Flying While Fat shares anecdotes from overweight passengers about their negative experiences on planes

By Gabrielle Olya
Updated December 07, 2016 11:48 AM

Many people don’t like to fly, but air travel can be particularly daunting for those who are overweight. Other passengers may stare at them or make comments. It may also be physically uncomfortable for overweight passengers to squeeze into small plane seats.

Self-proclaimed fat activist, artist and animator Stacy Bias created an animated film short, Flying While Fat, to share the stories of several women who have experienced negativity while flying because of their size.

“I love to fly, and my only stress in relation to flying comes from my interaction with other people,” says one of the featured voices. “It’s like I have a hyper-awareness of my body at all times that other people don’t have to think about. They don’t have to think about their space and how much or how little they’re taking up. I’m always trying not to burden someone else with my body.”

Another describes the act of getting on a plane as “nerve-wracking.”

“I have the same experiences I think every fat person has walking onto the plane: being gazed at by everyone on the plane who’s holding their breath and hoping you’re not coming to sit next to them,” she says.

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In addition to being stared at, some passengers featured in the film say they have been victims of more overt body shaming. Some recall having their seatmates complain to a flight attendant, or even flat-out refuse to sit next to them.

“I have sat next to somebody who was openly hostile about sitting next to a fat person — even if I didn’t bump into him,” says another interviewee. “For him I was just a beast.”

On top of the negative reactions from other passengers, overweight people also have to contend with physical discomfort.

“The fact of not fitting in the seats, that’s the worst of it,” says one of the unnamed “fat passengers.” “Even though I know it’s a conscious choice to make the seats small enough that they can get so many seats on the plane and get more money out of each flight, it still makes me feel like less of a person.”

Bias hopes her animated documentary makes other people more aware of what overweight flyers regularly experience.

“The animation encourages people to empathize with fat people as fellow passengers and human beings,” she explains, “and to think about the political and economic relations that contribute to exclusion.”