*The intention of this post is to help/inform plus size people about travel. Not to debate health or diets, or to promote obesity, please be respectful*
Over the years I have had so many people tell me they won’t go abroad because they are too fat to fit on a plane. This makes me so incredibly sad. All of the people who have told me this, would of course fit on a plane. They are being held back by fear. Fear of being uncomfortable, being embarrassed and ultimately fear of being sent off the plane because they won’t fit. So I’d like to talk to you about my experience as a fat flyer and share some of the things I do to make flying a little more bearable.
I am not an aviation expert, so I can’t give you all the facts and measurements, but what I am, is a girl who has flown at a UK Size 16 & a UK Size 28 and pretty much every size in between that.
What I have learnt over the years is that very few people regardless of size, feel that planes are spacious places, most people feel like flying is a means to an end over an enjoyable luxurious experience. The bigger you are the less easy and comfortable flying is going to be. However, don’t let that stop you seeing the world. I know so many people who have said, “When I lose weight I’ll go abroad, see Thailand or Australia or even just take the children to Spain.” Unfortunately we don’t have unlimited tommorrows, so I urge you not to put off seeing the world – if that is your dream, like it is mine.
Tips for Fat Flying
Seat belt extenders are your friend –
There is unfortunately, no universal length for a plane seatbelt. What I can tell you is that they are generally a lap belt and shorter than a car seatbelt. In my personal experience seatbelts were not an issue up to a size 20, this may vary depending on height and where you carry your weight, it’ll also vary from airline to airline. Flight attendants get asked for seatbelt extenders every single flight, by multiple passengers. A seat belt extender is simply an extra portion of seatbelt, that clicks into the fitted belt and extends it. Some forums will suggest you should buy your own off Amazon and keep it in your bag to “Save you embarrassment” DON’T! A seatbelt is a safety device that is designed to potentially save your life and the lives of others around you, don’t compromise that with an untested extender to save embarrassment. If you know you’ll need an extender I find the best way to go about it is to ask the flight attendant as soon as you walk on, they will note down your seat number and bring you one once they’ve finished greeting people. If you are unsure if you need one, once you are seated try your belt, and if you need one ask the next attendant who walks past. In my experience they’ve always been very subtle handing it to me. No one yells over the tannoy “belt extender for the big bird in 7F”. At my largest I was a size 28 as I previously said and knew full well I would need an extender. I am now a size 22 so I play it by ear, but if it does up and is tight I’ll ask for an extender, you never know how much turbulence your flight will have and you don’t want to feel like you’re being cut in half if the seatbelt signs stay on. I have never noticed anyone pay attention to me being handed or using an extender. Please don’t compromise a moments potential embarrassment for your safety.
Personal Space –
If you google most annoying things on a plane you are certain to find in the top two answers Noisy children and sitting next to a fat person. Now whilst that statement may seem awfully mean and fatphobic, even as a fat girl myself I can’t think of many things worse than someone taking up my very precious small amount of space. The flip side of that statement is that regardless of your size you are just as entitled to your seat and space as anyone else. I know personally the larger I’ve been the more I feel the need to apologise for my presence. Whether you are happy with your chosen size or you are currently on a journey to find a size you are happy with, don’t let anyone be rude to you or make you feel less of a person, through their twisted judgement of you. However, lets be fair, if you are taking up your seat, plus a third of the strangers seat next to you. That isn’t ok. That might be a really controversial thing to say and I’m certainly not trying to offend anyone. However if you turn up and go to sit in the seat you’ve paid £500 for, only to find out you’ve been issued 66.6% of a seat, not the 100% you would be rightly unhappy. So the question is how to combat that?
Travel with a friend who is happy to share space if at all possible –
Travelling with a kind friend/family member/ lover is the best way to travel. Firstly because you have someone you love right there with you, but more relevantly because hopefully they wont mind sharing that little bit extra of their personal space with you. Don’t just assume, ask them, again a tad embarrassing but just be upfront. Say something like “I find plane seats a real tight squeeze and like to have the arm rest up, it might mean we get a bit cuddly, do you mind?” Chances are they won’t mind!! They knew how big you were when they agreed to fly with you, but its always polite to ask.
