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Flying While Fat: What To Know Before You Buy Your Plane Ticket

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Travelers come in all shapes and sizes, but airline seats, sadly, do not. I can personally attest to this, as a plus-sized woman who’s been squashed into tight spaces en route. Suffering in silence makes for a lousy trip, so read on for my best advice, plus some pro tips from a few fat-acceptance authors and bloggers. Who says big girls don’t fly?

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Research before you book 

Not all seats, planes, or airlines are created equal. Aircraft size matters. Smaller planes usually have smaller seats. And while Frontier Airlines has seats as wide as 19.1 inches across, and Delta’s new Boeing 777 seats are 18.6 inches across, most seats typically fall between 16 to 18 inches in width. And trust me, two inches can be the difference between feeling crowded by the armrest, and bruising your hips. So call up the airline and chat about the seat measurements, length of seatbelts, legroom, and their policies for passengers of size. Want to skip this step? Lia Garcia of Practical Wanderlust recommends flying Southwest, her favorite “fat-positive” airline, and grabbing “one or two extra seats as needed.” It’s really easy to get a “refund for the extra seats after your trip.” All you have to do is call or email Southwest to receive a full refund of the extra seats. Plus, when you book a second seat, you’re automatically included in the early boarding group. 

Don’t bank on premium economy 

It’ll save your knees, but not your hips or thighs. While these seats have more legroom, they usually aren’t any wider. Forget booking an exit row—some airlines don’t allow passengers of size to sit in these seats (because fat people don’t deserve to exit the burning plane first, apparently). Business-class seats are substantially roomier, but way spendy. If you have no budget for upgrades, Hannah Logan of Eat Sleep Breathe Travel advises ditching the use of tray tables, and bringing your own bottled drinks to “stick in the seat pocket” instead. 

Be your own best ally 

Request to be moved next to an empty seat at check-in, and again after boarding if you spot any. Ask to board early if you want extra time, and for a seatbelt extender if you need one. You deserve to be comfortable and safe. Like Jes Baker, author of Landwhale, says, “Be kind to YOU. There is no reason for self-flagellation when you walk down a plane aisle. You deserve to be treated like a human just like every other passenger…every single time.” 

By Chris Ciolli
Illustration by Maia Boakye
This article originally appeared in the October/November 2018 print issue of BUST. Subscribe today!

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