wojelah: (Reality)
[personal profile] wojelah
I don't know if you've been following this. kateharding.net has a number of posts on the subject, and I recommend them. The short version: United, like Southwest, is implementing a policy where fat people on full flights will 1) be bumped from the flight and 2) possibly required to buy a second ticket.

I have, oh, about sixteen zillion problems with this, and I haven't posted before this because really, I didn't know where to start. I've stewed long enough, I think, so here goes:

Obese, under United's policy, is defined as "unable to lower the arm rest and buckle a seat belt with one extension belt." Southwest's policy is pretty similar. And on the paper, maybe the words look pretty innocuous.

There's a whole host of excellent questions that this kind of policy raises, not the least of which are those Craig Nelson raises:

"Here's the big question, especially for gate agents: How do you determine who's too big to go in one seat? Are they supposed to pull people out of line who look a little too hefty? Will calipers and Body Mass Index charts be issued and hanging next to the luggage check scale? Are there measurements involved? How soon til the first discrimination lawsuit is filed? And will there be discounts for the svelte fliers? Who's next on the target list? People who snore while sleeping are charged extra to be put in a seclusion zone? People flying with crying children charged extra for a blast of thorazine and noise dampeners? Where does it stop?"

Let me explain to you how this plays out in real life.

I go to the airport, having checked in online. I get to security and through security and repack my computer and toe my shoes back on and all the nonsense that everybody goes through and emerge unscathed. I get on my first South flight, no problem. I arrive at the layover airport, no problem. I get to the next gate with plenty of time to spare. I get to the front of the firsat boarding group's line and settle down with a book.

Fast forward, if you will, to about ten minutes before boarding. Most of the flight has assembled and like good little goslings, we are all arrayed in our neat lines. Two gate agents choose that moment to walk up to me and pull me out into the empty space in front of the lines of people. In serious tones, they tell me the flight is full and ask me if I have purchased two tickets, because if not, I will not be allowed to board the plane because I am an obese passenger. Let me reiterate here that I am in front of literally hundreds of people.

I am asked if I can fit in the seat using a single seatbelt extender, the answer to which is yes. I am told that they still cannot let me board the plane. At this point I begin to raise my voice. I am not yelling, thank you very much four years of outdoor theater, just speaking clearly and loudly. I am asked to step aside and boarding begins. I continue to protest. At length, and only because I have refused to let the gate attendant walk away and deal with other tasks, they let me on the plane, but only if a gate attendant escorts me to make sure I fit and only if I agree to get off the plane if I don't.

Now, I know I "fit." I also have limited options - I'm flying home for a surprise shower taking place the next day. So I agree, under protest.

My escort and I walk down the aisle of an entirely, completely full flight, to the only remaining seat, which is at the back of the plane. I sit down and buckle in, and think that's the end of it. This is the point at which I realize that my escort has squatted down in the aisle just behind me and is line-of-sighting down the aisle to see if I "overflow."

Fortunately for my bridal shower plans, the dikes hold. My escort gets off the plane without apology or any other statement, and life continues.

Like I said: I don't really know where to start when it comes to telling you what I find appalling in that whole situation - and let me stress that the above scenario 1) actually happened and 2) is not, in my life, a unique experience. I dread the possibility every time I get on a plane. I dress strategically, trying to find my most slimming outfit, to reduce the chances that it will happen.

What I cannot emphasize enough is that I also know it doesn't matter. Every time I get on a plane to fly, I will, without question, encounter an individual like Fred Fisk, WAMU 88.5's senior commentator. Seriously, listen to it - the piece is short. It's the voice of someone whom, in other circumstances, I would have treated with the same respect I would give my grandfather - someone respected in my community. It is also self-righteous, self-congratulatory, condescending, and incredibly insulting. And that's the nice version.

I only wish I were kidding.

I am "that woman." I know exactly how she felt. And I know exactly how clear it was to her that Mr. Fisk and his wife would rather be anywhere but there. "Deep sympathy" for the obese, my ass.

I am fat. I am not broken - nor am I stupid, lazy, ignorant, passive, docile, or oblivious. I am tired of being told that because I am overweight, I must smile and agree when someone treats me like my weight is a sign of some great moral or character flaw. I am not a bad person. I am not deserving of punishment. I do not need to be fixed. And I do not want your "sympathy" - what do you know about me or my life?

I am fat. I am not a pushover. I will call your bluff. I will raise my voice.

I am fat. I am worthy of respect, just as much as you. Don't think I won't demand it.

Date: 2009-04-23 04:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] omglawdork.livejournal.com
1) You are beautiful and wonderful and I love you.

2) This makes me sad, because I always thought SWA was one of the good guys. They are so off the Twitter. *hugs you* *rages against the airlines*

Date: 2009-04-23 01:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wojelah.livejournal.com
*hugs you*

*points at link to petition, now on new post, which is what I get for using links I pulled this weekend*

Date: 2009-04-23 07:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] irony-rocks.livejournal.com
2) This makes me sad, because I always thought SWA was one of the good guys.

