For years the entire air travel industry has gone out of its way to humiliate and gouge the fat community.
Each airline gets to set its own policy for whether or not they charge fat passengers for an extra seat. Most do, often selling us seats halfway across the plane which doesn’t make any sense if the problem is that our fat encroaches on others. At the same time, passengers with longer legs than can comfortably fit in the miniscule amount of legroom provided are not required to buy the seats in front of them, and passengers with unusually broad shoulders are not required to purchase an extra seat. Many of us arrive at the airport having double and triple checked that we do not need to double our airfare only to discover at the last minute that we will, indeed, have to pay for an extra seat to travel when there’s nothing we can but pay the extra money or miss traveling, whether to a dream vacation, an important business meeting, or Grandma’s funeral.
We’ve been publicly shamed, then for buying those extra seats and forced to give them up after they insisted we pay for them. Even being a celebrity isn’t enough to avoid the public shaming and cruelty. Filmmaker Kevin Smith was, after all, tossed off a Southwest flight for being too fat.
One of the few things we’ve had going for us in air travel is the seat belt extender. They are supposed to be provided free of charge to passengers who need them in order to buckle up safely. Of course, most flights don’t carry more than two or three, and flight attendants have been known to treat passing those out either as if clandestinely slipping contraband to criminals… and in a few cases, handing them over with so much fuss and so loudly that the person who needs it is further publicly humiliated for the simple desire to travel.
Many have chosen to avoid the possibility of a) not being able to get an extender because they’re all in use and b) the potential for being treated so pointedly as to be shamed for needing one, by carrying their own. This is yet another reason why air travel is less and less fair to the fat. We have to buy our own equipment. Still, if we want to get from Point A to Point B via air, we shell out anywhere from roughly $25.00 to over $100.00 for the chance to fly without having to ask for an extender from someone who may not have one, or may choose to offer it whilst making us the punchline of a remarkably tasteless joke.
But now the FAA has stepped in and is worried about the poor fatties. That’s right, for our safety, the FAA wants to ban us from bringing our own seat belt extenders. Nope, not even the ones that are advertised as ‘FAA approved’ and manufactured by the same companies that supply actual airlines with the precise same seat belt extenders.
Why? Because they haven’t been tested, you see, and they cannot possibly have been kept in proper shape. Therefore, they are a clear and present danger to ourselves and others.
You know what test is used to determine if the seat belt extenders the airlines use are in proper working order and safe? It’s really pretty simple.
There’s the visual inspection to make sure the material isn’t frayed and the buckle is firmly attached, and there’s the test of the buckle itself, which consists of fastening and unfastening it three or four times in a row to make sure it catches properly and consistently, and can be easily released in case of emergency.
When I go to the airport, I’m used now to having everything checked and scanned. Any carry on luggage I have as well as my purse will be scanned to make sure I am carrying neither a bomb, a box cutter, nor an overlarge bottle of hand lotion. I am questioned about how carefully I have looked after my things. I put my metal items in the tray and am scanned myself. They inspect my shoes to make sure those aren’t incendiary devices. It’s not fun, but I’m willing to deal with that for safety’s sake. I’m not here for an argument on either side about the search and scanning of me and my stuff.
My point is, I’m already being inspected on site in order to travel. Since the test is so basic and so non-invasive, why not have someone inspect personally owned seat belt extenders before people board the plane? It actually takes less time than double checking that my sandals aren’t going to blow up, it requires no specialized equipment or training, and I would actually be grateful that something so basic to my comfort and safety got that kind of attention.
Or maybe, just maybe, each plane could be required to carry enough seat belt extenders that we don’t have to carry our own to travel. Maybe, just maybe, flight attendants could be trained to treat offering seat belt extenders just another part of the job, like offering pillows and blankets to passengers who need or want them. Maybe, just maybe, a single universal policy could be set for all airlines in the US that one passenger needs one seat, period.
Until that day, Suck it, FAA!