Research your seats –
Most airlines have the measurements for their seats on their website, in some cases you may need to ring and ask them. There are also websites such as Seat Guru which have loads of information with regards to seats. But your most conclusive answer is always going to be the airline. How wide is your seat? How deep is your seat? How much legroom will you have? Do the arm rests come up or are they fixed in place? Research is the key to piece of mind and to choosing the best seat for you.
Always choose your seats –
I would never leave this to chance as I think it can really effect my travel experience. If you need a seatbelt extender you can’t sit in exit row seats, so if you are unsure don’t book these, not worth the risk of potentially losing your seat on the plane or being moved to sit somewhere you’ve not chosen. I will always choose an aisle or a window seat, the reason for this is you only have to sit by one other person (hopefully your travel buddy) and I feel you get a little more space leaning into the window or into the aisle than you do in the middle. My worst flight was a 5 hour flight sat in between two strangers, I kept my arms crossed over my chest the whole time, trying to take up as little space as possible and I was so uncomfortable. A cheeky little tip for getting a row of 3 seats for the cost of two is to book the window and the aisle seat of the same row. Leaving the middle seat free. No one likes the middle seat sat between two strangers so this will be the very last seat to get booked, so unless you’re on a fully booked flight you can score yourself 3 seats for the cost of two. What if Mr Middle Seat turns up? Obviously this is the gamble you are taking but if you offer Mr Middle Seat the window or aisle, so you can sit with your travel buddy, chances are Mr Middle Seat will be your friend for life.
Travel Business class or First class –
In most cases if you upgrade, you get more room, and generally an all round better flight experience. Obviously this isn’t a viable option for everyone, but if you can, one to consider. It is worth saving airmiles by using a bank account or credit card that you can earn them with, to upgrade your flights where possible. Just make sure you do your research first as with some airlines like BA (For European flights) their business class seats are no larger, they simply leave the seat next to you empty.
When it’s time to bite the bullet and buy a second seat –
Airlines have what they call a “Persons of size policy” These are very different here to in the USA so again do your research, these policy’s can be found on their websites or contact the airline directly. To the very best of my knowledge all airlines will allow you to buy an extra seat (often referred to as a comfort seat). This may well work out cheaper than upgrading your flight, you won’t need to add on baggage or a meal for this seat. I have personally never bought an extra seat as even at my largest I made do, however in hindsight this may have been a more comfortable way for me and my travel buddy to travel. So do think about this for your own comfort if you feel you need it. Or if you feel once given the dimensions that you won’t fit into the allocated space.
Tray tables –
I have been on flights at a range of sizes where my tray table wouldn’t fully lay flat due to my tummy getting in the way. Don’t use this as an excuse to refuse food and drink especially on a long flight, your food comes on a tray, which you can hold. Yes it’s a bit of a balancing act but it’s certainly doable. Again if you are travelling with someone, ask them if they mind you popping your coffee on their table, I’m sure they won’t.
Airline toilets are compact, that’s a fact. But as yet I’ve not found any I don’t fit in, you might have to do a side shuffle, or a bum wiggle here and there but I’ve never been in fear of getting stuck. Again if this is worrying you, call the airline, they will have all the details. Often long haul flights have disabled toilets which I’m sure you could use if needed. Don’t let the fear of not fitting cause you to get dehydrated, planes are awful for leaving you dehydrated as it is.
Enjoy it –
No you won’t have a lot of space, no one does and yes it will make your ears feel funny, the food is a bit like something made in the Early Learning Centre kitchen and unless you’ve upgraded, chances are the drink prices will be extortionate. But you’re on holiday!! Bring a good book, or headphones and your favourite album/podcast. Some of your favourite snacks. Don’t forget your moisturiser and lip balm. Try to relax as much as you can and enjoy.