Big Fat Facts Big Fat Index

Al Lewis Hates Fat People on Planes

I'm afraid I don't have much to say about The Denver Post's Al Lewis and his somehow-got-published rant on how he thinks airplanes should charge by the pound. You should comment on his blog, though.

Additionally and surprisingly, Lewis points out that Frontier Airlines employs an eyeballing policy:

At Denver's Frontier Airlines, gate agents eyeball their customers and if someone looks big, they suggest a seat change. The passenger usually doesn't know why.

"We to try make sure that that person is comfortable, and that the person sitting next to them is comfortable," said Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas.

It sounds like Frontier handles it better than Southwest, which instead openly discriminates. But really, is it okay because it's kept on the downlow?

It also surprises me that no one is suggesting that the seats just be made bigger, already.

Also, what ignorant column would be complete without stereotypes? Lewis ends by talking about a fat man on a flight who had a duffel bag filled with cookies. Nice. Classy. [Lots of people sent this in; thanks!]

Your Sponsors | Fat Not Covered Under ADA

creeloo September 7th, 2006 | Link | On the airline: I don't mind
On the airline: I don't mind this so much (assuming they mean well seeing as how they're not out to publicly humiliate the passengers like some airlines). Possibly they also try to put, say, tall passengers in the few rows that have a little more leg room? It's more comfortable for everyone, even if every passenger was slim, if you can space people out a bit when the flight's not full. There was a similar topic in one of the blogs run by (I think) the Sydney Morning Herald, about "passengers from hell" and the vitriol towards fat people was truly incredible. Then a few people made an interesting point - the people who are most annoyed by perceived annoyances on flights (such as fat people, crying babies, etc) were people who rarely or never take any other form of public transport. For people who take the bus or subway a lot, a flight is no big deal. For people who aren't used to sharing their personal space, they seem to go nuts over things they have no control over. Which doesn't excuse being viciously cruel, of course.
ruairifox September 7th, 2006 | Link | I think that Fronteir is
I think that Fronteir is handling larger passengers with more class than Southwest. I think that as long as the airline does not humiliate the passnger and tries to arrange seating so that you get an open seat beside you, then they are in the clear.
BLR September 7th, 2006 | Link | "But really, is it okay
"But really, is it okay because it's kept on the downlow?" Sure, why not? I'd rather be seated in an airplane as a puzzle piece that needs the perfect fit than as a one-size-fits-all block. I know my 7' tall husband would agree.
chartreuse September 7th, 2006 | Link | It sounds like Frontier
It sounds like Frontier handles it better than Southwest, which instead openly discriminates. But really, is it okay because it's kept on the downlow? It's not how they do it, it's what they do. It's fantastic for Frontier to glance at the passengers and try to seat them so that everybody is most comfortable -- that's no different from seating all the babies on a flight together to minimize the number of passengers that have to sit near them. Southwest, on the other hand, simply kicks people off planes. Big difference.
rebelle September 7th, 2006 | Link | Regardless a given airline's
Regardless a given airline's policy, Al Lewis is being an ass with this column. "Charge fat people more because I feel inconvenienced." Puh-leese. Perhaps if it were done equally: People with loud babies or bratty kids should be charged by the decibel. People who want to lean their damn chairs back into my lap should have to pay for some of MY seat. And those who just can't abide the sight of a fat person should be kicked off the plane.
chondros September 7th, 2006 | Link | Could it be any more obvious
Could it be any more obvious that Lewis and his ilk are dealing with issues a heck of a lot bigger than having someone else's flesh edge into their seat? Lots of things about air travel are annoying, and the odds of sitting next to a really fat person on any given flight have got to be quite low -- less than 1 in a 500, I'd guess. But somehow THIS is the thing that really ticks people off. It even seems to be a hot button for those who don't appear to have an especially deep animosity toward fat people otherwise. Can someone explain exactly what's going on? Is it scapegoating? Is it that most thin people never know what it's like to have to fit into a cramped space until they're stuck on a plane next to a fat person? Are fat people so apologetic about the space they occupy on airplanes that other people feel like they've been given a cue to criticize them with special vehemence?
ggljohnson September 7th, 2006 | Link | This is better than the
This is better than the Southwest airlines policy, but still and eyeball policy is not something to be proud of.
imfunnytoo September 7th, 2006 | Link | I've commented on the
