I received an e-mail with a great question about how to be an ally to fat people on planes. Before I get too far into it, here’s some background reading:
If you feel like fat people getting a seat that fits us is “unfair special treatment” this post is for you.
If you feel like “it’s not fat shaming, it’s just economics” to not accommodate fat people, head over here.
If you’re wondering “Why don’t we just charge everyone by weight?” this is why.
If you’re wondering “how can this situation get any worse?” Zodiac Seats France has you covered.
Now for today’s question:
If I was in a flight that was not full, and was seated next to a fat person who did not have enough space, then I would want to find another seat so that we are both comfortable. I don’t want to spend the duration of the flight squishing myself so that my fat seat mate has more space, and I KNOW that fat people ALWAYS try to squish themselves and make themselves smaller in order to take up less space..so why would I stay in my seat and make them suffer? Of course if it was a full flight then I will not ask to change my seat. What is the proper way to fix the seat situation so that both parties are happy and comfortable? Also, what do you advise me to do if it is a full flight and I am seated next to a fat person? I don’t want them to feel obligated to squish themselves and make themselves smaller..but at the same time it’s kind of rude to assume that from a stranger, right? I kind of want to tell them that it’s ok to lift the arm rest between us and to not get scared of me throwing a fit or whatever if our bodies touched. Please help.
First of all, thanks for caring about this I really appreciate that you are asking these questions. As always I can only speak for myself, and other fat people may disagree with the advice I’m about to give you. This situation sucks, and the emotions and reactions of fat people to situations like this can, and likely will, be affected by living in society that oppresses us and tells us things like we don’t deserve the sames things that thin people get (in this case, a seat that accommodates us) so no matter what you say, a positive outcome is not guaranteed, which is one of the challenges of doing ally work.
I would start out by smiling at your seatmate and then saying something welcoming. Fat people are used to getting the eyeball trifecta – eye rolling, side eye, and evil eye – accompanied by dramatic sighing, so having someone smile and say something nice (“Hi, welcome to row 22, I’m Annie, it’s nice to meet you!”) can help get the interaction off to a good start (and has the added benefit of modeling how to act for passengers of the eye-and-sigh variety.)
Next, consider making it clear that you realize that the airline, not the fat person, is the problem. Perhaps by saying something like “I don’t understand why they make these seats so small, they know people come in lots of sizes, they should make seats that accommodate everyone!” or “I’m so frustrated with the airlines, if you’re going to sell travel that should include more than a tiny seat that doesn’t work for half your customers!)
Next, make the offer. “You seem awesome, so I’ll be sad not to hang out with you, but I think I see an empty seat, would it be cool with you if I switched seats so you can be more comfortable?” or “I think I can fix the airline’s mistake here – I see an empty seat, is it cool if I switch so that you don’t have to feel squished?”
If there isn’t an empty seat then I would say something like “looks like the airline decided that we should be close for this flight! Would you prefer the seat divider up or down?” Depending on how the fat person is shaped, it also may not be possible for us to use our tray so when the drinks come around if you notice that we are not able to use the tray you might say something like “We can both just share my tray if it’s easier.”
That’s my advice, again your mileage may vary and of course if people have other suggestions please leave them in the comments!
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