USA Today has released a video suggesting that people should “discreetly” take photos of fat people seated next to them on planes, and post them on social media if they don’t get the desired result from their initial complaint to the airline.
The indisputable fact here is that even though plane manufacturers and airlines know that fat people exist, they continue to build planes, buy planes, and create policies about planes as if we don’t.
What USA Today’s video puts into sharper relief is the discriminatory way that this is handled. The focus is only on the experience of thin people, even though fat people are also made uncomfortable by being forced to be squished next to people who may or may not be total fatphobes who would take pictures of us and post them to social media, but USA Today is not suggesting that we get any relief.
Only by dehumanizing fat people could you reach the conclusion that thin people who aren’t happy with the fact that airlines discriminate against fat people should “discreetly” take pictures of fat people and post them online. (Which I’m wondering is possible how, exactly, when they claim to be so squished that they feel they should lodge a complaint? It seems like if you have room to discreetly take a picture, you have room to STFU and get to your destination.)
Perhaps most tragically, this problem is easily solvable. It could, in fact, be solved tomorrow. Southwest airlines has already done it – fat people can get as many seats as they require for free, and those seats are treated as one seat (so if the flight is oversold, the fat people still get their seats, and Southwest follows their overbook policy.) That way people who need space around them can get it (to be clear, there are disabilities that can make being seated without space around you a serious issue, and folks with those disabilities should be accommodated,) and fat people can get the same service that everyone else on the plane is getting.
While there can certainly be hiccups, my partner and I have used this policy all over the country, with enough frequency to get “Fly By” (frequent flyer) status and have never had a single problem. Meanwhile, Southwest just celebrated their 45th consecutive year of profitability so don’t tell me it’s impossible.
People come in lots of different sizes, and failing to recognize and accommodate that should be seen as a business mistake that must be corrected, not a reason to take pictures of fat people and post them to the internet.
Speaking of which, as I mentioned, I fly a lot. And on every single flight I see people with broad shoulders jutting over into the space of their seatmates, I see people with long legs splaying their knees and invading the seemingly sacred space of those seated next to them. But there’s no outcry, no videos telling us to complain to the airline and the world that we’ve been seated next to our long-legged or broad-shouldered brethren.
Because this isn’t just about, or even mainly about, space – it’s about fatphobia. Otherwise thin people would be working alongside fat people to make sure that we can all have the same experience – travel in a seat that accommodates us. Not insisting we be punished for existing through public shaming and double charging.
Instead, far too many people – both thin people invested in fatphobia and fat people struggling with internalized fatphobia – see fat people as the problem, and thin people as the only people whose feelings or comfort matter. The current situation on planes isn’t unfair to those who, by luck of the draw, fit in the arbitrary amount of space that airlines have decided to call “one seat” (based on their profitability and not on the actual size of human asses.) The current situation is unfair to everyone, and the solution isn’t for fat people to stop existing, stop flying, pay twice as much for the same trip, or find themselves being “discreetly” photographed by the asshole seated beside them. The solution is for companies whose business is transporting humans to commit themselves to transporting humans – all humans.
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