Flying While Obese

In the holiday season, this post is “relatable” to the many Americans who spend parts of their vacations in the air. It is based on the work of the pseudonymous “Your Fat Friend,” whose mission is to help people become aware of what it’s like to exist as an obese person. She has in fact been fat for 35 years, experiencing hostility, humiliation, and “casual and constant cruelty” from thinner people. She describes the ongoing fear that others will react with contempt or violence; the tears she fights to suppress after every public insult.

A Letter from the Fat Person on Your Flight” is framed as addressing a woman the author had first seen inside the airport, who had the look of someone friendly and kind. But the woman ended up seated nearby, and witnessed all of YFF’s subsequent humiliations with blank unconcern.

The author had booked an aisle seat, but was reassigned at the last minute to a middle, and ended up sitting next to a man who clearly did not want to sit next to her. While other passengers were still boarding, this guy got up to speak with a flight attendant four different times, and YFF was pretty sure she knew the topic.

Her suspicions were confirmed when an attendant came over to whisper at the man, and lead him away. But first, he made a point of telling the author that he was moving to give her more room, which was obviously ridiculous because the attendant brought someone else to fill the seat anyway.

YFF describes the painful awkwardness of trying to disappear, and of being made invisible:

I had learned that any free space belonged to the thin. My arms were crossed tight across my chest, thighs squeezed together, ankles crossed beneath my seat. My body was knotted, doing everything it could not to touch him, not to impose its soft skin. I folded in on myself, muscles aching with contraction.

I stayed like that, body knotted up into its most compact shape, eyes locked low, for the rest of our trip. Flight attendants visited my row frequently, offering free wine, beer and snacks to the passengers sitting on either side of me…

In her mind, these were “apologetic offerings” to compensate the other passengers for the horrible fate of sitting next to her. Also, the frequent visits gave the attendant many opportunities to pointedly ignore her.

Many branches, one tree

Each airline makes its own policies, and diligently keeping up with them is one of the disincentives that the “passenger of size” must face. In YFF’s words,

I have memorized the policies that give flight attendants the discretion to escort me from the plane if I don’t appear to “fit comfortably,” leaving me stranded in some far-away airport without a refund or a way home.

YFF has found “workarounds,” like checking her travel bag rather than putting on an undignified show, struggling to put it in the overhead compartment. She only flies first class, hoping that better treatment might be accorded to a higher-paying passenger, but this is not always the case.

The author speaks of a woman who complained loudly to the staff that she “couldn’t be expected to fly this way,” meaning stuck next to an obese person. And the airline can kick you out with no warning, assign you to a different flight, and make you pay more.

YFF makes excuses to avoid traveling for her job, which is not exactly a smart move for anyone’s career. She would probably visit family more often, if not for the awfulness of the flying experience.

Let’s digress for a moment, and recall how often we have mentioned that psychologists and psychiatrists need to play a bigger part in treating obesity. Could it be possible that someone might maintain excess weight for the very reason of having an excuse to not see their family more often? All on the subconscious level, of course.

The point is, a person who has an inner dynamic like that going on could probably benefit from therapy. And how does anyone know whether they are or are not afflicted by an emotional or mental disorder, until they consult a professional about it?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “A Letter from the Fat Person on Your Flight,”, 10/09/17
Photo credit: joidviv on Visualhunt/CC BY

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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