve compiled the BEST ways that I have found to ease the discomfort (physical and emotional) of flying while fat in hopes that you feel free to travel the world just like everyone else!
Wear a body-positive shirt: I had no idea how helpful this was until my last flight to NYC. I wore a “Riots Not Diets” shirt for its relaxed fit (see the tip below too) and as I moved throughout the airport and plane I felt this strange sense of empowerment. My shirt (see my three favorites here) was inadvertently telling everyone “Look, I already know I’m fat, and I don’t really care. If you’re gonna judge me, don’t bother.” It was wild how much shame that outfit eliminated from my trip.
And on that note, dress for comfort: I’ve seen people dressed to the nines in airports, and I often wondered if I should follow suit. My decision? Fuck no. I wear yoga pants, a bralette, and a comfy top now because...who needs to feel cumbersome when you’re already dealing with stress? Not me, that’s for goddamn sure. If I do happen to be going somewhere directly off the plane, I just change at the airport when I reach my final destination.
Use a seat belt extender: So many people know they can fit into the seat but have panic attacks when they think about clicking the seat belt. If you feel this way, you’re not alone. If you can’t buckle up (the length varies depending on the seat and airline), just ask for a seat belt extender. Some people just flag down the attendant and say, “I need that fat person buckle!” Or if the thought of saying that terrifies you just confidently ask for an extender. Still scary? Bring your own! They’re available on Amazon and are TOTALLY Bedazzle-able.
Fly Southwest: As of right now, Southwest Airlines has a “Customer of Size” policy. The idea behind it: You purchase two seats (to be sure they don’t overbook), and after your flight you request a refund for the extra one. This means more worry-free room at no actual charge! I’ve heard this refund can take anywhere from a few days to a few months, but it does come. However, if fronting the money for two seats isn’t possible for you, there is another way to make the system work for ya! For the super budget-friendly option, purchase one seat, and when you check in speak to the Southwest rep. Ask the rep if there is any extra room on the flight, and if so, request the “extra fat-girl seat.” Or call it the “Customer of Size seat” — they’ll know what you mean. If there is room on the flight, this extra seat will be free, and they’ll print out a special little boarding pass for you that says “Reserved.” When you show your special pass to the nice people at the gate, say, “Someone told me I should come up here so this can be included in pre-boarding.” That someone would be me.
They shouldn’t give you a hard time, but if they do, tell them Jes Baker says they should just do their job already thankyouverymuch. When you preboard, you’ll have your pick of seats. Sit down and place your Reserved pass next to you and don’t let anyone sit on it. This is the part that sucks. People sometimes just don’t get it. But fight ’em off, and choose your seats near the back of the plane, so fewer people are likely to try to commandeer that space. Unless it has, at the last minute, become a full flight, you do not need to concede.
Honestly, it’s a LOT of fucking work, but if you’re on a five-hour (or more) flight, and you don’t want to be scrunched into the corner and elbowed by the middle person? It might be worth it. Know your options and that it is okay to take up space.
Bring Xanax: Or take something else that will help you relax. If pills make you nervous or are unavailable to you, visit a health food store and check out their natural options. It’s totally worth it. If you’re tempted to stop flying because of nerves, find an aid to help you relax. I’m totally serious. It helps me immensely.
Be the last person on the plane: Not flying Southwest? Wait until the very end of the line to board so that when you walk on, you can scout for any side-by-side empty seats. Too often we’re afraid to “break the rules,” but if everyone else has boarded and no one is sitting there, you can! Controversial, but seriously, fuck that shit. Ask the attendant if you’re feeling cautious; nine times out of 10 they’ll say “No problem!”
Pack light: This may seem a little but “Duh!” but I’ve found that when I bring less, I stress less. You don’t have to spend time figuring out where your bag should go, how to retrieve your items, if you should check them at the gate, etc. When I go on two- or three-day trips, I try to fit everything I need in a Samsonite bag. This keeps my blood pressure low.
Acknowledge the elephant: The one in the room. Or, rather, plane. Sitting down next to someone and it’s super tight? Don’t pretend like it’s not happening. Say, “Looks like we get to share a personal space bubble today!” Jennifer McLellan of Plus Size Birth has said, “Hope you like cuddling!” Laugh about it. Say what you need to in order take the edge off.
Check out companies that are dedicated to making flying while fat pleasant: one worth checking out is Abundant Travel. They are dedicated to the cause, and might be able to help ease the difficulty of having a larger body in a plane.
It’s OK if you’re not comfortable flying. It’s your life, so if you don’t wanna...don’t. BUT if you do? You can and you should! Live that life. See the world. Visit your loved ones. Make it as enjoyable as you can, and fuck the people who have a problem with your existence. Fat people aren’t the only ones who have anxiety about the small seats (a reader shared that at a size 8 she still needed a seat belt extender!) and you deserve to live a full, adventurous life.
Got any other tips for flying while fat? Let’s hear them!