Have You Ever Been Too Fat to Fly?


Despite my weight, I’ve always been able to buckle in without a belt extender. However, when my daughter and I flew to Orlando last spring – I believe I was around 265 back then – I was grateful I sat next to her, because I immediately raised the armrest between us.

You might know what I’m talking about: The armrest was actually resting on part of my hip. I could scrunch myself up where it wouldn’t touch me and pretend I was comfortable, but that didn’t last very long. I’d exhale, and the armrest would inch up just a smidge. What I needed was a retaining wall.


I prefer to fly Southwest, the same airline that kicked off actor and filmmaker Kevin Smith because he was too big for one seat, and no second seat was available. I will never, ever buy into the argument that obesity is a disability, and therefore covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Yes, there definitely is discrimination against the obese, and anti-discrimination laws provide occasional protection. But a disability? No. Case in point: No two obese people are alike. Every obese person is not disabled. Can obesity contribute to a disability? Yes. In all cases? No.

Airline policies state that if you’re too big to fit comfortably in one seat, you must buy two.

Even when I was a little smaller, I would bypass rows of seats where a very large person was seated, because there was definite spillover. That’s one of the many perks of flying Southwest: open seating. I would be offended, then, if I were forced to sit next to someone whose girth overtook a part of my seat.

On last spring’s flight, I didn’t encroach on my daughter’s seat, but I was slightly into the space between our two seats, the area occupied by the armrest. Because I’m more of an oddly-shaped pear than an apple, I didn’t have a problem with the tray table, but the woman across the aisle did. She was attempting to bring it down to read. It wasn’t working. As I explained before, I don’t have, um, “chest issues” along with my weight. I’ll just gently say that the lady across the aisle couldn't get the thing down past her, um, first level. The second level was completely out of the question. It was fascinating.

It’s also a fact that airline seats have gotten narrower over the years. I’ve heard average-sized people complain about seat size. It’s a tight fit, but like amusement park rides, there are safety codes for a reason.

Kevin Smith knew the rules and followed them by purchasing two seats on a Southwest flight. However, a change of plans had him seeking seats on an earlier flight and he got one. ONE. He scrunched into the seat and buckled his seatbelt, but apparently he was still too big for the seat, and the pilots told him he was a safety risk. That’s when “Silent Bob” went nuts and blasted Southwest in the Twitter-sphere. I do believe his upcoming movie had a lot to do with his level of bombast. As they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.


I’ll be flying again to Orlando this April, and hopefully will be below 265 by then. And I’ll definitely be flying Southwest. I know other people who’ll be there, too, and one in particular who absolutely would be required to buy two seats.

She’s driving.

Leslie J. Ansley is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur who blogs daily for TheRoot. She lives in Raleigh, NC.