4 lessons this chubby flyer learned from 15 years in the air
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
I’ve traveled to more than 40 countries, and have come to realize the nuances of getting from A to B as a plus-size traveler differ massively from a “normal” sized person. Yet, it’s hard to access the information because very few airlines are currently trying to tap into the needs of the chubby traveler. Airline marketing is still churning out stock photos of sculpted, slim people staring out plane windows. Plus-size people are totally omitted from the public narrative, generating the misconception that we shouldn’t take up space in the travel arena.
For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
We’re surprisingly invisible in some ways
Our invisibility in the aviation industry is very much disconnected from our day-to-day reality. There are 128 million (42%) chubby (obese) people in America today, so we’re literally everywhere! Potentially, we’re a huge — and valuable — chunk of the tourism pie. As a body-activist, influencer and avid explorer, I intentionally put myself in front of the camera to show others they can live their life now and not wait until they hit their ideal weight before hopping on a plane.
Then there are the head games we have to play
The mental gymnastics for plus-size people to even board a plane, let alone zipline through a cloud forest in Costa Rica, is a huge deterrent for plus-size individuals. First, there are practical issues: Will I fit in the seat? What if the seat belt won’t stretch out enough? How can my big clothing items fit in this micro-carry on?
To a large extent, these points are ironed out through trial-and-error. I’ve educated myself on how every airline’s policy accommodates plus-size travelers. I can reel off commercial airline seating dimensions and have an eagle-eye for spotting an empty row and bagging the window or aisle seat.
Then there’s the anxiety of a personal attack. It hurts when you clock a passenger exhale with relief when you don’t sit next to them. For me, conversations are essential drivers of change, and I’ve openly discussed the matter with frequent flyers who’ve owned up and apologized for past insensitive behaviors and judgments. In my body journey, and countless flight interactions with strangers, I’ve found calling out the elephant in the room from the get-go can often win you a seat buddy in the skies.
The airline makes the difference
Most media outlets, travel agents and airline websites don’t include this special information for the plus-size traveler about seat-belt extensions, weight/size restrictions or packing tips on their landing pages. So I’ve taken it upon myself to share nuggets of knowledge on my blog with the community.
From my personal experiences, I can tell the chubby collective that the most accommodating national airline is Southwest. You can buy two seats and they will refund you for the additional one. If the flight’s full, they’ll switch you to the next one available free of charge. I used to have to bring my own seatbelt extension, but now the majority of commercial fleets provide one that the air stewards hand over discreetly. These small touches are just some of the meaningful ways airlines can show their plus-size community they care for our wellbeing on board.
Hoping for roomier flights post COVID-19
I’m an optimistic soul and do recognize the major headway we’ve made in dismantling standard vacation myths that have shamed the plus-size population for decades. Self-love and body-activism are trending topics across the board, and it’s a ripple effect. When I first started Chubby Diaries in 2018, I was a unicorn, so it’s truly gratifying to see the body positivity fat-activism movement taking shape. The more plus-size travel is normalized, the more plus-size people will feel motivated to get out there.
With fewer people taking to the skies, I would love to see more international airlines use this downtime to reflect on how to make their marketing and physical space an inclusive and inviting environment for the bigger tourist.
Before, the only way a plus-size passenger could ensure a comfortable journey was by forking out for a first-class ticket or buying two seats. Now, health and safety concerns have sidelined the packed plane culture with empty middle seats becoming the new norm.
Roomier planes mean a more comfortable journey for everyone, regardless of your seat category. If that doesn’t continue past the pandemic, then Economy Plus (also known as premium economy) is a happy medium I like to recommend. It works out more cost-effective than buying an extra seat and usually has some extra flying perks, like priority boarding and extra baggage allowance, which are also big wins for plus-size travelers.
I remember everything about my first time in the air — the limited legroom on a Delta flight to Japan. As well as countless other memorable plane rides and airport lounges, the human connections that all contributed to my passion as a traveler and the birth of Chubby Diaries.
There’s no feeling quite like the anticipation you feel as you clutch your ticket at the boarding gate. Everything from the belly flop at takeoff and the panoramic cloud vistas from the window seat, right down to the miniature sodas and conversations with strangers next to you. Your plane journey is the precursor to the rest of your travel story and it’s a feeling I would love even more people to experience — whatever their size — in the future.
Featured image courtesy of Jeffrey Jenkins
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants in the first three months of card membership.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Earn 50,000 Bonus Miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
- Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees