Flying High

So, as I write this post I am sitting in first class. I have to say that it’s nice, especially for someone like me. You see I’m a big girl. I take up space. In the past I have always sat in those tiny seats. My ass fitting but scrunched against the sides. Always pulling the seat belt all the way and hoping it buckles. The look on people’s faces when they realize you are sitting next to them. Ugh. It sucks. It’s humiliating. It hurts.

I’ve been a big girl for the last twenty years or so. I know what it’s like to live on both sides. When I was in my early twenties I was so small that people thought I was anorexic. Now people actually have the gall to suggest I eat a salad. Body shaming goes both ways but I digress.

I’m sitting in first class right now and for the first time I actually feel comfortable on a flight. It’s never happened before today. It’s awesome, too bad I had to pay a bunch of cash to finally feel comfortable in this scenario.

Let me tell you about my last experience flying. I booked a flight on Southwest Airlines not knowing that the sooner you check in online the sooner you can get on the flight. The sooner you get on the flight, the better seat you will get. Being a bigger girl, your seat selection is very important. I have, up until this point flown on Delta, American and Sun country. Southwest had only recently started flying from my terminal so I was caught unaware.

When I checked in I found that I was in the very last group to board the plane. When I asked what that meant exactly, the very nice desk attendant explained the procedure to me. The empathetic expression in his eyes is still with me. He knew, this was not going to be a good situation for me. I believe he even said, “oh honey,” in his perfect southern drawl.  I took a deep breath at his news. I tried to calm my racing heart. I had just made an already bad situation worse.

So, I’m waiting at the gate. I end up meeting some other English teachers. We are all headed to the national conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I forget for a few moments that I’m about to board a full plane. I enjoy my preparations for one of my favorite yearly events. I love meeting other English teachers because we always get caught up in talking about books and our students. Before I know it, the flight is boarding. I watch everyone get in line and begin boarding. Dread creeps over me and I can feel the knot settle in my stomach. Finally, they call section C and I stand in line. There are only five other people behind me. This can’t be good.

I walk slowly down the tunnel and step onto the plane greeting the flight attendants with my best friendly midwestern smile. I walk down the aisle and no seats are open. There are only three or four seats in the middle and not a single person moves to allow me access to one of the seats. I see the group I met earlier and one guy shrugs his shoulders. He mouths “sorry” and I turn and walk toward the front. Again no one moves. I stop and ask a woman on the end, hoping for some sympathy and she balks. “I’m not moving, find someplace else.” I can’t believe this is happening. I am full of shame as I walk back up toward the front. I can’t believe not a single person will move so I can at least sit in a middle seat.

I guess I get it, no one wants to sit next to the fat girl.

That hurts. Bad.

I make my way back toward the front and the flight attendant motions for me to join her. I reach her and she says “Wait here, because of the delay those traveling to Boston will have to get off this flight to board another. We’ll get you a seat at the front.” She winks and rubs my arm. I expel a relieved sigh. She nods her head toward the other flight attendant and he makes the announcement. Passengers begin to grumble. They stand and grab their carry-on bags from the over-head compartments. One man, in the front of the plain stands. So, does the woman next to him. Leaving an entire row empty.

The flight attendant waves her hand as soon as they depart and says, “Here you go sweetie, the row is all yours.”

I smile and say, “Thank you so much.”

She smiles back and says, “No problem sweetie. Let me know if you need anything else.”

To this day I am so grateful to flight attendants. They are some of the nicest people I have ever met. Especially since they have to deal with so many, rude people.

I know my story ended happily. I got the whole row to myself and learned my lesson. I checked in early to my returning flight and haven’t made that mistake again. Yet, I will never forget the shame and hurt I felt walking up and down that aisle without a friendly face. People could have moved for me to sit in the middle. Not a one did. I’m sure this isn’t even the worst story another larger person may have experienced. I mean Kevin Smith was kicked off the plane for crying out loud.  Too fat to fly almost became a movement, almost.

Somehow fat shaming is still acceptable. Somehow, we blame the person. All it would’ve taken that day is one friendly face. I will never forget what the flight attendant did for me but I always wonder. What if there hadn’t been a delay. What if no one actually moved. I know I would have made someone let me in at some point. I am a strong-willed female. I would have sat in that bitches lap to make her move but I shouldn’t have had to. I’m hopeful that others sharing this journey find a friendly face rather than a condemning eye. I also hope no one ever experiences too fat to fly.

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