I’m going to take a break from my customary Tim bashing, political commentary and tempered media criticism to weigh in on a news item that touches upon one of my pet peeves: “Woman sues airline for humiliation over her weight“.
There have been quite a few similar stories over the past couple years about super-sized passengers angered and humiliated by airline employees who suggest — or require — that they buy a second seat. I don’t want to come across as insensitive to the needs of the avoirdupois-challenged, but speaking as someone of modest girth who flies cross-country three or four times a year, I applaud the airlines for finally acting on behalf of us boney-assed fellow travelers.
I cannot tell you how many times I have been seated next to a person whose buttocks were bigger than their seat cushion. They have for the most part been pleasant people, but while I don’t mind passing the time sharing conversation, I deeply resent being forced to share my allotted space. The laws of physics being what they are, I have at times involuntarily surrendered as much as a quarter of my seat to the stowaway in my neighbor’s thighs.
Since I usually travel with my young, window-gazing daughter, I am invariably seated in the middle. Fortunately I can usually flee encroachment by lifting the armrest between us, and sharing the combined space with my daughter’s cute little tuchis.
However last fall, while traveling alone, I happened to witness a brief confrontation between a ticket agent and a particularly wide-bodied, late arriving passenger. It was a full flight, and the agent meekly urged the passenger to switch to a later flight where she could be “better accommodated.” She tersely refused.
As luck would have it, she was given a middle seat… next to me.
Now I’m not exaggerating: her ingress and egress was only possible by lifting both armrests, which during flight were clamped backed down on slabs of gluteus overflowus like animals caught in a trap. For five and a half hours I was forced to share my seat with one her hypoxic appendages, which I imagined turning blue and lifeless by the time we arrived at the gate.
Her discomfort was clearly greater than mine, but my empathy was tempered by how unapologetic she was by her intrusion. I was seated on the aisle, and on boarding she asked if I would switch seats with her, “for obvious reasons.” For equally obvious reasons, I declined.
So each time she struggled in or out, she made a point of turning towards me and grumbling about how they made the seats “too narrow.” I desperately wanted to retort, “No, you made your ass too wide”, but held my tongue for fear she would lift the armrest in retaliation, unleashing a flood of cyanotic adipose in my direction.
It must be humiliating to be publicly told that your haunch is too large to fit in a single seat, but what is the alternative? Few gates could accommodate a separate sound-proofed “fat room”, and I’m not sure that would draw less attention. Or perhaps the airlines should strictly adopt the cartoon-character measuring posts long used at amusement parks? (”Your ass must be smaller than Barney’s to ride.”)
There are now several lawsuits accusing airlines of discrimination, but this is more about geometry than bigotry. If the seat of your pants is wider than the seat on the airplane, you simply do not fit. It may be embarrassing to be asked to purchase a second ticket; it may even be a substantial financial burden. But it is unfair to your seat-mate to cram yourself in regardless. I pay for my seat, and I have no obligation to share it, regardless of whether my scrawny ass actually fills its dimensions. Besides, when it comes to airplane comfort, whatever spatial advantage I might gain from my boney bottom is surely offset by its lack of adequate padding.
Perhaps my comments are unduly cruel, but I prefer to think of my position on this issue as rather nuanced. I myself have several friends and family members with whom I could not sit comfortably on a long flight (although admittedly with some, it has nothing to do with their size.) So I hope this is not perceived as an attack on fat people.
What it is an attack on is the failure of some people to recognize that one’s unfettered personal freedom ends at the point where it infringes on the personal freedom of others.
So in an odd sort of way, I guess today’s blog might be about politics after all… about that delicate balance between individual liberty and obligation to society that is at the core of much of our political debate. Or more bluntly, about the everyday competition over scarce resources. Or maybe it’s just about tort reform.
Oh what the hell… it’s about how incredibly uncomfortable it is to have a really fat person sit next to me on an airplane. Can’t a guy just vent sometimes?