How Non-Obese Flyers Feel

For people who can’t fit into commercial airline seats, the emotional effects of flying have been discussed. But what about the people of conventional weight? How do they feel? One answer is: offended by public demonstrations of gluttony, or, to use softer words, lack of self-control. An overweight traveler who spends the trip munching from a large bag of high-sugar, high-carb snacks is likely to alienate fellow passengers.

Sometimes, the non-obese feel righteous. Righteousness is all about making other people wrong, and people are wrong for being fat, or so the theory goes. A tall person might be uncomfortable with the seating arrangements on an airplane, but the height is not his fault, he couldn’t help it, so he is a victim.

An obese person, on the other hand, chose to be obese, at least according to the thin-and-righteous worldview, so any suffering incurred is that person’s own fault. Besides, while the tall traveler’s body parts do not rudely spill over into the territory of others, the obese traveler impinges. The obese traveler is a bad neighbor.

Or maybe not. One online commenter scolded others in the discussion for complaining about fat people, because she found them to be generally very respectful about their proclivity for occupying extra space. Whereas sitting next to a tall but disrespectful man was disturbing. The non-obese might feel defensive and paranoid.

In an online forum, someone with the handle “altabello” shared,

On a plane, I always preferred the window seat, b/c I could look out and it made me feel better than sitting in the aisle. But if person of size was next to me, I would totally freak out in the window seat now! Any advice on how to address this? I feel uncomfortable talking about my claustrophobia, esp. while it’s happening to me. I’m afraid I’ll be the one getting off-loaded, when the person spilling into my space is the one causing my issues.

There has been discussion of the movement toward encouraging normal-weight flyers to shoot still photos or video of obese passengers, in order to show the airline executives (and the general public) what horrors they are expected to put up with. Some people are outraged by the idea of being made an example of in such a condescending and shaming way. But the airborne paparazzi claim the undeniable right to take pictures of anything they wish, in a public place. They believe they are also entitled to share such images via social media, or wherever else they feel inspired to publish.

Sometimes, the non-obese feel litigious. A 51-year-old Stephen Prosser spent 12 hours in a window seat, squeezed between the side of the plane and a 6’5″, 23-stone passenger in the next seat. Converted from the unit of measurement used in the United Kingdom, this is the equivalent about 320 pounds.

During the flight, Prosser asked to be moved, but the flight attendants said all the seats were taken. Nor would they ask the passenger in the aisle seat to swap with the big guy so that his extra bulk could project into the aisle. A services representative was on board, and Prosser filed a formal complaint at the time, and later instituted a lawsuit against British Airways for subjecting him to the ordeal, and causing him to require extensive chiropractic services.

His lawyers say he was “forced to adjust his body and sit in an awkward and uncomfortable position” during the flight… The civil engineer says he was left suffering symptoms from his injuries for the following three months, and is now seeking damages.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Passenger of size: actual injury claim from adjacent passenger,”
Source: “Man sues BA after he injured back sitting next to fat passenger,”, 11/16/18
Photo credit: Neil Tackaberry on Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

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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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