My Experience Getting Fat-Shamed by a Flight Attendant.

Happy Monday, Penny Darlings!

I’ve wanted to share this story for a little while now, so I think I’ll take this opportunity to talk about my experience flying as a plus sized person.

In this particular situation, I was flying Delta, but I feel like this is not an exclusive problem.

So, last month, I flew to Chicago with a layover in Detroit. So that’s a total of four planes, four flights, and four sets of Delta staffs!

I also struggle with claustrophobia and panic attacks and motion sickness, but sometimes I HAVE to fly. Like, there’s not another choice. Sometimes you have to. So, I try to do everything in my power to make it better for myself.

So, going in to my first flight, I did not have an assigned seat yet, so when the desk staff arrived, I very privately told them that I was claustrophobia and my size and if they had an aisle seats/empty rows/bigger seats – I was hoping to snag one!

If I need something, I always try to ask very politely, because the worst they can say is no.

At the first Delta desk:

I asked the two folks standing there for my request, and they were happy to give me an aisle seat and were SUPER friendly about it. One of the desk pair even came up to me a little later and gave me some tips to be less nervous during flights. They were delightful.

I got on the flight, and the flight attendant gave me a seat belt extender very discreetly and was very kind about it.

About twenty minutes into the flight, I started feeling claustrophobic and that I might have a panic attack, so I walked to where the restrooms were on the plane and discovered that was also the flight attendant area!

One of the flight attendants asked if I was okay, I explained that I was, just that I was claustrophobic and just needed to breathe. She was very empathetic, offered me some extra pretzels, and let me stand back there until the feeling of the panic attack passed. She was sweet and kind and funny and made me feel a ton better. We chatted for a few minutes.

When we landed, I thanked her for being so kind, and she chuckled, and said, “You’re not my first nervous flyer, it was great chatting with you!” and I got off the plane.

I asked the same question at the desk in the layover location, and the staff was SUPER kind, she put me in an aisle by myself (it was a less crowded flight), as she scanned my ticket, she gave my hand a little pat offered me a little blessing. It was wonderful.

I got on the plane, the flight staff very discreetly handed me a seat belt extender, the flight attendant in the section I was in, was super funny and nice, and we had a great chat!

So, here’s the tally,

2/4 Flights: Amazing. Great customer service. I was literally like, “why do airlines get such a bad rep for customer service? This has been delightful.”

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Now, I’ve been in Chicago for awhile – I’m heading home, so I’m about to get on the other half of my flights.

I get to Midway early, and the desk staff member was a delightful (and handsome! He looked like Idris Elba!) man, who told me that economy was packed and he couldn’t get me a seat where I was alone or only in a row of two. I thanked him and turned around and he gave me a little friendly wink, and he upgraded my seat to Comfort+.

I’m feeling good about this half of my stretch.

 

 

Now here’s where it’s about to get problematic.

But I really want to emphasize that this was ONE guy. ONE person who gave me some of the worst service I’ve EVER had.

However, I OVERALL had a really nice, positive, plus friendly experience.

While, this is about to get humiliating fast, I want to thank the first set of staff who were so exceptionally kind and gave GREAT service.

So, I leave my future Chicago Idris-Elba-Husband, and board the plane.

These two facts are VERY important:

I had a LARGE and full water bottle in my hand.

I also was NOT crying, hyperventilating, screaming, panting, shaking, or doing ANYTHING that might draw attention or imply distress

. My eyes were a little wide (Bambi eyes, I call ’em) and that was all.

I step foot onto the plane. There’s a male flight attendant (who I will refer to as MFA from now on!) standing there to greet us as we go down the aisle. I lean in a little closer to him and ask (quietly) for a seat belt extender.

