Air Passengers of Size

In airline literature, Passengers of Size are also known by the abbreviation POS, which is only one of the many indignities they have to put up with. This unfortunate coincidence may explain why some airlines use other terms, like Customer of Size, or Seatmate of Size.

Yesterday, we looked at the testimony of a blogger who goes by “Your Fat Friend,” who has plenty to say about the airlines, and none of it good. One of the traumatic experiences in YFF’s past was being placed next to a woman who texted cruel jokes to friends during a flight, not caring whether these communications could be seen by the person she was insulting — or possibly hoping that they would be.

In another, very recent, piece the same author addresses USA Today Travel, which released a video about the actions open to a slim-privilege afflicted passenger “when they feel another passenger is encroaching on their space.” The non-obese traveler can ask to be reseated, or switch to a later flight if possible (without, presumably, any guarantee that the same horrible fate would not overtake them again.)

But the last suggestion really threw YFF for a loop:

If you can, discreetly take pictures. Include them with your complaint. If the airline doesn’t respond appropriately, post your pictures on social media.

In other words, the air travel industry encourages disgruntled passengers to photograph their overweight seatmates. It then encourages them to publish these photos which document how shabbily the slim person was treated, by having a fat person foisted on them.

This surveillance and exposure is necessary to persuade the public that an obese person is a species of terrorist, and to convince a jury, if necessary that compensation is due. The author was sickened by the video, and “incandescent with anger and hurt,” especially because a necessary trip was approaching in a few days. YFF wrote:

I am the person your video is about. You instructed thinner passengers to “discreetly” take photographs of me without my knowledge or consent, post them online, and use them to complain to airlines.

You have advised thin people on how to retaliate for the injustice of sitting next to us. What should we do, when we are never certain we will be allowed to keep our seat, or our privacy?

What, indeed, should the obese traveller do? Buy a second seat? That’s perfectly allowable — but the airline can decide at the last minute to renege on the deal and sell the seat to another passenger instead. The policies are inconsistent from one airline to the next, and often they don’t even follow their own rules. They don’t have to, because if anyone gets difficult the airliner’s staff can summon the police for any and every reason.

Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist (and a Customer of Size), described to This American Life a common event in her life:

When I’m flying, I am oftentimes standing in the priority line, because I travel every week. And people will say, you know, this is the first-class line, as if I don’t belong there.

Airlines have experimented with various schemes to combine the weight of each passenger and their luggage, and charge accordingly. This trend seems to have started with Samoa Air, based in a country with a ferocious obesity rate.

The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance clapped back, in the voice of spokesperson Peggy Howell:

If you’re going to treat people like freight, then you have to accommodate those people the way freight carriers do. Freight carriers don’t try to fit a big box into a space the size of a 17-inch seat.

And imagine the logistical nightmare if this became the compulsory routine for every plane trip, everywhere. Journalist Rob Lovitt quotes the spokesperson for, George Hobica:

You’d have to get to the airport two or three hours early; flights would be delayed, and you’d need more staff so it could lead to higher fares… It would slow everything down — and planes on the ground don’t make money.

Author/director/comedian Kevin Smith recommends appeasement and, if necessary, maybe even groveling:

If they feel like you’re at least sorry for your grievous offense of not looking like everybody else, they’ll leave you alone.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “A Letter from the Fat Person on Your Flight,”, 10/09/17
Source: “To the newspaper that encouraged ‘discreetly’ photographing fat airline passengers,”, 11/21/18
Source: “589: Tell Me I’m Fat,”, 06/17/16
Source: “U.S fliers believe obese should buy second seat,”, 04/22/13
Source: “Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good,” Goodreads, 2012
Images by (left to right): Flickr, acidpixGraham Ó Síodhacháin, Flickr, Flickr, Flickr

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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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