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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rudeness in the Air

I did a good bit of traveling this summer. On one of the flights, I was mortified at the rudeness of a Southwest Airlines flight attendant toward a gentleman trying to board the flight.

He was just walking slowly down the aisle, as was everyone else in the line, kind of looking to the left and looking to the right to find a seat that he might like. (Southwest doesn't allow to you pick seats in advance - it's more a first come, first served kind of system.)

The man was clearly very overweight.

As he was slowly passing by the exit rows on his way toward the back of the plane, the flight attended abruptly and loudly said, "Do you need an extension for your seatbelt sir?"

He responded quietly "Yes, probably."

To which she (again, loudly) said, "Then you may NOT sit in an exit row."

He responded rather upset: "Who suggested that I sit there? Certainly not me."

This whole exchange was loud and in front of all the folks on the plane. I was so upset! What an ignorant woman, And I felt the guy's pain, truly. I mean, he already knows he's large and just the fact of needing a seat belt extension is enough to make one feel badly, but must we loudly humiliate overweight people like that?

I felt really powerless, too. I wanted to come to his side and tell the woman what an ignoramus she was, but sadly that would have just brought more attention to the situation when the man probably just wanted to invisibly slide into obscurity.


I truly don't think people realize just how OPENLY rude a huge part of society is toward overweight people and how totally ACCEPTED it is as being "okay." The comments I have received over my lifetime by otherwise "nice" people would shock you. The very real discrimination would surprise you. And the open, in your face jokes about fat people are a daily thing. But if you're not tuned in to that station you don't even notice the sound waves. And the majority of people aren't tuned in.

Heck, even family members who truly love me have spent a lifetime making fat jokes, like it's cute, warm, funny and a way to somehow make everyone feel more comfortable with my size. Hard to explain.

I was so glad to fit in the seat easily myself, not need an extension, and actually had to pull the seat belt to tighten it like a normal person. But I didn't take it for granted, I celebrated it, I kept watching the sides of the seat to see if I would "spill over" into the other person's seat (I didn't) and was painfully aware of what flying has generally meant for all these years. Even as I lose the weight, I still think like a morbidly obese person. I wonder if that will stop when I reach my goal?

As to the woman at Southwest Airlines, she needs to get out of the customer relations business until she takes some serious sensitivity training and gets an education about discretion. And there are people like her everywhere you turn. Please, don't be one of them. :-)

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