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Publication: Travel Tips
Aisles, Armrests and Attitude

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Tips & Advice for the Seasoned and Armchair Traveler Alike! 

April 22, 2008 

Long before passenger profiling became the accepted norm at
airports, obese travelers knew what it was like to be 
singled out.

Fellow travelers whispered behind them as they navigated 
the narrow cabin aisles. They rolled their eyes as the
overweight passengers adjusted themselves in the cramped

Airline personnel often made insensitive remarks,sometimes
telling plus-sized passengers – while the other airline
customers watched and snickered – that they would have to
pay for an extra seat to accommodate their girth. 

Today's topics include:




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Federal lawsuits filed by two different women on different 
sides of North America recently challenged Southwest 
Airline's long-held policy of requiring some obese 
passengers to pay for an extra seat.

Tina Blake, a 26-year-old from the suburbs of Spokane, 
Washington, sued the airline in June, claiming they unfairly 
harassed her and humiliated her in front of other passengers 
because of her weight. Blake, who said she had flown 
Southwest many times and never been asked to buy an extra 
seat, is 5-foot-7-inches tall and wears size-22 pants, 
according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, Nadine Thompson – the 
president, CEO and co-founder of Warm Spirit cosmetics – 
took Southwest to court last week, charging that the company 
does not uniformly enforce its obese-passenger policy.

Thompson, a Southwest frequent flyer who said she used the 
airline about three times a month and had never before been 
asked to buy anything other than a single seat, claimed she 
was singled out for unfair treatment because she is a woman 
and because she is black.

The airline strongly denied both women's accusations, saying 
their policy requiring large people to buy second tickets is 
aimed at increasing the safety and comfort of both heavy 
passengers and those sitting near them.

There is no specific weight limit or size that triggers the 
policy, airline officials said. Rather, each case is left to 
the discretion of airline employees on each plane.

I know from past Travel Tips newsletters about this issue 
that the feeling of readers out there in travel land runs 
about 8 to 2 against obese airline travelers. Many of you 
feel infringe on their personal space and make trips 
uncomfortable. As a traveler, I admit I've felt the same 

But consider, for a moment, that recent studies suggest that 
60 to 65 percent of all Americans are overweight – a very 
clear majority. And that majority likely includes some 
people you probably care about. A lot.

So please, have some patience. Be tolerant. If someone is 
causing you problems because of their weight, discretely 
propose a solution. Get the flight attendant involved only 
if the person refuses to make some kind of accommodation. 

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Past Travel Tips newsletters have focused on coping with 
inconveniences related to sitting next to passengers who 
take up more space than the airlines think the average 
passenger needs. And I don't need to remind any of you that 
that's not much space to begin with. 

This newsletter, I'm offering some tips for the obese 
travelers themselves. 

According to NAAFA – the National Association to Advance Fat 
Acceptance - air travel doesn't have to be a nightmare for 
people who are significantly overweight. For folks to whom 
the stares and whispers I wrote about earlier stuck a 
familiar chord, the following NAAFA airline travel tips 
might be useful:

* Book Carefully. Avoid "rush-hour" air time when planning 
your trip and take advantage of "red-eye” deals on off-hour 
flights where the plane is less likely to be full. The idea 
is to increase your chances of having an empty seat next to 
you. The probability of that is about zero, for example, if 
you're flying out of LAX at 6 a.m. on a Monday, but gets 
better on a midnight flight on a Wednesday.

* Request an invisible seatmate. Tell the airline that you
are large and ask them to keep the seat next yours empty if
at all possible. Many airlines will at least attempt to
accommodate that, if only to head off possible complaints 
from other passengers or to avoid confronting you about 
buying a second ticket. Some flight staff, however, may use 
the request as an opportunity to sell that second seat 
ticket. It's a judgment call only you can make.

* Extend yourself. Swallow your pride and request a
seat-belt extension when you book your flight. If you don't
and only realize as you're boarding that one would be
useful, ask for one immediately. Do not wait for the flight
attendant's animated safety speech. The later you bring it
up, the more attention you will draw to yourself.

* The aisle annex. Request a seat assignment for the aisle, 
where you will I have a little more room and can overlap 
into the common area and stretch your arms and legs when no 
one is walking by. Make sure that you don't have a bulkhead 
seat. While you have more leg room in bulkhead, the armrests 
there generally do not rise, and the tray tables come out of 
the armrest across your lap. 

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* Stuck in the middle. If you can't get an aisle seat, 
request a window. You DON'T want to be stuck in the dreaded 
middle seat. While uncomfortable for normal-size people, it
causes all kinds of problems when a person is supersized.
There is no where to go from the middle seat except into the
shoulders and laps of the people sitting on either side of 
you. That's not comfortable for anyone.

* Board early - Even mid-size people have trouble squeezing 
down the narrow center aisle of most planes, and this task 
is even more difficult when the craft is already filled with 
passengers getting settled and fitting baggage into the 
overhead compartments. For this reason, you should try to 
pre-board with the rest of the passengers who need extra 
time in boarding. The gate agent probably won't hassle you, 
but if she or he asks, just say that you're a large person 
and need a little extra time. 

* Exercise the armrest - When you get to your seat during 
pre-boarding, raise the armrest between seats. This may give 
you the inch or two of extra space you need. Chances are 
that the passenger who sits next to you won't say anything. 
If he or she does, smile pleasantly and say that you'd both 
be more comfortable if the armrest is up. If the problem 
persists, consider asking the attendant to rearrange the 
seating plan.

* Go before you go - Use the airport restroom before
boarding your plane. If you can avoid using the tiny
on-board bathrooms, do so. It's not the place where you want
to have a problem and get stuck. Ask when booking your trip
if handicapped facilities are available on your particular 
flight. If not, you may want to change your planes.
Avoid a tray fray. If you cannot bring down the tray-table, 
have the flight attendant ask the passenger in front of you 
to put their seat to the full upright position for mealtime. 
If this doesn't help, set a pillow on your lap, and your 
meal tray on the pillow. 

Well, that's it for this week, group. Thanks again for 
reading, and please keep those comments, complaints and 
questions coming in. 

You can send me an e-mail message at: Email Pierce

Until next week, thanks for reading.   

Your Tipmeister,   



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