United is getting strict with people like me and other “seatmates of size.” Effective today there is a new official policy requiring us to buy a second seat if we:
- are unable to fit into a single seat in the ticketed cabin;
- are unable to properly buckle the seatbelt using a single seatbelt extender; and/or
- are unable to put the seat’s armrests down when seated.
Flying is not my favorite thing these days, and I’ve written before about the stresses of flying when obese. I totally understand, even while I loathe, that larger people take up more room and it’s safer and more comfortable for everyone when we don’t try to squish ourselves into a seat the size of a computer keyboard and pretend there’s not spillover.
But having a policy about it just reinforces the Us and Them-ness of travel, the Fatties and the Normal people who can sit in those little seats, cross their legs while they tighten their seatbelts, and sneer. I cringed when I saw that the article at MSNBC.com linked to an older article on getting along with larger seatmates, one that had me in tear when it first appeared. Oh yeah, this is supportive and encouraging.
The policy also reminds me that one of the costs of being obese is having to pay extra for things like plane seats, doubling the cost of travel. I’m not as likely to go anywhere that requires me to sit on a plane, preferring train and car trips instead but mostly sticking close to home. When I do grit my teeth and book a flight, though, I want to know how to do the “two seats for one person” thing on the airlines’ websites. I do not want to have to pay the extra $15 charge to have a human book a flight when I’m perfectly capable of booking my own – if I knew how.
Even though I’m annoyed at the United policy (and don’t get me wrong, it’s really annoyance that the policy applies to me and I know it), I was pleased to see that there is a small FAQ answering some of those, well, frequently asked questions. What was missing was how to book the ticket. Instead of sitting and fretting about it, I tracked down United customer relations and asked them, not just how to do it, but also to add that information to the FAQ so other people would benefit. I aso submitted an online contact form asking them to do the same thing.
I’m feeling a little empowered now, if not anxious to buy a ticket any time soon, and think maybe I’ll check out a few other airlines’ websites to see what information THEY provide. If they want us to follow a policy, they damned well better give us the information to make it work. It’s already uncomfortable enough that we have to follow it in the first place.