Structural fatphobia is everywhere, including the skies. Almost no one can get comfortable on airplanes, and that’s especially true for fat and plus-size people.
When the Federal Aviation Administration asked for feedback on airplane seat size last year, it received more than 26,000 comments in a 90-day period. The public comments range in tone, length and content. But many share one throughline: a demand for larger seats on planes.
Some cite safety for passengers with wheelchairs, while others discuss comfort and safety for plus-size fliers. And many include fatphobic remarks about a commenter’s in-flight neighbor. Those sentiments were not limited to anonymous comments.
“You see a lot of stuff on TikTok and Instagram where people are complaining about being next to people who are bigger,” Alex Stewart, co-host of the podcast Swipe Fat, tells Reset.
This particular brand of anti-fatness shows up in every area of Alex’s life as a plus-size woman. Her co-host Nicci Nunez has shared many of the same experiences.
“As fat people, we try to change our body for society, for society standards, acceptance, dating, fashion,” Nicci says. “We are not the standard. But statistically, the average woman is plus-size.”
Many who advocate for larger seats emphasize that this is not just an issue of avoiding interpersonal conflict — it’s an accessibility issue.
“At six-foot-three and nearly 300 pounds, no airline seat is comfortable,” said James Stewart, a Los Angeles resident who left Reset a voicemail about his feedback for the FAA. “This is part of the safety. If people aren’t comfortable, they’re not safe.”
For passengers like James, comfort is rarely a guarantee onboard an airplane. Many airlines have ticketing policies requiring people over a certain weight or hip measurement to buy an extra seat, so plus-size travelers are more likely to incur additional expenses either purchasing an extra seat or seeking comfort in larger first class seats.
Still, Nicci and Alex have found joy in traveling. They recently organized a trip to Greece with 10 other plus-size women, and they’re launching similar “fat babe vacations” to other European destinations later in 2023. Nicci describes the experience as life-changing. And when the airline lost Alex’s bags for five days of the trip, she found she could shop her fellow travelers’ closets for the first time.
Here are some tips for fat or plus-size travelers from Reset’s conversation with Nicci and Alex:
Call ahead. Ask about furniture weight limits at restaurants and hotels. Ask about gear sizes for bungee jumping and zip lining. Ask a tour guide if they can accommodate any physical limitations you or your travel companions might have.
Don’t count yourself out of an activity before you ask. Some activities might have weight or size limits for protective gear, but some may surprise you.
Travel with people you trust. No one likes feeling self-conscious in a bathing suit, so find travel buddies who help you celebrate your body.
If you’re unlikely to find clothing in your size at your destination, bring a change of clothes in your carry-on. You might be traveling with other people your size, but it otherwise isn’t worth the risk!
This is Part 2 of Reset’s Bias Against Bodies series. Sarah Stark is a freelance producer for Reset. You can follow her @itssarahstark.