MFA: (loudly): ARE YOU OKAY? WHAT’S THE MATTER?
Me: Nothing. I’m just kind of a nervous flyer, could I please have a seat belt extender? (I repeat myself)
MFA: (loudly) OH. A SEAT BELT EXTENDER. Well, if you’re nervous do you need water?
Me: Nope, I got some (holds up bottle) in my hand.
MFA: Well, do you want more water?
Me: No, thank you, just a seat belt extender.
MFA: Well, if you’re so nervous, are you sure you should take this flight?
Me: (smiling and friendly) I have to get home either way, so yep!
MFA: Well, ma’am, it’s a safety issue. It doesn’t work that way.
Me: I’m truly fine.
MFA: If you think you’re going to be unsafe for the other passengers, you shouldn’t board.
Me: I’m fine. May I please have a seat belt extender?

MFA finally gives me one and I go to my seat. Unfortunately, in the Comfort+ section, the armrests don’t go up. And it was VERY tight and the seats are a little more narrow and uncomfortable.

However, I saw other people with their armrests up and thought there must be a button or lever that I couldn’t find. I was sitting near the front of the plane, so I caught MFA’s attention and asked him if the armrests went up.

MFA: No, unfortunately they don’t.
Me: That’s okay. I just thought it was me!
MFA: Are you having a fit issue?
Me: It’s a snug fit on my hips, but I’ll be fine! Nothing unbearable.
MFA: Do you want me to find another seat for you?
Me: No, thank you.
MFA: I can just check on a new seat.
Me: (remembering Idris Elba told me the flight was full) the gentleman at the desk told me the flight was full, so I’m totally fine.
MFA: Well let me just check on it.
Me: I’m really fine.

He waves me off and a few minutes go by. A young woman sits in the seat next to me. She’s flying to Detroit because she lives there. She was really nice and about my age. And a total bad ass named Brianna.

I tell her that I’m a little squished and if I’m encroaching on her space, please let me know and I’ll do my best to readjust. She looks at me like I’m crazy, and says, of course I’m fine how I am and not to worry! She was super kind. And her surprise, as if it had not occurred to her, made my heart warm!

Then a moment later, MFA BRINGS IDRIS ELBA ONTO THE PLANE AND IS POINTING AT ME AND TALKING ABOUT THE FIT ISSUE TO THIS WONDERFUL MAN WHO UPGRADED MY SEAT TO HELP ME OUT!

I, out loud, or at least to Brianna, said, “Jesus fucking Christ.” – which is some hefty language, but she asked what happened and I filled her in on this guy. MFA comes back down the aisle to me.

MFA: We’re still trying to see what we can do.
Me: It’s fine. Please stop. I’m fine.
MFA: Just hold on a second.

MFA goes back to Idris Elba. They keep talking.

NOW THE PLANE IS LITERALLY DELAYED.

This is where I wanted to melt and disappear off of this plane.

MFA STARTS ASKING PEOPLE IN FIRST CLASS TO SWITCH SEATS WITH ME AND EVERYONE IS SAYING NO.

Which they should be. They paid for first class tickets. I would NEVER want them to give up a seat because of my size.

Another important note: My seatbelt is securely fastened, my bag is under the seat, and I read the pamphlet about escaping.

So, after he asks three people, I can actually confirm that’s what he’s saying.

Me: Excuse me? Excuse me! Please stop.
MFA: Are you sure?
Me: Yes, please, I’m begging you, please stop.
MFA: I’m just trying to make you comfortable.
Brianna: I think all of this is making her very uncomfortable.
MFA: (condescendingly) Excuse me, ma’am. I’m a trained Delta professional and I’d like to keep this conversation between me and her.
Me: You are making me uncomfortable. Please stop.
MFA: You SAID you were a nervous flyer, so I’m making sure you’re safe to fly.
Me: You’ve never had a nervous flyer before?
MFA: Of course, but this is a safety issue. So, are you sure?
Me: Yes, I am fine.

He gives a disgusted ‘ughhh’ and goes back to the front of the plane where we immediately start to go for take-off. Tears start (quietly) streaming down my face. MFA and I make eye contact. He sees my tears and rolls his eyes.