I've commented on the writer's blog...I actually don't have a problem with the eyeball policy,'s not meant to demean or humiliate, unlike the Lewis piece. Why can't they simply average the number of persons wider than 17.2 inches on planes and put the corresponding number of wider than 17.2 inch seats in? They would counter with the $$ argument for the lost seats, but if every airline eventually makes us pay for two seats and we either 1. cannot afford to pay for two, or 2. take alternative transport whenever possible rather than cave and pay for two, wouldn't they also lose $$?
madge September 7th, 2006 | Link | Lewis (and the airlines)
Lewis (and the airlines) reccommend purchasing two seats if you cannot comfortably occupy the 17.2" of one seat. I tried this several years ago; to purchase two seats for myself. It was cheaper than purchasing ONE first/business class ticket (which i could in no way afford). I was informed, by the airline ticketing agent, that no one passenger can legally occupy two seats. And that even if i purchased two, had the plane become oversold, my second seat would be given away to a standby passenger (and thus the airline would be making double off of my extra seat). This was on an international northwest flight - a gruelling 12 hours of which i was not only physically uncomfortable, but also received scornful looks from other passengers AND flight staff. Perhaps the seat policy has changed, but their (the airlines) intent sure hasn't. Fat people are not welcome to fly. At least that was how i was made to feel. Lewis's final comment regarding the duffle bag full of cookies was gratuitous, inappropriate, and downright nasty. On every flight he takes from this day forward, i pray he sits next to a screaming collicky infant.
kathi September 7th, 2006 | Link | I also have purchased two
I also have purchased two seats on Northwest Airline. I enjoyed the extra room as did my row partners (strangers to me)because we both were able to spread out our things (e.g., books) into the middle seat. However, I did encounter a potential problem. You must alert the flight staff that you have purchased an extra seat or else they will count it as an empty seat and fill it if needed. On one connection, my exta seat was about to be commandeered by the stewardess when my row partner quickly pointed out that I had purchased the extra seat. I would repeat the experience but two tickets are just too expensive.
stacybias September 7th, 2006 | Link | I flew first class on a trip
I flew first class on a trip I took this weekend for exactly this reason. Both for the sake of my own comfort level and because I just couldn't deal with the scorn and ridicule of chancing a seat next to someone who would be as rude as some of the stories I've heard. But I'm lucky and I realize that. First class is incredibly expensive, and in some cases, not that much more comfortable. For one, the seats aren't necessarily significantly wider. The arm rests don't go up on either side, and the difference is that the arm rest in the middle is significantly wider so that there is more shoulder room. But for folks with larger lower bodies, it doesn't necessarily equate to a more comfortable fit. is a godsend for me - I chose my flights based on the airlines with the widest seat and my size 32 behind had generous space in a 21" seat. It's going to become inevitable that the airlines change their policies. Already Jet Blue offers slightly wider seats and more leg room. Other airlines will ideally follow suit. Until then, I'm going to book one seat and wedge my ass in wherever necessary and do my best to brave up and bear the ridicule because the more people like me that fly, and the more bigots like the above complain, the more inevitable change will be. I'm not against paying more for more room, but I will not pay more to occupy the same amount of space as someone else.
Kimbo_NYC September 8th, 2006 | Link | I live in NYC and I love
I live in NYC and I love flying home to visit family and friends. To CA and ND the flights average 8-10 hrs in the air. This entire "downlow" policy has been let out and now I feel judged every time I fly. Its frightening and daunting to fly because my parents pay for "ONE" seat. (Still in college, they have to pay to see me lol) But I would have to leave the airport and cancel my trip if I was ever told to purchase another ticket AT THE COUNTER. This entire "buy two to fly" deal for fat flyers needs to be discussed and agreed on before we get to the counter, no eyeballing, no "downlow" or chance it policies. Give us guidelines (waist measurements, shoulder measurements, etc)if we don't abide by them, then by all means, confront us at the counter, but give us some dignity and a chance to retain self respect and not travel in fear.
Lizzy September 8th, 2006 | Link | I try to avoid flying as
