How Obese Flyers Feel

An anonymous blogger known as “Your Fat Friend” (YFF) says that passenger planes have experienced seat shrinkage over the years, and that they used to be four inches wider. The bathrooms have also become smaller. Imagine having to do anything complicated in a tiny chamber where you can barely move.

And YFF is not only concerned for herself and fellow obese people. She also has enough empathy to bring up the difficulties this miniaturization process adds to the already perilous lives of the elderly, the disabled, and any passenger who suffers limited mobility for any reason.

But how much empathy do normal-weight travelers have for the obese? Hey, skinny person, imagine the delight of emerging from a flight to find that some intolerant fellow passenger has photographed you without permission, and turned you into an internet meme?

The same writer also published an informative series of tweets making several additional points about “flying while fat.” For instance, she is required to buy two seats, and if that isn’t done in advance, the price differential can be hundreds of dollars. It gets worse:

I’m charged for that second seat regardless of whether one is available. I pay double for the privilege of staying on the plane. Even if I buy a second seat in advance, the airline may still sell it to another passenger… Some policies don’t include a refund or rebooking policy. So I could be out $1300 & still stranded. That’s a risk I take every time I fly.

There are other reasons to feel aggrieved. For some reason, it seems that any agent of the Transportation Security Administration is allowed to confiscate a passenger’s own seatbelt extender that they paid for. Once seated, it’s impossible to fold down the tray table, so no work can be done and no meal can be eaten.

And there is always the chance that one or more persons will side-eye the obese passenger, and whisper, or worse yet, audibly and publicly complain to the cabin crew, asking to be moved. The writer speaks of being “treated like luggage — a cumbersome, exasperating inconvenience, inanimate and unfeeling” and goes on to say that every time she has to fly, it’s a “major physical, financial and emotional risk.”

Another anonymous writer known by the initial “J” feels the same anxiety, trepidation, and even panic:

It is so unfair how much thinking and preparing we as fatties have to do when trying to accomplish tasks that thin people commonly experience with ease.

Hey, skinny people, imagine being afraid to pass through the full body scanner because you might get stuck. What a horrifying prospect! It can make a person feel awful, icky, and oppressed. J’s advice to fellow obese flyers is to “Act like you own the place and shove yourself through as if this is something you do all the time.”

Bravado may comfort the obese individual, but the attitude is unlikely to endear that person to employees or bystanders, so it’s one of those “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenarios. J winds up with these words:

And finally, remind yourself that in this capitalist society, airlines intentionally cram as many seats as possible onto the plane and make the aisles painfully narrow in order to maximize passengers and therefore profit. It is not unreasonable to be nervous about flying while fat. It is also not unreasonable to ask for accommodations. You deserve to feel safe and comfortable on your flight.

Situations can get even worse, so bad in fact that we won’t even go into it here, only mention the very messy and ugly story described by Amber J. Phillips as “The cops were called on me for flying while fat & Black.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “This is what it’s like to fly while very fat,”, 07/18/17
Source: “6 Tips for Flying While Fat,”, 01/19/18
Source: “Woman Claims American Called The Cops On Her For ‘Flying While Fat & Black’,”, 04/30/18
Photo credit: Iwan Gabovitch on Visualhunt/CC BY

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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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