Pick Your Villains Wisely

Fascinating controversy about United Airlines’ threat to charge obese passengers for two seats — or for an upgrade to first class — when a flight is full.  After all, United and all the other carriers care about their passengers and don’t want them to ever feel crowded or uncomfortable on a flight.  It must be time for action!

Why not pick on the fat people?  Everybody does, anyway.  The rest of us relatively normal-sized people live in rank fear we’ll get obese.  In fact, a majority of us polled a few years back said we’d rather get hit by a bus than be fat.

So, once you’ve got an overweight person sitting next to you on an already-crowded and probably delayed flight, you’re ready to brandish the victim card and file a lawsuit.  After all, you paid full fare!  You watch your diet!  You didn’t sign up for this indignity!  Why should you have to suffer just because the person next to you has no self-control, is cursed with a slow metabolism, and is brazenly overflowing onto your armrest, your seat, your personal space?

Yeah, it sucks.  I’ve been there more than once, squashed into my seat and seething with resentment.  But the fact is, most flights these days suck — and it’s hard to remember that bygone time when flying was considered glamorous and young women clamored to be flight attendants and roam the capitals of the earth.  These days, an overweight seatmate makes flying more insufferable, but it was still a marginal experience to begin with.

But you get to ignore the issue of crowding because it’s so easy and rewarding to fall into the category of normal-sized victim, rolling your eyes and implicitly pointing a finger at people who should control themselves, but don’t.  Nobody has to be fat, right?  Why should you have to suffer just because somebody else can’t lay off the Haagen-Dazs?

Hang on before you launch the lynch mob with the extra-large noose, though.  Any woman with a reasonable amount of awareness who has ever flown coach can attest to an irrefutable fact about human behavior: Men take up more physical room than women.  It’s not just because they’re larger — although they are.  They simply take up more space than women do.

Sit in a middle seat, as I have, all too often.  If you have a man on either side of you, you have to exercise a will of iron to get your share of the armrests.  If you don’t lay your claim and bolt your arms down and not even move them when you eat or get up to go to the bathroom, you’ll notice that both your armrests will miraculously be claimed by the guys on either side of you.  Tough luck, princess.

It’s fascinating, the more I’ve noticed it.  Men simply do it naturally — hogging more space than women — and we let them get away with it.  They expand and we shrink.  We decide we don’t really need that armrest as much as we think we do.  It never occurs to them to question themselves.

Yeah, but hey.  You can’t go around resenting half the space-hogging human race, can you?  Or get furious about the beleaguered airline industry?  Better to find a minority group that finds it harder to fight back.  That’ll solve our problems.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

5 comments… add one
  • This is particularly true about men on subways. I don’t mean to be vulgar, but guys will spread their legs out the way no woman wants to do on a gynecologist’s table, thus taking up the equivalent of two seats.

    However, getting back to the air, I’ve been stuck in overweight hell on a plane and have vowed to find a way to change seats to avoid this happening again. I was in a window seat, and the guy next to me spread out his rippling bulges not only over the armrest but well into my space, so that I simply couldn’t move a muscle. We were stuck circling over Boston for SEVEN HOURS. Move over, Dante.

  • M A Link

    Yeah, and if you are disabled and trying to fly these days forget it!  It is such an incredible nightmare that I have vowed never to do it again.  I even always fly first class and pay an ungodly sum to do so and that is no better, though I do get to sit reasonably close to a bathroom, however, I’ve decided that it’s not worth a thousand dollars! Better to drive and take your time & the dogs!

  • This made me smile. Mostly because the whole thing really IS ridiculous and fat people do get picked on. Smiling because the whole UA thing is just…well, ridiculous.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Maybe we all quit flying.  Of course, if we did, we’d have nothing to complain about, except driving.  I’d hate that.

  • I belatedly read this from my RSS feed (see how obedient I am–I subscribed).  Just had to say that observation about men trying to take up more space really struck home. I’ve noticed that for years.  And chastise my husband regularly, for what I will now always think of as the gynological position when he sits in a theater, etc.  Here’s a tip, though. If you want to be seen as important in a mixed company meeting–be sure that you sprawl and spread your papers widely on the table and extend your elbows.  It is a subtle sign of ownership of the room.

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