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Question My Name, but Don’t Call Me Overweight

July 30, 2010

The latest Southwest fat incident, this time with an obese teen getting to keep her two seats, even though her parents didn’t pay for them, and the smaller person getting bumped off, reminded me that yes, I too have my own Southwest fat story, and quite frankly it was more frustrating and certainly more physically grueling than all the times I’ve been pulled aside for a “random security check.”  My story happened several years ago, when I flew from Albuquerque to LA on Southwest, squeezed between a hefty longshoreman and a nearly 400-pound prison chef.
When I got on that plane, I was the last person to board, a mistake I haven’t made since.  I went up and down the aisle, but couldn’t find a seat to sit in.  I told the flight attendant, and she walked up with me until we can to a row with the above-mentioned prison chef and longshoreman.
“This is the only seat left on the flight,” she said, although she couldn’t see a seat anymore than I could for the flesh overflowing on to Seat B.

“Seriously?” I told her and the two men, already crammed in with three seats between them, nodded in agreement with me.

“Well, it’s this or wait for the flight that leaves in five hours,” she said.  “Now gentlemen, if you could just help me shove her in.”

And so the prison chef at the window undid his seat belt and banged his head into the window as he reached to drag his rolls of fat as far away from Seat B as he could.  The longshoreman, who at around 200 pounds was relatively small, stood up while I sat down and then he put my backpack on my lap for me.  When he sat back down and the prison chef let his fat down, so it plopped onto my lap with my backpack.  Forget armrests. I could barely breath and we were all sweating from the body heat. The flight attendant turned on the fan above me.  “There, isn’t that better now,” she smiled as we all continued to break out in sweat.

“Well, this is a threesome I never dreamed up,” said the prison guard and introduced himself with an apology.  He was so friendly, you couldn’t be pissed off at him not being thinner, which is actually what the longshoreman told him.
When they announced that we would be taking off soon, I panicked, realizing I couldn’t reach for my seatbelt.  “Don’t worry, sweetheart, you’re not going anywhere,” the prison chef told me.  It was true, I was too trapped between blubber to even move my hands.  “And if we crash, I’m the most padded life vest you’ve ever flown with.”

“I guess I can’t read my book,” I mumbled politely, remembering that so many people in this world are afraid to travel next to people with names like mine.

“Well, then let’s make small talk so we don’t think about how friggin’ hot we are,” he said.

And so the two of them told me all about their jobs, and I learned that Butterball Turkey has less processing and chemicals in it than Butterball chicken slices.  That’s why the chef preferred to serve the inmates turkey and why I should stick with my hatred of chicken.  When we’d run out of small talk, the longshoreman placed a magazine on my lap and we all shared it, with him turning the pages when each of us was done, as I couldn’t move my hands–I have to say, it was a turbulent flight apparently, but I didn’t feel a bump.
At the end of the flight, the attendant gave me a $100 voucher, although it expired long before I had the courage to take a Southwest flight again or go to Albuquerque.  But at that moment, I had a solution to this whole overweight passenger thing that I wish someone would pay attention to.

I do not make fun of fat people because I know what it feels like for those who aren’t comfortable with being overweight—I was a fat teen that was so hounded and ridiculed and I was so scarred by it all that I have never stopped seeing a fat person in the mirror, so I don’t mean what I say next for purposes of chub-chub humor.  But I want to scream every time I go to check in for a flight, and the ticket agent declares, “You’re five pounds overweight.  Either you have to pay $100 or find a way to get five pounds into your carry on.”  Of course, I end up doing the latter, risking back and shoulder injury as I drag myself to the gate, and in the absurdity of it all,  I find myself far more upset by these incidents rather than when being pulled aside because of my Middle Eastern name—suspect me of being terrorist, okay, that is about national security, but calling me overweight, not okay.

First off, how am I taking any less on the flight, if I’ve taken the five pounds out of one bag and put it in another?  And why are they risking passenger backaches over such illogic?  But most importantly, why am I overweight while the person sitting next to me, often weighing a good 50 to 100 pounds more than me is not?  He and his carry on together are double my weight, and I’m the one being told I’m too heavy and need to pay $100?  What airlines need to do is set a goal weight:  Choose a number, say 220 1bs (because that makes an understandable even 100 kilos for foreign passengers), and everyone has to come in at less than 220 pounds, luggage included.  That’s logical and fuel efficient and it’s not fat discrimination, as people are now being asked to buy two tickets at a certain weight in any case, and it would promote people to travel lighter and who knows, might even help inspire some people to deal with the excess baggage they always carry with them.  But I really don’t want another airline employee telling me I’m overweight—that’s just false, judgmental and hypocritical.

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