Flight Advice

January 11, 2012

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There’s been something that’s been weighing on my mind since last week, when I flew back to Los Angeles from San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was a long travel day – my first flight, from San Juan to Charlotte, North Carolina, was 3.5 hours, and after a two-hour layover in Charlotte, I boarded my second flight, bound for Los Angeles, which took 5.5 hours.

It wasn’t a fun or easy travel day. The Charlotte-to-Los Angeles leg seemed unending, but the San Juan-to-Charlotte leg… well, it was thought-provoking. And I’m curious for your opinion. My readers are a vocal bunch – so keep reading, and then share what’s on your mind in the comments section, if you would!

I’ve written about air travel on this blog before – specifically, how much less stressful flying has become now that I’ve lost a significant amount of weight. I no longer worry about my excess pounds spilling over the armrests and invading the personal space of the passenger next to me. I can use my tray table as much as I want without my belly getting in the way, and I have no trouble returning it to its original upright and locked position. And I no longer need to use a seat belt extender – the seat belt fits comfortable around my waist, thank you very much!

The post where I discuss all these changes, called “How a 400-Pound Man Flies,” has proven to be one of the most popular posts in the history of this blog, and I just read it again myself (you can read it here). I was prompted to write that post in the first place because I was seated across the aisle from a man who reminded me of my former self. Seeing him gingerly make his way down the aisle brought back years of memories of me doing the same thing – trying my best not to bump into other passengers, and seeing others look away, certain they were praying that I didn’t have the seat next to them.

On that flight, I was seated across the aisle from my former self. On my San Juan-to-Charlotte flight, I was seated next to my former self.

The plane was a Boeing 767, outfitted with a 2-3-2 seat configuration, and the other guy (I don’t know his name, so let’s call him Al) had the window seat, and I had the aisle. There was no middle seat. Al was already seated by the time I made it to our row, and I saw him make the subtle shift that I was oh-so-familiar with: a slight adjustment so he was leaning more towards the wall of the plane, with a second slight adjustment so his left arm and shoulder would be a little more out of my space and in his. It didn’t do much good, because Al was a big guy. I don’t know how much he weighed, especially since Al was probably 8 or so inches shorter than me, but his excess weight protruded up and over the armrests.

Even with my weight loss, I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable on planes – I’m taller than the seats, so there’s no place to put my head or my legs, and my shoulders are as broad as the seat, so I fill my space nicely. I still appreciate when I end up sitting next to smaller or shorter people, but when I saw I had the seat next to Al, I wasn’t bummed, and I wasn’t pissed. I immediately smiled at him. I knew flying must be difficult and annoying for him, and I was glad, for his sake, that he was seated next to someone who wasn’t going to a big deal, or a little deal, or any kind of deal over sitting next to him.

Oh my. I fear those last couple sentences may come off as self-righteous, and that’s not my intent. I only mean to say that I’ve had my share of flights where I’ve sat next to people who see me and roll their eyes, deliberately sigh, and make all kinds of other passive or subtle indications of their disappointment or disgust. I’d wager that Al has, too. And I’m not, and never will be, one of those eye-rollers, because I’ve been at the other end, and it feels awful. There’s nothing worse that having the thing you’re most self-conscious about pointed out or referred to in an uncomfortable setting.

Al and I didn’t talk the whole flight, save for a few words at the beginning, when he asked me to get up so he could retrieve something from his bag. For most of the flight, we both had our headphones in, and I turned my attention to my book. I spent a majority of the flight leaning into the aisle a little, to give Al some notion of space, and, all told, it wasn’t a terrible flight (not nearly as bad as the excruciatingly long Charlotte-to-Los Angeles flight).

This is where you come in:  For a long time, ever since I began building an audience of readers with this blog, I’ve occasionally gotten comments or suggestions that I should approach people and let them know about it. After I published “How a 400-Man Flies,” a number of people suggested I pass out cards at the airport, encouraging people to read my blog. The whole idea irks me a little bit, because 1) I’m not a natural schmoozer, and 2) If someone approached me at the airport about anything regarding my weight, I’d be mortified.

Here’s my question for you: Is there anything I could have said to Al to let him know that, in a way, I’m a kindred spirit who understands what he might be feeling? How could I broach the subject? 

The truth is that what I know about Al is astronomically less than what I don’t know about Al. He might already be on his own weight loss journey. He might have already lost a significant amount of weight. I don’t know. This might be his first time on an airplane. I don’t know. Maybe he’s been an airplanes tons of times, and maybe he has no feelings of shame, like I did. I don’t know.

I could have nonchalantly passed him my blog business card at the end of the flight, but I didn’t have any business cards on me (I brought a nice stack with me on my travels, but had passed them all out to family and friends). Maybe I could have pulled out my laptop and shared some ‘Before and Current’ pictures with him. I suppose my goal could simply be to kindly let him know that I walked in his shoes for a long time, and that change is possible. And I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out if there’s a polite, respectful, kind way to do that.

What do you think?

Share your comments below. OH – and be sure to come back tomorrow, I have a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!

Keep it up, David!


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