I wasn’t going to write about Kevin Smith being bumped for fatness because I felt like I’d written enough already on airline stuff. But I’ve been contributing to the Kevin Smith thread at Shapely Prose. Then tonight I wrote up a huge long comment on my airline experiences at We Are The Real Deal and … it’s a post in itself. So.
- Per the airline definition of “fit” (armrests down with seat belt on) I can “fit” in a single coach seat. This is partly because I have an “apple” body shape. It’s not comfortable — compression occurs — but it’s doable.
- My shoulders are pretty wide, though. When I last flew in a single coach seat (2 and 3-hour flights, same clothing size as now) I’d get a window seat and lean on the bulkhead to keep my shoulders and elbows out of my neighbor’s way.
- It’s very possible that I could end up next to someone (a gent with very long legs who’s “straddling” the seat ahead to keep from crunching his knees?) who has to touch my fat thigh and risk fat cooties. Or who also has wide shoulders and keeps brushing mine. Or I might get reassigned to a middle seat between people who don’t want to brush my shoulders. If they complain about me, what do you think is going to happen? I buy a second seat or get bumped.
- The man of the house is slimmer in the hips and fits into a coach seat much easier than I…but his shoulders are wider than mine, and has much more difficulty not brushing his neighbors’ shoulders…
- Which makes me wonder why hips that don’t fit into 17″ are a huge problem, but broader than 17″ shoulders are fine. This couldn’t possibly have anything do with broad shoulders being a desirable trait among men, could it?
- I have been known to book 2 coach seats for a cross-country flight, primarily for my own comfort. Once was with United, in 1996, before United had its “passengers of size” policy. The more recent times were with Alaska, last fall and in 2004.
- I’ve never had a travel or airline website allow me to book 2 seats for 1 passenger. I’ve always had to call the airline directly. Each time I’ve ended up on hold while the agent looks up how to book 2 seats for 1 person.
- Each time I’ve bought multiple seats, I’ve been cautioned that they might not be together when I fly. (??) Yes, even when purchasing as a “passenger of size” policy — the policy which says big people must buy two seats? after telling the agent I weigh 400 freaking pounds? — I’ve been told this.
- Cassi commented on an earlier post that she had purchased two seats in advance and was told “Oh, we’re overbooked, so we’re bumping your empty seat” at the gate.
- There are reports of people flying to one location in a single coach seat with no problems, but being told they have to buy a second seat to get home. Or to take their connecting flight. In other words, the policies are applied inconsistently.
- I also sometimes fly first class. The seats are still tight, but they are more comfortable, especially for my legs and shoulders. (I wear a 30″ inseam.)
- I don’t fly often. Yes, I can afford to buy an extra ticket or even fly first class (first class on Alaska is often not much more than 2 coach seats – unlike many other carriers). But it is an optional expense, and I usually opt not. I’ve gone years between flights.
- My current job doesn’t require travel. I’ve traveled for business before (wearing the same clothing size as now) and it’s not bad, but that was before the “passengers of size” policies. I’d hate to be stuck in an airport explaining to my boss I’d been bumped from a plane as “too fat” and that I’d need an extra ticket to get home.
Airlines really want the problem of people who don’t fit to a) go away or b) get monetized. If there’s a complaint, the fat person is kicked out and made to pay a penalty. If there’s no complaint, then they ignore it. This capricious and inconsistent application of the policies is one of the biggest problems I have with such policies.
If you haven’t flown lately, how do you know in advance whether you’ll fit? Sure, you can take a tape measure and start measuring seats, but unless you have a 17″ (or 17.5″) wide seat with armrests at home or work or otherwise readily available (movie theater?) you may not know.
At the same time, airlines don’t see any reason to make it easier for people to book two seats. And remember, just because you paid for two seats doesn’t mean you’ll actually get them. (Again: capricious and inconsistent. It’s like a theme or something.)
“Passenger of size” policies do make it possible to get a refund. I did receive my refund from Alaska for my most recent trip. But finding the form to let me request it wasn’t easy, and the people answering the customer service lines didn’t seem to know how it works either.
Some airlines are also advertising “premium coach” or “business” seats that have extra legroom. They get more money and “Hey, we have an option for tall people!”
Finally: If you haven’t read Kate’s Broadsheet piece on flying while fat, I suggest you do. (And as always, sanity watchers warning on the comments.)