I recently traveled to Panama for a much needed vacation and on my way back, my friend and I were sitting next to each other in seats neither one of us could comfortably fit in. I was hanging off my seat into the aisle (which of course led to the stewardess constantly going ‘EXCUSE me’) and my friend actually had sore arms from having to hold them up so as not to infringe on her neighbors space. We were too big for our seats and it made the ride mildly humiliating, uncomfortable and frankly, annoying.
And we got off relatively unscathed. No one made a direct fuss about our size, probably because we can pass as “average” and if asked people would look at us and say, “oh but you are not that fat” and all the other sizist gems people drop in an attempt to make you feel better about your size when you are bigger than what you see in magazines, but not considered a direct threat to society–you are not that hated someone who is that size.
So I can only imagine the humiliation and stress of getting to the airport and being told that you are ‘too fat to fly.’ Apparently, Southwest is not as concerned with its passengers feelings of comfort, safety or respecting people’s basic dignity. And you would think after the last time this happened, to someone famous and to much media attention, they would have had some training or a change in policy–but you would be wrong. Kenlie Tiggeman and her mother were singled out over Easter weekend of this year as being Too Fat To Fly (TFTF).
“I know that I have a lot of weight to lose but I am definitely not too fat to fly. I do it all the time, domestically and internationally, and I have never had anyone approach me and particularly in the way that they did,” said Tiggeman.
Issues with Southwest’s “Customers of Size” policy are not new. A spokeswoman said employees are told to speak with customers in a private area and if necessary, check if they fit in the seats prior to boarding and always use the utmost discretion. However, Tiggeman and her mom, Joan Charpentier, said the 45 minute conversation, which included questions about their weight and what size clothing they wear, in front of more than 100 people, was anything but discreet.
“It was the worst time I’ve ever had in my whole life. I was embarrassed, humiliated,” said Charpentier.
The worker then tried to strike a deal. Tiggeman, Charpentier and a third overweight woman could fly, if they would sit together.
The fat shame (she’s actually trying to lose weight unlike the rest of you fatties) framing of this article notwithstanding, I think it is telling that Southwest’s “deal” with the three ladies they targeted as TFTF were told they could sit separately. You know, segregated from the rest of the normal, paying, deserving of comfort and respite from your fat ass, customers.
Kate Harding said it best the first time Southwest’s fat hate hit the news,
I think of the non-famous people who have been thrown off flights for making thin people uncomfortable — the brother and sister on their way home from their mom’s memorial service, the man who didn’t make it to a family funeral at all, the man living on disability who couldn’t afford a second seat to meet with doctors about a liver transplant — and all of the commenters at my blog who say, every time we talk about this, “I’m terrified to fly” or “I just don’t fly.” Not because they have anxiety disorders, or they were traumatized by “Lost,” or because airplane terrorism has done its job on them — because they’re fat. And they can’t afford two seats. And even if they’re just small or lucky enough that they can probably avoid being escorted off the plane like a criminal, the risk of smaller-scale humiliations — sitting next to someone who complains about their size; absorbing flight attendants’ naked disdain; overhearing someone say “I hope I don’t have to sit next to her“; being told, as Smith’s seatmate on his later flight was, that they should really purchase two seats in the future to avoid making other people uncomfortable; plus the aforementioned dirty looks and heavy sighs — is often enough to keep them at home. It’s enough to make people say things like, “Maybe I don’t really need to see my family this year” and “I won’t bother applying for a job that requires travel” and “It’s just easier to vacation close to home” and “If I start driving now, I think I’ll get there in time to say goodbye.”
Go read the entire piece if you didn’t the first time. Fat hate is straight up discrimination and it is time that it is treated as such. Shame on Southwest for their policy. And flying is uncomfortable for people of all sizes and shapes, so targeting one group based on an arbitrary judgment determined by physical appearance is not about customer satisfaction–in this case it is about fat hate. And lest we forget, Southwest has a history of discriminatory practices, not just based on size but appearance as well, so I suppose this is all but surprising.