How a 400-Pound Man Flies

Yesterday, I boarded an airplane for my flight back home from Denver to Los Angeles.  As I was settling into seat 21C, I looked up and saw a very large man making his way down the aisle.  He was over 6 feet tall, and probably over 350 pounds  He was walking sideways, sort of, at an angle so he wouldn’t collide into every seat as he walked passed them, with his arms up, his elbows above the headrests.  His eyes were darting back and forth, registering which aisle seats already had people sitting in them, and taking care as he passed, so he wouldn’t bump into them.  When he got to me, he paused, checked his ticket, and sat down across the aisle, in seat 21D.

I was sitting across the aisle from my former self.

It’s not easy or comfortable to fly when you’re 400 pounds, as I was before I began losing weight.  I hated every moment of it, starting from my arrival at the gate.  This is when I would start looking around and sizing up the other passengers – literally.  I would look and see if there was anyone else as big as me.  More often than not, I would be the biggest person on the flight, and all I could think was that everyone else was noticing me and hoping that they wouldn’t be sitting next to me.  Maybe they’ve sat next to obese people before.  Maybe they’ve had to experience now rolls of fat spill over the armrest and into their space, sometimes making it difficult to operate the controls of the little TV in the seat back in front of them.  I used to think, as we waited to board the aircraft, that I can’t blame those people that were hoping I was in some other row.  I wouldn’t want to sit next to me either.

When booking air travel, a top priority was not to book a middle seat.  Window or aisle was always preferred, and I would oscillate between which I wanted more.  If it was a red-eye or a long flight where I would want to try to sleep, I would pick a window seat, so I could shift my weight slightly, and lean against the side of the plane the entire time.  That way, I would be doing everything I could to keep all parts of my body in my seat and my space, instead of intruding in the space of the person sitting next to me.  But if the flight was shorter, or during a time when I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to nap,  I’d pick an aisle seat.  In an aisle seat, I could stick one of my long legs into the aisle, which felt nice, and I could shift my weight slightly and lean into the aisle, as to not bother or intrude in the space of the person next to me.  This, by the way, is an excellent way to get smacked by the drink cart every time it passes.

Ultimately, it was lose-lose, because I was never comfortable on a plane.  I couldn’t lower the tray table, because my gut was too big.  I had to sit the entire time with my arms somehow crossed (which made reading a book challenging), because I couldn’t let them rest at my sides, as my sides were already pouring over the tops of the armrests, so resting my arms over that would put them fully in the seat (or the lap) next to me.

Worst of all was the seat belt.  I was too big for the seat belt.  It’s been years and years since I could wrap it around me and click it shut.  I would have to ask for a seat belt extender, which was always a mortifying experience, because I was certain everyone within four rows of me could hear me and were judging me.  I used to love the flight attendants who would just smile or nod when I asked them for one, and then, minutes later, just slip one to me nonchalantly as they walked by, without even making eye contact, like it was a drug deal or a hand-off in a spy movie.  Finally, about 6 years ago, I got tired of drawing attention to myself, and just stole a seat belt extender.  It became a permanent item on my checklist when I was packing.  Cell phone charger?  Check.  Toothbrush?  Check.  Seat belt extender?  Check.

Yesterday, I wondered if the man sitting in 21D was thankful for the considerate flight attendant on our flight, who was very discreet about delivering a seat belt extender, although I did catch the transaction out of the corner of my eye.  I know I smiled at that moment, and, to be honest, my eyes watered, because I had just buckled my seat belt minutes before, and I didn’t need a seat belt extender.  I left it at home.  Now that I’ve lost nearly 150 pounds, I can fit in the regular seat belt just fine, and with room to spare!

I know I’m never going to be really comfortable on planes.  I’m 6’4″, so my legs will always be cramped, and the head rest often hits me at my neck.  But, boy, how things have changed.  When I stand in the terminal, I don’t feel like all eyes are on me.  I can lower the tray table completely.  My body fits comfortably between the armrests, and no parts of me spill over the tops of them.

I’m just a guy on an airplane, not the fat guy on an airplane.

Keep it up, David!

PS – This is my 100th blog post.  A big thank you to all my readers out there – I appreciate your love and support!

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30 Responses to How a 400-Pound Man Flies

  1. stefiajane says:

    that brought a tear to my eye, what a nice feeling and what a lovely flight attended to be so discrete.

    i have never needed a seat extension myself on one flight i only just got the seat belt fastened but was at its maximum i still fee nervous about the belt airlines seatbelts vary so much it hard to say how much room you will have on the belt.

    i like what you said just a guy on a plane! its very true x

  2. nathanalbert says:

    I totally related to this post. It got to the point where I would just not wear a seat belt because I was too embarrassed to ask. I was also sick of the other flight attendants (not like the nice ones you talked about) asking me as loud as they could if I needed a belt extender. I’m flying for Christmas and I’m kind of excited to see if I will need one, or if I will be able to put the tray table down so I can actually watch a movie on my lap top. Excellent post. Keep it up David!

  3. Thanks for sharing this David. The only time I needed an extender was believe it or not in a first class seat – for whatever reason that seat shorted me. I needed an extender but I’ll be damned if I asked for one. I just kind of made it look like I was buckled. Very bad, I know.

  4. Christina says:

    David – I read this as a “skinny” person. I am making myself a promise to never judge or feel resentful toward a heavier passenger on a flight. I’ve never been so big that flying is a problem (I’m 4’10 so even when I was 30 lbs. overweight I fit comfortably in coach) but I have caught myself sizing up other passengers for weight, infants, even their choice in the music blaring from their iPods! Thanks for another great post.