As we take off Brianna reaches over to hold my hand.

We land in Detroit. I thank Brianna again for her kindness and standing up for me. We become Instagram friends. We start to disembark the plane.

We pass by MFA and he is smiling and saying, “Have a good day.” to everyone as they pass. As Brianna and I pass, he says NOTHING. He then says, “Have a good day.” to the person behind us.

Yup. That kind of rude.

I then get to my next gate.

The person at the desk helps me out, again upgrades my seat, the flight attendants are discreet and kind.

 

The moral of this story:

95% of people want to be great customer service reps, give you a safe and comfortable flight, and are willing to go a little extra for polite and respectful customers.

But, it has been a LONG time since I have felt fat-shamed in public. Or just in general shamed.

Being nervous is NOT a safety issue.

I had no trouble sitting in any other plane seat – ever. Just this particular one. And I immediately had a flight delayed, a flight full of people leering at me and making judgemental comments, got called out for a ‘fit issue’ while traveling alone.

I literally had to beg to stop him from continuing to create a scene.

I wasn’t crying or yelling or being rude. I truly believe that a positive attitude and a smile gets you a 100% better customer service experience.

And the worst part is, I took this story to my *new* therapist (who is awesome!) and asked her if I was taking it too personally. She told me that this was really rough and totally rightful for me to feel embarrassed. I had to CHECK TO MAKE SURE THAT I WASN’T ACTUALLY IN THE WRONG FOR BEING SHAMED FOR EXISTING AS A FAT PERSON IN PUBLIC.

But, I felt that I really really really wanted to mention the GREAT customer service I had from EVERYONE in the Delta team, except for MFA and his terrible rude behavior. The staff really went the extra mile to make me feel safe and comfortable and even to make me laugh. But…MFA almost ruined my whole experience of flying with Delta.

So, thank you, to the Delta staff who are professional and nice! You are superstars.

MFA – uncool, man. Uncool.

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Love all you wonderful ladies (and gents!) out there!

How Very,

Abby❤

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7 Comments

  1. Ruby

    Oh geez! I am an extremely nervous flyer as well so I completely sympathize with you. I’m so sorry you went through that but I am in awe of you over how you handled it!

    Like

  2. Tracy Schiff

    I’m glad that most of your experience was good. However, I’m not sure you were “fat shamed”. Yes, MFA was rude but it didn’t appear to be about your weight. Look at it this way. I could see him substituting the word “tampin” for “seat extender” and any woman would have been embarrassed. Just because he didn’t whisper your request doesn’t mean he’s shaming you. You are embarrassed to ask for the extender so wen he says it loudly, it’s upsetting. And his attempt to find you a more comfortable seat even causing a delay may have been his over enthusiastic attempt to help.

    Just like you are an anxious flyer, flight attendants are terrified about ending up on the next news cycle for doing something wrong. So there may have been concerns that you were more nervous than you realized—not hysterical, but perhaps pale and sweating etc.

    Could you explain how you were fat shamed? It also sounded to me like a man telling a woman HE knew better what she needed. I know I have a knee jerk reflex when I think I’m being called out about being handicapped and shamed for using my placard. His service sucked but I’m not seeing it as fat shaming.

    Like

  3. Erica

    From this experience you probably already learned this but, as a fat flyer, I have my own seat belt extender and I never let them put me in a bulkhead or exit row seat… They have hard sides and it’s hard to fit your hips into them!

    Like

  4. AMBER S

    I’m so sorry you had that experience! Flying as a plus size girl is super scary, and always makes me terrified to fly, I’m always worried I might be asked to buy another seat or something crazy, and it’s already crazy uncomfortable as it is because you’re already trying to make yourself as small as humanly possible. UGH, that is literally the WORST. I’m so sorry!!! I’m very glad all your other flights were much better!!

    Like

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