What Overweight People Wish You Knew About Flying Next to Them

December 23rd 2016

Moving from the U.S. to London should have been an exciting experience for animator Stacy Bias, but the transatlantic move triggered a harsh reality for her: flying as an overweight person can be very difficult. This inspired Bias to create an animated documentary titled "Flying While Fat," she told BuzzFeed News in a new interview.

The six-minute animated video, which includes voiceover anecdotes from overweight participants, highlights some of the challenges overweight people face during air travel: anxiety during boarding announcements, having to ask for seatbelt extenders, getting rude stares from people on the plane, and avoidance from other passengers.

One of the plus-size voiceovers in the video spoke of picking a window seat so as not to disturb other passengers, only for a petite female passenger to loudly complain about having to sit next to her. Bias told BuzzFeed News that as much as someone might hate "having" to sit next to an overweight person on the plane, the overweight person is likely way more uncomfortable the person who is unhappy. Bias explains:

“Trust that when you’re next to a fat person on a plane, they are significantly less comfortable than you are and are likely doing everything in their power to minimize their impact on you. For instance, 25 percent of my participants intentionally dehydrated themselves prior to flying to avoid the need to navigate the aisles and attempt to use the on-board toilet.”

In the video, the women not only shared their experiences, but also what they wish others knew about their experience: wanting to be invisible, being acutely aware of their space, being hurt by the armrest, and just wanting people to remember that they're human.

"We're all kind of rocket scientists at spacial relations, how mindful we are of other people's space," one of the participants states.

Two other participants talk about hugging their own bodies on the plane to avoid having to touch others:

Flying While FatYouTube -

"We don't want to be abused," a voiceover says. "We just want to get from point A to point B without physical pain or being harassed."

Overweight people on airplanes have been mocked in pop culture. Comedian Ricky Gervais famously made fun of overweight passengers in a 2008 standup act:

“‘Airplane seats, they’re not big enough for someone like me,’” Gervais said, mocking what an overweight person might say on a plane. “No they’re not, because if they were, we’d only fit twelve fucking people on the plane.”

Bias is not the only person to address the challenges that overweight people face on flights. In March, an author by the username Your Fat Friend wrote a viral Medium piece about being the "fat" person some people want to avoid on flights:

"I understand why all of my fellow passengers are on edge. Because everyone is uncomfortable in airplanes. They’re designed to fit as many people as possible — which doesn’t lead to comfortable seats for anyone. Flying is costly, uncomfortable, stressful. Bags get heavy; flights get canceled; relationships get strained. No one, it seems, is having a good time. And at the peak of all that stress — boarding the plane — the person my fellow passengers see is me. Rather than being a compatriot, stuck in the same frustrating, uncomfortable situation, I become a scapegoat for all that frustration. I become the other.

"In that way, air travel is sadly familiar, a microcosm of what happens so often as a fat person. I am watched — and judged harshly — as I try — and fail — to fit into a space that was made for someone else. I am always too big, always too much, always unacceptable. I must make myself smaller and smaller, reducing and reducing endlessly, my stubborn body resisting at every turn. Still, I am never quite small enough to make anyone else comfortable."

Watch Bias' video below:

Read BuzzFeed News' full piece about Bias' project.

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Do you know any overweight people who have experienced these challenges on the plane?

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