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Words by Kirsty Leanne
Dear disgruntled traveller,
Have you ever found yourself wondering, ‘Why doesn’t that fat person sitting next to me care that they’re invading my space?’
Well, speaking as a size 26 traveller, I can assure you that thought is never far from my mind as I board a flight. In fact, the thought of annoying my fellow passengers is pretty much all I can think about as I take my seat and buckle up for the journey ahead.
I can feel everyone’s eyes on me as I anxiously make my way down the aisle. I can see they’re all thinking ‘I hope they don’t sit next to me’ as I walk past gingerly, bag in hand, looking for my seat number.
Finally, I find my seat and get… well, as comfortable as I can under the circumstances.
More often than not, my seatmate is lovely. I tend to apologise for the lack of space and make some idle chit-chat before settling in for the journey. We both know that economy isn’t designed to be comfortable and try to make the best of a bad situation.
Of course, this isn’t always the case.
As a plus-size travel blogger who flies regularly, I’m always mentally prepared to be plonked next to someone who makes it known just how much they hate being sat next to me.
On a flight to Mallorca with a budget airline a couple of years ago, I ended up next to a woman who was much smaller than I am. No sooner had my bum touched the cushion than she started loudly huffing and puffing, making it abundantly clear that she was uncomfortable with the lack of space we both had.
Mortified, I lifted the arm rest up after take-off to make some extra space – but she abruptly pulled it back down where it dug painfully it into my thighs. Every few minutes she’d signal to her friend behind her, before eventually shouting: “I can’t sit next to her anymore”.
I felt humiliated and spent the rest of the flight pushing myself as far up against the window as I possibly could, for fear she’d say something else.
Plus-size influencer Veera Papinoja had a similar experience. “I do remember one flight within Italy on a smaller aircraft where I had the window seat and a very lean Italian gentleman sat next to me looking irritated and rolling his eyes.
“I heard him speak to the cabin crew, but luckily didn't speak Italian [so couldn’t understand him]. Eventually, he changed to sit next to someone else. I cannot be 100 per cent sure of the reason, but we can all guess – I was left feeling humiliated and uncomfortable, and now I'm always scared it will happen again.”
Veera isn’t alone; I recently shared on TikTok what it’s like to fly as a fat person, and the response showed just how commonplace that man’s attitude is.
In this video, where I explain how I try to be considerate of others' feelings when I fly, thousands took to the comments section to make their feelings known.
“Just because you’re thinking about how much space you take up, that makes it better? It doesn’t make a difference,” one person replied.
Another wrote: “It doesn’t matter how much you ‘try to make yourself smaller’ or ‘cause yourself discomfort’ if you still physically spill into the next seat.”
The truth is, of course, that I’m acutely aware of my size – and when it comes to travelling by plane, I do everything I can to make myself smaller, even if this means putting myself through pain and discomfort.
From pressing up against the window to physically hugging myself to draw in my shoulders in, I spend the entire flight thinking about how much space I’m taking up. As a result, I often end up feeling pain for days after my trip. Sometimes I even have bruises to match.
Plus-size traveller Amanda Wilkinson, of Fat Girls Guide, is so desperate to avoid these uncomfortable encounters that she’ll “fly at odd times and days though to reduce chances of being on busier flights so I can have the seat next to me empty”. Although it’s often more expensive, Amanda has found that it generally ‘works in her favour’.
Meanwhile, Veera chooses her seats wisely to help those around her feel more comfortable. “I avoid the middle seat like the plague, not only because it's generally uncomfortable, but as I spend the whole flight trying to make myself smaller, where would I lean into?”
Personally, I choose a window seat because I know that there will be a little bit of additional space between the seat and the window. Some plus size passengers will choose to buy two seats, but this is hardly a cost-effective option.
So, although I know that sitting next to me can put you in an uncomfortable situation, all I ask is for a little bit of compassion. Planes are designed to fit as many people in as they possibly can and with seats only getting smaller and smaller, less and less and people are physically able to sit in a seat comfortably.
Seats are not designed with fat people in mind and unfortunately, they never will be. Treat us like humans and together, we’ll work out a way that makes us both as comfy as possible.
And for my plus-size friends, don’t be afraid to take up space. As Amanda says: “The chances of you seeing these people again are slim to nothing, so why would you let these people take up space in your travel memory?”
“You are allowed to take space and feel comfortable – on flights, nobody has enough personal space anyway if they fly in a full economy cabin,” adds Veera.
“For extra comfort, book your seat in advance, I prefer the aisle to have more room to lean away from anyone. And whenever possible I sit in the back of the plane as that's usually where the empty seats are. If you can afford it, Business or Premium Economy classes may offer a bit more space”.
Remember, we’re not purposely trying to infringe on your space when flying. Plus-size people deserve to travel too and a friendly smile and a little bit of understanding can go a long way.
An anxious plus size traveller
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