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.
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May 2009

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