Page Kent is already drenched in sweat. Getting through airport security is a headache for every flier, but for Kent, it’s the seventh circle of hell. He’s barely got his shoes off, but he can feel the TSA side-eying him. They probably think he’s hiding something, he says, and it’s no wonder — he’s practically dripping from his forehead.
But Kent isn’t smuggling drugs across the country. He’s just big.
The 23-year-old from Georgia is 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds. He already tends to “run hot,” but flying makes him perspire like he’s nervous as hell.
“And that’s before I even have to cram into a seat,” he adds. “It’s just a big ordeal.”
As airline companies design their planes to maximize profits by compressing personal space and cramming more passengers aboard, bigger guys feel the dehumanizing effects of literally not fitting in.
Personally, I’m a Short King who wouldn’t blink at being shoved in an overhead bin; I naively strut through airports while bigger guys like Kent are suffering a waking nightmare. So I talked to Kent and a few other hulking lads to find out the worst parts of traveling while large.
‘I Just Don’t Fit’
Mark J., Chicago — 6-foot-5, 170 pounds
I just don’t fit. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rental car or a plane, my knees are pinned in front of me. My head is bobbling, six inches over the headrest, sometimes scraping the ceiling, so I have to crane my neck — especially on a plane when everyone else stands up to de-board. Not me. It’s a stressful environment. And you can forget about any hope for comfort if the jerk in front of you decides to recline.
‘My Bare Butt Is Rubbing on the Walls’
Pat Sanchez, Illinois — 6-foot-6, 176 pounds
The worst part for me is the bathroom. The legroom situation is even worse while sitting on the can. Although I may have a mouth-breathing simpleton recline his seat into my lap, at least I can manspread in the cabin. In the lavatory, no excess movement is possible. And you better believe my bare butt is rubbing on the walls as I’m struggling to pull my pants up without nosediving through the door.
The Special Treatment
Adam, Tennessee — 6-foot-2, 250 pounds
The first thing people should know is that any inconvenience we cause, most of us are fully aware of it. Whether or not we care is another issue, but I would say it’s embarrassing and dehumanizing for most obese people. Having a gate attendant approach and hand me a preferential boarding pass was where it started. I didn’t think much of it, but when they shortly thereafter called for preferential boarding, it dawned on me: I was in a line with the elderly, the lame and people bound to wheelchairs for various reasons (weight being the obvious one).
I decided to try and tune out the feeling of being stared at, which was particularly difficult since I was the only one in line with no clear disabilities other than being fat. I got to my seat and realized that my seatbelt didn’t fit so I had to request the dreaded extender. The flight attendant handed it to me in a very discreet manner. I appreciated her for doing that, but it also dawned on me even further that what was wrong with me was something to hide and not draw attention to.
Thankfully it was a small flight and no one was sat next to me. This didn’t hide the fact that I had fewer in-flight amenities than others, like comfortably fitting in the bathroom and being able to use the fold-out tray.
This would not be the case on the return flight, where I was not given preferential boarding. I was glad I didn’t have to get in that line again but in hindsight it may have been better if I did. This flight was packed, no empty seats. Thankfully I’m also tall so I carried my weight at least somewhat proportionally, and wasn’t spilling into the next person too much, though he was a broad-shouldered person, so even with the armrest down we did rub shoulders the whole flight.
Needless to say I saved all bathroom trips for when we landed. Odds are no one but me remembers those two plane trips. At the end of the day it was just another plane trip for them, but not for me.
John, North Carolina — 5-foot-8, 200 pounds
Being fat makes you scared to go the beach or into the pool, because that requires taking off your shirt.
I used to LOVE swimming in the pool when I was a kid. Swimming was the one sport that was genuinely fun, even if I wasn’t super-good at it. Nowadays I won’t go near the pool at any hotel or resort — and while this isn’t specifically about traveling, it does make the prospects of traveling suck. Other people get excited about going to exotic beaches or resorts with pools, but not me.
Nowadays I won’t go near the pool at any hotel or resort. I live in constant fear of what other people, especially women my age, think when they see this pasty, chubby white guy covered in stretch marks, undressing. Same goes for going to the beach. Shirt stays on, and I don’t get wet.
Sweating Through Security
Page Kent, Georgia — 6-foot-6, 285 pounds
Riding in a middle or window seat in an airplane is like when regular people try to sit at a children’s desk in an elementary school — only you’re there for several hours, and there are people on both sides pressed up against you. But before I even have to suffer through that, there’s the security line.
The amount of crap you have to already do to even get in the scanner (shoes, belt, laptop out of bag, everything out of pockets, etc.) is a nightmare, because big guys normally run pretty hot, so now I’m sweating… which immediately makes me a target because the TSA thinks I’m hiding something. Then when I finally get to the TSA scanner, my arms reach outside the little circle room thing, so they have to take me outside and take extra time to wand/grope me. It’s just a whole ordeal.
‘A Hunk of Metal Digging into Your Buttocks’
Brandon, Missouri — 5-foot-9, 400 pounds
I think I I truly realized it’s a small-person world when I took my first plane ride as an adult back in 2007. I just barely fit in the seat and I had a middle seat. I truly felt bad for my neighbors, as I was definitely invading their space. Luckily they were both very nice and shared stories of our fun times we all had in Las Vegas.
It was a brief flight and I was excited the moment I could stand up and get off that plane. I felt very crammed-in and claustrophobic. At the Vegas airport before the plane ride, I took a tram to my plane. I remember opting to stand up and use the pole rather than sit so I didn’t inconvenience folks who were able to fit in the seat. Being Vegas, there were a lot of elderly people on the tram, and I’d prefer them to have my seat.
I have taken numerous flights since then and I got better at making it easier on myself and others. A couple things I do now: First I take the aisle seat. As a big man this is the best place to sit on the plane; you are not spilling over into somebody else’s space. You got the aisle right there — if you need to stand up, you are not inconveniencing anybody else. I also have to avoid exit seats, even though you’d think otherwise with longer legroom, but they never have movable armrests and I’ve been on different airlines. Bigger people likely will not fit in their seat unless they want a hunk of metal digging into their hip or buttocks.
Depending on your size, you will likely not be able to sit down on the airplane toilet, even if you can you probably won’t have the space to make the movements required to wipe.
Dress lightly and casually as possible. I wear cargo shorts or sweatpants when flying and a nonrestrictive T-shirt. Being stuck in a cramped seat for 3-plus hours is rough, and being in restrictive uncomfortable dress clothing would make it worse.