Unfriendly Skies

Larger-sized passengers say they still face discrimination while flying

Imagine checking in for your next flight and being told that you cannot travel unless you purchase an additional ticket or that you’ll be bumped to a later flight for better accommodation. For passengers of size—those who cannot fit in a 17-inch-wide airplane seat—this is the reality of commercial flight.

When the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance holds its annual convention at the Westin Las Vegas from July 25-29, such problems will be high on the agenda. “I think any of us of larger body size have feelings of trepidation when we get onboard an airline,” NAAFA spokeswoman Peggy Howell says. “Something that should be fun and enjoyable and exciting is just not, because of the hostility that we face.”

When the convention was held in Atlanta several years ago, NAAFA attempted to meet with the nation’s major airlines to discuss their grievances. “Only Delta showed up to actually sit down and talk,” Howell says. “That was a little discouraging.”

Since then, little has changed in the favor of larger travelers. Last year the FAA banned the use of personal seatbelt extenders, and although Southwest now refunds the cost of the second seat, customers making this reservation must use the unfortunate middle initials “XS” (“extra seat”) during booking and then contact the airline to ensure their refund.