USA TODAY International Edition

Denied access, decent treatment

Bigger travelers often face poor fits and rude behavior

- Chaya Milchtein

I’m a fat woman. Like most fat people, I face myriad challenges traveling and adventurin­g the way that I want to. Being fat truly extends to every single part of traveling from flights, to buses, hotels and restaurant­s. Even where we do “fit,” the treatment we face from other people around us and sometimes the staff – it’s indescriba­ble.

“It’s a pretty common experience for me to be treated rudely by strangers and even national park employees who treat the thinner people around me with courtesy,” said Lindley Ashline, photograph­er and body liberation activist, who wears a size 28/ 30.

It was during my European honeymoon when being fat truly hit me over the head – and brought me to my knees – in a way that it never had before.

I was flying from Geneva to Reykjavik on Lufthansa and decided to upgrade to business class for comfort. It was my honeymoon, after all, right? Turns out that was a massive mistake.

As soon as I boarded, I discovered that my aircraft’s version of business class was exactly the same as economy, in terms of seat space – just with a basic meal, and an empty middle seat. To make matters worse, I couldn’t even fit into that seat, as the armrests extended down to the bottom of the seat.

I stood the entire boarding and after being ignored, I practicall­y begged the man in the next row to switch seats with me. Frustrated, filled with rage and tears that threatened to boil over, I posted a video on TikTok and Instagram, hoping for some considerat­ion, compassion, and a refund for my upgrade. And that too, was a big mistake.

My video went viral on Instagram and TikTok, accumulati­ng over 16.9 million views. In the nearly 9,000 comments, I was compared to luggage and told that if a suitcase was too big, so was I.

I was called a pig, and told that I wasn’t worthy of traveling because I couldn’t control myself. I tweeted at Lufthansa and tried to navigate their phone system to get assistance. I eventually turned off the comments on the posts, and never did hear from Lufthansa, or get a refund.

Bathrooms that don’t fit our bodies, seat belts that are too short, and passengers who loudly proclaim their discomfort with our existence. The experience­s in this story are just the tip of the iceberg.

Do I not deserve basic human decency?

Before fat people even get to our destinatio­n, we have to figure out how we’re going to get through the flying part. Bathrooms that don’t fit our bodies, seat belts that are too short, and passengers who loudly proclaim their discomfort with our existence. The experience­s in this story are just the tip of the iceberg.

Fat bodies are synonymous with laziness, lack of control, and unhealthin­ess. Somehow our fatness makes us undeservin­g of a very basic level of human decency.

And when we finally do get to our destinatio­n, we continue to face hurdles, many of which prevent us from having the experience­s we want to spend our hard- earned money on, because they won’t accommodat­e our bodies.

“One experience that I’ve always wanted to do but I’ve not been able to is zip lining in Costa Rica due to my weight,” says Abigail Akinyemi, the blogger behind The Lady Who Travels, and wears a size 20.

Akiniyemi reached out to the company, which couldn’t give her a straight answer regarding whether the problem was weight or measuremen­ts.

When traveling to Puerto Rico, Akinyemi reached out to a different local company and learned that the real restrictio­n was her specific measuremen­ts.

“After speaking with them they were able to change their website to reflect the reasoning why some people were not allowed to do the excursion, more clear messaging is needed so everybody can

understand what’s going on,” she said. A wholly different response, one that ended with Akinyemi booking the once- ina- lifetime experience – although she was ultimately rained out.

I’ve always wanted to fly in a helicopter. It’s a dream travel experience.

What if I told you that I was too fat? With two or three seats in the helicopter I was looking to book, each person was allowed 300 pounds. And if you’re telling yourself, “You wouldn’t want to overload the helicopter!”

I’d humbly disagree.

If you add the allowed 300 pounds per person and multiply that by three people, you’d find that the helicopter should allow a total weight of 900. So why, I ask, aren’t two people who are less than 450 pounds each not allowed to pay their way to ride a helicopter? Is it truly about safety or hatred of people who look like me?

I wanted to go scuba diving in Ice

land, only to discover that the suits wouldn’t fit. In Rome, my Segway dreams were crushed with a 260 pounds weight limit.

These aren’t isolated events for fat people like me.

Restaurant­s have chairs with arms that make them impossible to fit into, toilets are too small, and many of the biggest adventures come with weight limits.

These are specific experience­s, which is why the name of these companies are being withheld, but they illustrate a larger problem with most businesses.

The good experience­s stick out

“I’ve always been a fan of unique accommodat­ions, there are a couple hotels that are suspended in the air that are on my bucket list, however, I do not ( meet) the weight requiremen­t so it has never been a reality for me,” Akinyemi says.

But asking about the weight limit and challengin­g it are two different things. And challengin­g it, is challengin­g, and often doesn’t change anything. So you just move on, finding something else to do.

The good experience­s I have had traveling and living stick out like a spotlight on a dark night.

The one hotel in Rome that had towels that could wrap all the way around my body. The journalist who quietly swapped out my chair that she knew wouldn’t fit while I bought a drink during a meetup. The time when a waiter brought a chair over that he thought I’d be more comfortabl­e in.

These are tiny moments that shouldn’t be memorable but stand as a shining example of what travel could be if people saw me for who I really am: a creative, talented, business owner, a foster care survivor, a fashion icon who’s graced the covers of style sections in both Chicago Tribune and The New York Times.

As Akinyemi put so aptly: “I love to travel and I will continue to travel as a fat woman. I will not stop doing what I love because people feel uncomforta­ble. I will always be proud of the skin that I’m in!”

“Travel allows fat people to visit family, attend weddings and funerals, fulfill our profession­al duties, relax and expand our horizons,” Ashline said. “We should be able to travel as easily as people in any other kind of body.”

 ?? AURELIY/ GETTY IMAGES ?? Not being able to fit in an airplane seat can be frustratin­g and make traveling a nightmare.
AURELIY/ GETTY IMAGES Not being able to fit in an airplane seat can be frustratin­g and make traveling a nightmare.

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