Too fat for airplanes?

Over the recent year, I’ve had more than a fair share of airplane travel. My trip to the US last summer encompassed 10 flights alone (to and from), and my trip to Oslo last weekend counts as two additional flights (including the return flight).

Some of you might’ve caught film director Kevin Smith‘s recent trouble with Southwest Airlines, where he was, in essence, kicked off the flight because he was too fat – after being seated. He had paid for two seats (which is already a bullshit premise), but arrived so early at the airport, so he decided to jump on standby for an earlier flight. That earlier flight only had a single seat available, which mr. Smith didn’t mind – in his words; “I didn’t buy an extra seat because I’m fat (which I am), but because I’m anti-social and didn’t want to sit next to someone & possibly have to make convo (in person, I’m very shy)”. According to his story on Twitter, he was seated between to ladies, and he fit the seat perfectly without an extender, yet, the captain didn’t want him on the flight because he was a security risk.

When I returned from the singles party in Oslo last Sunday, I had a similar problem. I had checked in to my flight with SAS the night before using their mobile website, just to make sure I actually would be on the flight, considering it was the last flight of the evening (SK 1334 from Oslo to Ålesund at 9:45 PM on Feb 7, to be exact).

Knowing that seat rows with the emergency exits have slightly more leg room, and considering that I had no problem sitting next to an emergency exit on of the US flights last year, I checked in to seat 11A, which on this flight is the window seat smack dab next to the emergency exit. This was even indicated clearly on the seat chart during check-in (which is why I selected that seat).

As I said, sitting next to an emergency exit is not a problem for me, even if there should be problems during the flight. I have enough arm strength to rip the door handle right off if/when needed, I can remain calm in an emergency, and I can be more than helpful guiding my fellow passengers out the emergency exit if the plane should be damaged enough to make for a hasty exit. I sat next to an emergency exit at one of the flights in the US (I don’t remember which flight at the moment), and I even sat next to an emergency exit on my flight down to Oslo earlier that same weekend. As on all flights in recent years, I was wearing a seat belt extender, and on both previous occasions, I was only asked if I was able to handle the emergency exit if an emergency should arise, in addition to being asked about language barriers and my understanding of the additional instructions when seated next to an emergency exit.

However, on this last flight, I was told that since I was wearing a seat belt extender, I had to move to a different seat, due to being considered a security risk. I was even compared to a woman with child (pregnant or with a new born), and was told that anyone requiring a seat belt extender could not be seated next to an emergency exit. Not one to cause a scene, I reluctantly moved to the seat row behind my original seat, as that flight had about 20, maybe 30 passengers in total (and both seat rows in front and behind my original seat were empty). I was kinda grumpy the rest of the flight, to say the least.

In recent times, I always ask for a seat belt extender the second I board the flight. Sometimes they give it to me there and then, and sometimes they bring it to my seat after the boarding queue has died down. When I flew to Oslo that weekend (SK 1331 the Friday before), the attendant brought it to my seat – knowing full well that I was sitting in a seat next to the emergency exit. I was only asked the usual questions regarding emergency instructions etc.

For some reason, the flight attendant on that particular Sunday flight had a beef with me.

I mean, if there’s such a security problem regarding seating next to emergency exits, why even allow passengers to check in without problems to these seats? Also, it’s the first time I’ve even heard of such a regulation.

I fit snugly into airplane seats with the arm rests down, no problem, it’s just that the seat belt itself doesn’t reach all the way around. If I stand on my knees on the seat, people can pass by me without any problems, so frankly, I don’t see why I couldn’t sit there.

I originally was going to let this one slide by silently, but with the issues Kevin Smith had today,  I just couldn’t shut my mouth much longer.

Between Ålesund and Oslo, there are only two airlines available; SAS and Norwegian. Norwegian (Air Shuttle) is the cheapest choice of the two, but you do get to bare minimum. A friend of mine used Norwegian Air Shuttle on a trip to London a few months ago, and had trouble with flight delays due to weather (where SAS re-routed the flights to the neighboring city (Molde), Norwegian instead let the airplanes return to Oslo), in addition to not getting any service or information during these delays (something which she noticed the passengers with SAS got – SAS, to their credit, even set up bus trips to Molde so people would get to their destinations). This little story made me select SAS for my flights out of Ålesund. Yes, they are a little bit more expensive (anywhere from 100 to 300 NOK extra), but you (usually) get a whole lot more customer service out of those extra money.

Then again, that single flight attendant did kinda ruin my flight that day. I know how Kevin Smith must feel.

6 Responses to “Too fat for airplanes?”

  1. Toni says:

    I can help you with this. I’m a flight attendant on a US carrier. The flight attendants who asked you to move from the emergency exit row don’t have a beef with you, I promise. They have a beef (and a legitimate one, I will add) with the flight attendants who allowed you to sit there on previous occasions. My flight manual specifically prohibits the use of seatbelt extenders by folks sitting in emergency exit rows. That’s because, after you unbuckle and quickly and expeditiously open the door and exit the aircraft — possibly having to help others out as well — your lengthened seatbelt (with the extender) will dangle off the seat; it constitutes a very real tripping hazard in the exit.

    • NeonNero says:

      Thanks, I didn’t know that. However, the flight attendant who asked me to move made me feel like I was the number one security risk on the airplane, she could have done it in a slightly different and friendlier tone. After all, I had no idea in advance about this prohibition in your flight manual.

  2. Hi Kim,
    On behalf of SAS I apologize for your inconvenience on the flight to Ålesund. I’ll check what the policy is about seat-extenders and exit-row seats, but I do suspect that the flight attendant was correct. We have – for safety-reasons – strickt rules about who can and cannot be seated at an emergency exit. However, since 95% of our passengers CAN, we allow passengers to select those seats when checking in themselves (which most people do now). However, if the crew feels that the passenger seated in exit-row should not – for safety-reasons – sit there, it its their duty to move those passengers to another seat, and place passengers who are able to open the exit and help their fellow passengers out. The extra leg-room in exit-row is for safety and not for comfort. Whenever I travel with my family, I am not allow to sit there either, as I have small children with me.

    We’re glad you chose to fly with us, Kim, and hope to see you again on our flights soon. Remember that you can check-in online or on your mobile ( 22 hours before departure and chose your seat. The first row on most of our planes also have some extra space…

    Christian Kamhaug
    SAS eCommerce
    “Social Media Team”

    • NeonNero says:

      Hi Christian,
      Thank you for your apology. The previous comment from Toni the flight attendant did enlighten me as to why my use of a seat belt extender would pose as a security risk in event of an emergency. And I know that the extra leg room in the exit row is mainly for safety; the comfortable leg space is merely a positive side effect of this added safety.

      I also know about the early check in online and from my mobile phone; I used the online option on my flight down, and the mobile option on my return flight, both times the night before my flights.

      Here’s an idea: if someone selects a seat in the exit row(s), why not add a warning that these seats may be subject to reassignment if deemed necessary for safety reasons, and maybe even link to a FAQ page (or something like that) with further information about who can and cannot be seated in these rows? After all, these rows are clearly pointed out on the seat chart already, so it shouldn’t be a problem for the system to know which seats that might be subject to a safety risk.

      If I had such a warning, I might’ve selected a different seat/row and avoided the hassle of being moved to a different seat/row. I usually don’t mind my weight and the large body build that comes with it – what I do mind someone literally pointing it out to me.

  3. Hi Kim,
    I have checked with our Manager Cabin Safety and there is a list of 17 passenger-types that are not allowed to sit on the exit-row, and in some cases in the row around the exit as well, and passengers requiring an extra seat or a seat belt extender.