Kinda off-topic, but SWA doesn't have the best track record with this type of stuff. In the 80's, Southwest Airlines tried to justify its policy that only attractive women could work as flight attendants and ticket agents. They wanted to project a “sexy image and fulfill its public promise to take passengers skyward with love.” Thankfully, the courts weren't swayed.

Date: 2009-04-23 05:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mercury973.livejournal.com
THIS MAKES ME VERY MAD. I'm 230. Am I too fat to fly? Unbelievable! It's the mentality that overweight people are stupid and that it's ok to make fun of them. Can you imagine if a flight attendant told someone that their skin color was wrong and needed to buy another seat on top of what they already bought? People would be up in arms. But fat people? No, they need to shut up and put the fork down!

Date: 2009-04-23 01:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wojelah.livejournal.com
The answer to your first question is, sadly, "Who knows?" Depends who your gate agent is that day, I guess - which is ridiculous. And it SHOULD make us mad. Want to let them know about it? Go sign the petition to United - there's a link to a petition, now on new post, which is what I get for using links I pulled this weekend.

Date: 2009-04-23 06:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] misscam.livejournal.com
Oh, that's... Repulsive, to put it bluntly. Have no words, really. Can they do that? Really?

.... Wow.

Date: 2009-04-23 01:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wojelah.livejournal.com
Sadly, so far they can.

Canada, at least, seems to understand the massive flaws involved - they have a one-person, one-ticket rule. Even that's pretty flawed in the execution, though. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28777115/)

Date: 2009-04-23 11:04 am (UTC)
tielan: Wonder Woman (Default)
From: [personal profile] tielan
With all the travelling I've done, I can tell you that I'd rather sit next to a fat person. They're usually polite, conversational, and apologetic about the situation in the tin can...unlike the six-foot-four Pennsylvanian businessman whose shoulders just 'happen' to be too broad for the chair and so I end up squished against them for most of the flight.

Bet he doesn't get shoved onto the next flight.

Date: 2009-04-23 01:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wojelah.livejournal.com
Or have to pay extra.

Or, most importantly, have to be made to feel like he is somehow inferior.

Also, and completely off-topic: I saw your posts early this AM (my time) - *hugs*.

Date: 2009-04-23 12:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] maribouquet.livejournal.com
This makes me so angry - thank you for posting about it. I'm glad to know about this policy. It's profiling and it's discriminatory.

Do you know if there is any movement afoot to launch a formal, mass protest?

Date: 2009-04-23 12:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] beadattitude.livejournal.com
That's what I was thinking. I'd be all over that.

Man, this is disgusting.

Date: 2009-04-23 01:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wojelah.livejournal.com
It's the special kind of stupid, that's for sure. Also, see link below!

Date: 2009-04-23 01:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wojelah.livejournal.com
NAAFA (The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) (http://www.naafa.org) has linked to a petition - you can sign it here. (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/naafanews/message/332)

(ETA: Whoops, hit post too soon.)

The other thing you can do is pass this along - I haven't seen much of a brouhaha about it. Feel free to link here.

Date: 2009-04-23 02:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] beadattitude.livejournal.com
The petition shows as being withdrawn at the author's request. :(

Date: 2009-04-23 02:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wojelah.livejournal.com
Serves me right for pulling the links this past weekend! See new LJ post for more info.

Date: 2009-04-27 11:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] maribouquet.livejournal.com
Thank you!!

Date: 2009-04-23 01:53 pm (UTC)
ext_8600: (Default)
From: [identity profile] reedfem.livejournal.com
That sucks. I hope you wrote a letter and blasted them all. This is why I haven't flown since 2000. Well, that and I haven't actually *gone* anywhere...

Date: 2009-04-23 01:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wojelah.livejournal.com
It's ridiculous. Also *points at link to petition, now on new post, which is what I get for using links I pulled this weekend* - there's a petition afoot - I'm signing, and I hope others will too. If you need to explain to someone why they should, feel free to link them here.

Date: 2009-04-23 07:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] irony-rocks.livejournal.com
Grr. Argh.

You are awesomeness defined, and I am writing a letter to SWA for this. This bullshit will not stand.

Date: 2009-04-24 08:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] loves-bitch.livejournal.com
Stumbled over here from a friends journal.

This is exactly what I fear happening to my cousin. I travel with her all the time to conventions and such and she is one of my best friends. We always get weird looks when we travel together because I am short, skinny, and rather dorky looking and she is slightly taller and "obese".
When we fly I am always the one to as for the seat belt extender.

If they were to ever come up to us and say that I could fly but she could not because of being overweight I would raise holy hell.

I am still furious about the whole thing.

Date: 2009-04-24 10:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rilestar.livejournal.com
I followed the link from [livejournal.com profile] aesc to your post. I am appalled at the treatment you received. I've been following various news articles about this from around the world (Ryanair is now planning to charge a 'fat tax', too), and been horrified by the vilification of overweight people by commenters on the various articles. How can they possibly think this is okay?

Date: 2009-04-25 02:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] spoiledjap.livejournal.com
Hi aesc sent me over to your post. What these airlines are doing is deplorable and discriminatory. I was once 315lbs and if these rules were around back then; I would have never traveled. You are dead on when you say that fat people deserve the respect that we are not given.
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