Since I posted about thin privilege, one of the questions I have been asked many times is what thinner people can do to help bigger people feel more comfortable in public, specifically on airplanes.
I have my own idea of what are helpful for me, but my experience and opinions are likely quite different from many other people.
So, if you want to be an ally to fat people, here is a list of things I would find helpful on a plane (warning—vulnerability ahead):
If I am slated for the aisle seat, I’m going to want the window seat, so if you want me to feel more comfortable, offer the window seat to me. I promise, it’s not for the view, it’s because there is just a bit more room there and I am going to squish my body as close to the wall as possible to give you the most room I can. I promise, I’m going to hold my pee and I’ve already taken everything out of my carryon that I will possibly need, so I can be as unobtrusive as possible. Also, I’m going to want to wait until the plane is most of the way empty to leave, so I don’t have to put my body in anyone’s way.
Usually, I will bring my own drink on the plane in a water bottle. This is because I often can’t put the tray table down and still be comfortable, and a water bottle can squeeze into the seat pouch in front of me in case I get thirsty. Most of the time, I will put my earbuds in and pretend to be asleep to avoid the annoyance of and conversation with my seat mate. However, if we are talking and I accept a drink from the flight attendant, and your tray table is down, offer to let me put my drink on your tray table.
For heaven’s sake, leave the armrest up. In my experience, most airlines have a policy that says they will kick fat people off the airline if the armrest can’t go down, unless we are prepared to pay for two seats. This will happen in front of everyone on the plane. The humiliation will be endless AND eternal. So yeah, that silly piece of plastic and metal represents a heck of a lot of anxiety. If you can bear it, leave it up.
Last, when I get on the plane and am looking for my seat, the face of everyone who is already seated is a minefield of disgust. So, smile. Look friendly. Same thing if I’m already seated, and you realize you are seated next to me. Just be cool and, if you can, offer me the window seat. (If I am assigned to the window seat, and I got there first, I am likely already pretending to be asleep so I don’t have to see the facial expressions of people who are fearfully checking their seat assignments.)
What am I missing?