obesity obese man
Photograph by FatM1ke, which is used under the Creative Commons 3.0 license and is found here.

Air Travel From the Point of View of an Obese Person

“E veryone is uncomfortable in airplanes. They’re designed to fit as many people as possible , which doesn’t lead to comfortable seats for anyone. Flying is costly, uncomfortable, stressful. Bags get heavy; flights get canceled; relationships get strained. No one is having a good time. And at the peak of all that stress  —  boarding the plane —  the person my fellow passengers see is me. Rather than being a compatriot, stuck in the same frustrating, uncomfortable situation, I become a scapegoat for all that frustration. I become an effigy of every slight they’ll face, a symbol of every inconsiderate passenger, every unwelcome reclined seat, every oversold flight.”

That statement is from an unidentified person known only as Your Fat Friend who wrote this impassioned article pertaining to air travel from the point of view of an obese person for Vox.

Debate and Controversy

The controversial debate over people who are known as the political correct term “person of size” has been raging for years — often using unnecessarily derisive monikers such as hippo or pig to describe them and often adding insult to injury.

Passengers forced to sit next to obese people complain of not getting all of the seat for which they paid and having to sit in discomfort for the duration of the flight because a “person of size” happened to “spill over” into their seats; while obese people complain of airlines attempting to crush as many people into a confined tube with wings in order to squeeze out as much revenue — and, hopefully, profit as a result — as possible.

People on both sides of the issue have a good point; but where the arguments derail is when obese people are accused of not being responsible for losing enough weight or not caring about the comfort of their fellow passengers. Some obese people find it difficult to lose weight — and not simply due to a lack of will power when a dessert is within reach. Others cannot lose weight due to medical conditions.

One example is the situation of Vilma Soltesz — who was 56 years old; had only one leg and used a wheelchair; lived in the Bronx with her husband; and weighed 425 pounds — when she died in October of 2013 from kidney failure after allegedly being denied boarding an aircraft at the airports in Budapest, Prague and Frankfurt while attempting to return to her home in New York. She apparently gained weight while at the couple’s vacation home in the Hungary countryside due to a combination of kidney disease and diabetes, causing her to retain a significant amount of water over the course of a month — which supposedly explained why the couple was able to fly as passengers to Hungary but not be able to return to New York.

A lawsuit which was initiated against three different airlines by her husband was quietly settled; and the terms of the settlement had not been disclosed.


There are no easy or obvious answers to resolve this issue — but here are some possible solutions:

An obvious solution would be to widen seats in the economy class cabin aboard airplanes — but do not look for that to happen anytime soon by airlines, as that would impact revenues and profits. In fact, quite the opposite is still happening, as the density of passengers is increasing: plans were announced last week from United Airlines to retrofit 19 of its 74 Boeing 777 airplanes into a configuration for domestic flights that will include ten seats abreast in the economy class cabin.

Passengers who require extra room do have the option to purchase more than one seat; but not all airlines offer this option — and not all passengers have the funds to either purchase an extra seat in the economy class cabin or a wider seat in the premium class cabin.

Another solution — which had been offered three years ago — was charging passengers by weight using one three possible methods:

  • A straightforward price per kilogram or pound
  • A fixed low fare with heavier passengers paying a surcharge and lighter passengers being offered a discount
  • Divided passengers into three groups — heavy, normal and light — and have them be charged accordingly


Until there is an equitable solution to this controversial issue, obese people are generally resigned to this lamentation from the aforementioned article:

“Air travel is a microcosm of what happens to me so often as a fat person. I am watched,  and judged harshly,€”  as I try  and fail  to fit into a space that was made for someone else. I am always too big, always too much, always unacceptable. I must make myself smaller and smaller, reducing and reducing endlessly, my stubborn body resisting at every turn. Still, I am never quite small enough to make anyone else comfortable.”

Photograph by FatM1ke, which is used under the Creative Commons 3.0 license and is found here.

  1. Brian, excellent job handling a touchy issue. Many people who spew their disdain for heavy folks have their own axes to bear. They’re just not as visible.

    I think was needs to be done and I’m shocked it hasn’t is that an ADA lawsuit should be filed and would probably win. Airlines shamelessly jam people in like sardines while their execs travel positive space in first and business even on pleasure travel at the cost of only the taxes.

    If obesity is a medically recognized condition it should be handled as an ADA issue. If not the obese people will continue to feel the wrath of hypocrisy from so many self-righteous travelers. And Brian you know me…I’m far from obese but see the reaction to heavy folks for why it is. BS.

  2. @Squirrel, where do people of height fit into this solution? I don’t imagine the very tall being allowed the chance to enter into an ADA complaint, yet as it relates to air travel how could they not?

    1. Jake,
      I am 6′ 3″. While not of Shaq’s stature, my height does definitely pose challenges in the economy section of the airplane. That said, it is not what I would consider my height a disability…in fact, there are many areas in life where I’ve had an advantage being taller than average and numerous historical studies show that height comes with advantages not existing for those of shorter stature. Here’s how the ADA defines disability: An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. I will not pretend to agree with every category that meets ADA’s definition of a disability. Just like I won’t agree that alcoholism is a “disease.” Certainly, obesity substantially limits one or more major life activities. Can the same be said of being tall? Perhaps. But that’s not a battle I choose to fight as my height is something I would not trade for even a full head of hair. I doubt someone obese would say the same…but I digress. If you are tall and want to consider yourself disabled because when you ride an airplane you’re cramped, go for it. But I’m guessing that’s not the only area in life where you’re challenged if that’s how you feel…just sayin.’

      1. @Squirrel, don’t feel that way at all. In fact, in my comment I said “I don’t imagine the very tall being allowed the chance to enter into an ADA complaint…” Really no need to take a shot at me, just raising a question. I’ve seen many a passenger 6’7″+ in absolute pain in coach seats through the years. That someone tall may have advantages in other areas of life is not germane – the article discusses solutions airlines should pursue in order to accommodate passengers not built for economy class seats.

  3. It’s not a shot at you unless you infer it that way. Frankly, I’m disgusted with the culture’s victimhood obsession. Not saying, implying, or otherwise that you belong to that group. But you’re wrong, it is germane to your post: I don’t imagine the very tall being allowed the chance to enter into an ADA complaint, yet as it relates to air travel how could they not?

    I was addressing your implication that the very tall should be allowed to pursue and ADA claim as I stated that the obese should. You were implying they are analogous from a legal standpoint. And I disagreed by stating that being tall gives many advantages in life. Can you same for obesity?


  4. Ha. Now you’re just being cheeky. If I inferred…c’mon.
    Just what we all need in the good ol’ USA, another lawsuit. Have at it.

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