I try to avoid flying as much as possible. Airplanes are an uncomfortable experience for me - I can't stand how small the seats are (even when I was thinner), I have a hard time dealing with large crowds of people, so the crowd at security, at the gate (sometimes), and on the plane itself is very, very difficult for me. On top of that, I've had inner ear problems since I was a baby, so it's also a very painful experience to take off and land. I went on a business trip that involved two flights on 8/25 and then two more on 8/26. All four were with United, two on little airbus planes and two on Boeing (the largest being a 737, so they were all fairly small). I fit perfectly in my first seat. The second was next to an empty seat (yay!) so it was fine, but I felt very squished with the arm rest down. I had to request a seatbelt extender for that flight, the first and only time I've had to do that (and the attendant, who was a big girl herself, gave me this *look* for it). The third flight (day two, coming back) was too small. I couldn't keep my armrest down - I could put it down, but then it would slide up because I was pressed up against it. I was not at all comfortable in the seat, but luckily the lady next to me was thin and very nice. The fourth and final flight I happened to get seated next to a co-worker. He's one of those really tall guys with really long arm and legs. The combination of my width and his height made the entire flight extremely uncomfortable for both of us. We were both trying our hardest not to invade each other's space, but it just wasn't happening. The girl next to him disappeared for a while, and he took her seat for a while, giving us both space to actually flex our joints and breathe. It was a shame when she came back. So, I have to wonder why tall people aren't also asked to buy extra seats, seeing as they seem to take up as much of my space as I take up of theirs. United doesn't have one of these policies (that I know of), but guessing buy the look that one attendant gave me they would enforce it if they did. So if it's just about comfort, then what about the tall people? What about the people carrying infants on their laps? What about people who wear too much perfume? As mentioned before, people who put their seat all the way back (when I can't even get my tray all the way down in the first place)? People who insist on holding their carry-on bag on their lap instead of stowing it away?
bronxpearl September 8th, 2006 | Link | All this buy two seats stuff
All this buy two seats stuff is for the birds.I agree with the sentiments of everyone who mentioned all of the other examples of individuals who should also have to buy two seats--especially that tall passenger one because they are the ones who always want to push their seat back into my lap so far that I could perform oral surgery. *eye roll* I flew on JetBlue to San Juan, Puerto Rico from NYC just last week and the seats were very comfortable. The flight attendant was very discreet when I asked him for a seat belt extender, he made it his business to walk all the way up the aisle and get one rather than shout down the aisle asking for one (an experience I have had before that was a bit unnerving). The leg room was great on both flights and I liked the fact that the arm rest between myself and my friend who I was traveling with lifted up between us. That gave us both a bit more room (although she isn't a BBW, she is a bit on the hippy side). The only issue I still had was with the tray table. It wouldn't rest flat, but I expected as much. I'm a size 26/28 (closer to a 28 LOL!) and I have been on cramped airlines where the flight attendants were rude and purposely bumped me each and everytime they went up and down the aisle. Jetblue was a surprisingly refreshing experience. Just a suggestion for everyone when you are looking for an airline with a bit more room.
bonoist September 8th, 2006 | Link | Jet Blue, Jet Blue, Jet Blue
Jet Blue, Jet Blue, Jet Blue - I never want to fly another airline again after experiencing exquisite, higher than first class treatment on this airline. Every time I've had the same exact treatment - I guess the CEOs values really do trickle down (he's a good guy type CEO - family man, devout Mormon, dedicated to making his airline customer friendly) The last trip I made, the flight attendant was gracious enough to show me how to life the armrest on the aisle. I never knew those armrests could be raised! I don't know if they do that on other airlines, but they do on Jet Blue. I have been humiliated on United and Northwest. I won't fly on either one unless I absolutely have to. I have lots of miles with both of them just sitting - don't know if I want to use them for a free trip or not.
FatFarmGal September 8th, 2006 | Link | This is interesting.
This is interesting. Another case of "make the customer fit our sizes." Clothing is created in sizes and if we don't fit we are "Plus Sized" and told to lose weight. Airlines shrink their seats and cram folk in like refugees and then say, "Lose weight!" to those of us who are PERFECTLY NORMAL but cannot fit into abnormal pre-fabricated sizes. Because of greed and money-making, airlines will never make normal sized seats like the ones in First Class (I fit juuuust fine there but cannot afford it!) that will fit a variety of normal human beings. Our world is so screwed up! And the idiotic mind-set that fat people are abnormal and self-starved people are normal...I just don't get it. If you really want to see some wild reactions just go to a Christian women's forum. Find the always-present thread about dieting and weight loss (fat has become a moral issue!) and post some FACTS about how fat has no real health effects on us. Just politely post the FACTS. No opinions, nothing. You will soon find yourself attacked and silenced for "being negative"!!!!!!!! Your posts and replys will even be erased!! Even spiritual people are blind. It blows my mind.