  5. Karen says:

    I’m so happy that those days are past for you, David… what an accomplishment! And you are right… you are just a guy – just a wonderful, really inspiring guy! Thanks for sharing, and keep it up!

  6. Kelly says:

    Hey David – I recently traveled to Puerto Rico with a girlfriend who has not been on the same weightloss journey as me. I’ve sensed some resentment but most frequently she’s very supportive of my goals. The trip to Puerto Rico was a real challenge because of the food choices/options (Mofongo…YUMMY) and the plane rides were terribly uncomfortable.

    I’ve been asking for seatbelt extenders for years…it wasn’t until this recent trip that I didnot need one. My companion did and she was terribly embarrassed. She too went for the window seat (which is always my preferred seat for the reasons you explained). I had the middle seat which still made me nervous because I’m still very overweight and felt sorry for the people next to me.

    The return trip was the worst! We changed our seats to rows that she thought would give more leg room…exit rows! When we boarded the plane, she asked for a seat bet extender, the attendant handed it to her with a smile and then watched us as we went down the aisle. It was moments later when that same attendant said: “Ohhh..I’m so sorry! When I handed you that extender, I was really hoping you weren’t going to the exit row. People in those rows can’t have a disability or need a seatbelt extender. OUCH.

    Then the musical chairs had to happen in a full plane while people were wondering why we needed to move. SIGH…She was mortified and nothing I could say helped. Worse yet, they moved us to a row where the arm rests don’t lift up. Her hips were so sore when we got to our destinations. MORE reasons to stay on the journey.

    Keep it up David…You’re an awesome inspiration.

  7. Tavi says:

    i may have just cried a little bit reading this post. sending you love this post thanksgiving weekend! xoxo

  8. annie says:

    wow, thanks for sharing that David . I hadnt realized that before about the seatbelts. Thanks for the eye opener-again.

  9. Mary says:

    I’ve booked a holiday flight for December, flying for the first time in years because I’m no longer afraid of needing a seatbelt extender or the mean people around me. It’s good to keep in mind, though, that I don’t know everyone’s story, so the person next to me might just have had a similar weight loss struggle! ♥ So, thank you for sharing this! Keep it up, David!

  10. Heather Kaye says:

    This is my favorite post yet. :)

  11. Diet Chic says:

    Wow David, how great that must´ve felt. congrats!! that´s a huge accomplishment, especially the feelling comfortable with yourslef part.

  12. Ryan kawamoto says:

    Just read this while on a plane. Awesome post buddy! You are a very inspiring person keep it up!

  13. Logan says:

    I too am tall (6’3″) but was never as heavy. At most I was 235lb but have been uncomfortable with even that weight because it was rarely muscular weight. Have you ever thought of putting your blog address on a business card and handing it discretely to obese people you see while traveling, like this man. It could be an “I been there and know how you’re feeling dude” kind of moment. And you are selling a plan or program, just hope that one guy did it and someone else can do it too. Sharing the challenge has its rewards. Congrats on your success and good luck to your future.

    • David says:

      The business card idea is a good one! Not just for traveling, but meeting people wherever, and even for friends that don’t know how to bookmark pages! :) Nope – not selling anything, but sharing my journey on this blog has been more rewarding that I had imagined. Thanks for the comment and welcome to Keep it up, David!

  14. Pat says:

    Keep it Up!

  15. Liza Apper says:

    David,

    Your flight story is my story. I am just praying for the courage to love myself out of my fat prison.
    Thank you,
    Liza

  16. Mandi says:

    David you such an inspiration I am so glad to have found your website I saw you on Ellen yesterday. I too must have the window seat for the same reasons. I am with you on the belt thing Oh how I wish I had stole one :). I was on a plane in January and needed a seat belt extension . The flight attendants are usually discreet. But this one time she was not delcaring to the whole plane I needed an extension I was mortified. Im on a weight loss plan and have lost 1l bs so far about 80 to go I am determined to have space between me and the seatbelt next time I fly. Well done on all the weight loss you look fab :)

    Mandi

    • David says:

      Thanks for the note, Mandy, I’m glad you found my website too! Congrats on the weight loss and KEEP IT UP! You won’t need the seat belt extender soon enough. -D

  17. ro says:

    Wow, reading this blog about flying really hit home. I feel the exact same way when flying, which I do alot for my job. I also stole a seat belt extender a few years ago, and I leave it in my carry-on so I’ll always have it. Just recently started eating properly, and last time I had to fly, tried my seat belt without the extender & it was fine. Have a long way to go, but it’s a start. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone. Good luck & keep up the good work

  18. SKM says:

    Uff da … I totally relate to this post. I’ve lost enough weight where the seatbelt fits on certain planes, but in some cases, I still have to do the discreet wave to the flight attendant and pray that no one has heard my request. Or that I get booted off a plane. It makes me more tense than I can describe and to be honest – it is one of the biggest motivating factors in my weight loss journey: Avoidance of that feeling!

    Thank you for your blog – I really enjoy it. Your success shows me that I CAN achieve my goals!

  19. Adam B says:

    David – I thought this article was relevant to this post, hopefully you still get email notifications for new comments:

    http://travel.usatoday.com/flights/story/2012-08-13/FAA-to-big-fliers-Leave-your-seat-belt-extenders-at-home/57040134/1

    If you can believe it, the FAA is claiming that personally owned (or stolen ;) seat belt extenders are not inspected/maintained properly, and therefore cannot be used. Given the 1 or 2 comments on here where people would rather pretend to be buckled than ask for an extender, this seems like a pretty dumb move for the FAA.

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