A teenage traveller has refused to sit next to “plus-sized” people on an aeroplane and says she was accused of fatphobia as a result.
The 19-year-old, who did not share her name online, sparked a heated debate after speaking out about an incident that occurred on her 5h 5m flight from Las Vegas to New York.
“Am I the a**hole for embarrassing a plus sized passenger on a flight?” she asked the Reddit community.
“My assigned seat was a middle seat, and both people next to me were plus sized. I wouldn’t have any problem with this in any other situation, but plane seats are terribly small and neither of my neighbours were able to fit comfortably into their seats.
“On either side of me, my seat neighbour’s shoulder was on top of mine and their thigh was on top of mine as well.
“It was a pretty long flight and was kind of uncomfortable, so about an hour and a half through, I walked up to the flight attendant and explained the situation as privately and gently as I could … She managed to find a seat a few rows behind mine that I could sit in.”
The young traveller said the move was “pretty awkward” and, after she disembarked the plane, her former seat neighbour was “waiting” for her.
“She essentially told me that I had embarrassed her and the other man and that travelling while plus-sized is hard enough without ‘people treating fatness like a contagious disease’,” the woman said.
“She also said that I made it a public demonstration to everyone that plus sized passengers are an ‘inconvenience’ and opened the door to fatphobia on flights.”
The teen finished by asking the Reddit community whether she had done the wrong thing, saying she “wondered if (she) should have just stuck it out.”
The woman’s post quickly went viral, gaining more than 2000 replies and 8000 likes. Some commenters slammed her, but most insisted she had done nothing wrong.
Multiple commenters described themselves as “fat” and praised the traveller for her handling of the situation.
“(You’re) not the a**hole. Fat lady here, and yeah, it sucks. It sucks for all of us, fat and not,” one user wrote.
“It’s not your fault, and it’s not her fault, but she’s the one who waited around to pick a fight. Not sure what outcome she expected, but you haven’t made the skies an unfriendly place for fat people. They were already that way.”
Another added: “I’m not plus sized, I’m fat. So maybe I shouldn’t be speaking for plus-sized people, but … if you were sitting next to me, I would be very happy that a solution was found that made everyone more comfortable.
“I’m very aware of when my fatness is invading another person’s space and I am more embarrassed because of that.
“You talked to the attendant quietly. It’s not like you stood up and started shouting and calling them pigs or anything like that. What you did was find a solution that allowed everyone to sit comfortably and maintain dignity.”
The top-voted commenter — who received more than 17,000 likes — said the “biggest a**holes” were airlines, for making plane seats so small.
“You did not make a ‘public demonstration’ nor contribute to fatphobia in any way. You weren’t comfortable and you discretely asked for another seat. She’s an (a**hole) for saying that drivel,” they wrote.
“The biggest (a**hole) is airlines for making seats smaller for the past 20+ years. It sucks now compared to when I flew in the 90s.”
Separate commenters maintained that the woman’s feelings were “not (the teen’s) problem”.
“This wasn’t you fat shaming, this was you looking for comfort. Her feeling uncomfortable was her problem, not yours. You didn’t publicly shame her and you handled the situation extremely well,” one person commended.
“You didn’t do anything to embarrass her. Sounds like you tried your best NOT to embarrass her,” another added.
A few commenters were, unsurprisingly, particularly cruel — and the teen even responded.
“The blatant fatphobia in the comments isn’t helping anything or anyone. Cut it out,” she said.
“I posted this to get some insight on if and how I maybe could have handled the situation better, not to give an example of how ‘all larger people are xyz’.”
Many netizens are debating similar issues online, as aeroplane seats get smaller and people, larger.
In October, one airline weighed in on the conversation, hitting back at a passenger who “shamed” the “fat” passengers with whom she was sharing a row.
Sydney Watson, a right-wing American-Australian political commentator, took to Twitter to argue: “If you need a seat belt extender, you are TOO FAT TO BE ON A PLANE” — alongside an image of herself “wedged” into the middle seat on an American Airlines flight.
American Airlines, though, wasn’t having it.
“Our passengers come in all different sizes and shapes. We’re sorry you were uncomfortable on your flight,” the Twitter account for the airline replied.
It went further to explain how its system worked after being probed about why seats were typically sized for “medium” build travellers.
“We offer a variety of seat sizes and styles, so our customers can select what works best for them,” the airline said.
It included a link to the different seats it offered, including up-market alternatives to basic economy including business and first class.