diane September 8th, 2006 | Link | Jet Blue is owned by a
Jet Blue is owned by a "Devout" MORMON?!?!?!?! My flying options just keep shrinking....
mytashakit September 8th, 2006 | Link | Jet Blue is the best airline
Jet Blue is the best airline around. Please tell me that it's a joke when you say taht you won't fly Jet Blue because you don't like the CEO's religion. Prejudice is prejudice, be it against fat or religion. BTW: I'm not Mormom (I'm not anything, to be honest). But back to Jet Blue. Its success demonstrates that people will pay more for customer service. I hope it's a lesson learned by other companies, particularly airlines.
paul September 8th, 2006 | Link | Religion discussion
Religion discussion elsewhere, please.
MReap September 8th, 2006 | Link | Jet Blue is good but in my
Jet Blue is good but in my neck of the woods the "go to" airline is Midwest. They have only 2x2 seeting with the wider seats one finds in first class. Plus they hand out hot chocolate chip cookies on the longer flights! I have never been treated with anything but courtesy by their employees on the ground and in the air.
beakergirl September 10th, 2006 | Link | I dunno...I suppose the
I dunno...I suppose the "eyeballing" thing makes SOME sense. But what if we were talking about the Deep South 30 or more years ago, and airline personnel who "eyeballed" passengers' race and decided not to seat Blacks next to whites, so that there would be more comfort all around? I haven't flown since 1999. I'm avoiding it as much as possible. Not because of the size thing - the last time I flew I was about the same size I am now and I fit into the seat ok. But the claustrophobia thing, and the taking-off-your-shoes thing, and the maybe-subjected-to-random-patdowns thing. I don't so much have issues about sharing my "personal space" with another flyer, but I do have issues with someone in "authority" (simply because of the TSA employing them) having the say-so to feel me up or unload my bag in front of everyone else.
rebelle September 10th, 2006 | Link | Check out this AWESOME
Check out this AWESOME letter in Sept. 8's Denver Post. Stef Maruch, if you post here, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!
chondros September 10th, 2006 | Link | Thanks for that link,
Thanks for that link, rebelle. Stef Maruch's letter is indeed awesome. Whoever, wherever she is, she's a heck of a writer who knows how to deliver her points succinctly and with maximum impact. Her letter had more cogency than Al Lewis's whole column. Unfortunatly, too many readers (including Lewis himself) will probably decide that the writer must be fat herself and therefore they don't need to reckon with what she has to say.
loreglmrtn September 10th, 2006 | Link | I agree with most everything
I agree with most everything that's been said here. Thank you everyone! I also wanted to share this tip: On the smaller planes that seem to be assigned to more routes every day, there is a trick to let you raise the armrests that seem not to be moveable. If you feel under the armrest, toward the back, there is often a small, square, recessed metal button. Press it and you should be able to lift the armrest. I've found it helpful to be able to raise the armrest between me and the window, which sometimes gives enough room to leave the center armrest down and avoid the nasty reactions of judgemental fellow passengers.
chelsea September 11th, 2006 | Link | I think it's interesting how
I think it's interesting how he lists his weight, and his son's weight, but not his wife's weight.
beakergirl September 11th, 2006 | Link | chelsea: prolly his wife
chelsea: prolly his wife said "You tell them what I weigh and you'll be sleeping on the couch for the next six months!"
zoe_meow September 14th, 2006 | Link | Thanks for the info on Jet
Thanks for the info on Jet Blue and Midwest; I live in the Twin Cities and HATE Northwest Airlines, for many, many reasons, not least of which is shoving us all in like sardines. Flying reminds me of sitting at the Metrodome watching the Twins: they're just trying to squeeze every last dollar out of you, and one of the ways they do it is by compressing us into one lump of humanity. I also agree with the comment about those of us who use public transportation: we're used to being in close proximity with others, so you just daydream or meditate while trying to avoid inhaling biker guy's sweaty body odor, or ignore crazy lady's rantings. Americans are unaware how much personal space we demand and in most cases, it's not a problem, but when we have to share, look out!

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

© 2000-2018 Big Fat Blog and its authors, all rights reserved. Big Fat Blog, Big Fat Facts, and Big Fat Index are our trademarks.