Ever since flying to Albuquerque to meet Brent for the first time, I've been pretty terrified of flying.
Don't get me wrong; I LOVE flying. I'm terrified because that last trip left me a little gun-shy.
Shortly before I left, Kevin Smith flipped out on Southwest because of their "Customers of Size" policy. This opened everyone's eyes to a policy that, until then, had been fairly mum. Suddenly, other airlines were scrutinized, and lots and lots of forum posters added their own opinions.
Before this, I had never thought it would be an issue. Before that trip to Albuquerque, the last time I'd flown was 2007, when I weighed around 275 pounds. I flew on WestJet, a Canadian airline, from London, ON to Victoria, BC. The seats on those jets are 18", and I didn't feel squeezed-in. The seats were tight, but not uncomfortable, and I didn't feel like I was inching toward my seatmate.
When I reserved my tickets for Albuquerque, however, I started to panic after that news hit the internet. It was one week before my trip, so I had no time to lose weight. I weighed 310 pounds at the doctor's office that week. I was flying on a commuter jet through American Airlines, and I knew the seats were 17". I could barely sleep with all those horrible posts from the forums in my head. Would the seats be okay? I didn't have any seats to measure and compare.
Sure enough, when I boarded my flight, I sat down, and I could barely put the armrest down. I tried to buckle the seat belt, and it was a mere half-inch away from buckling. The guy next to me gave me a disgusted look through the entire process, and I tried really hard to hold back tears. He kept shifting in his seat, making it obvious he didn't want a single fraction of an inch of my thigh touching him. (It was about a half-inch into his seat.) I twisted my hips so I wouldn't touch him and vowed to fly that way for 3.5 hours, uncomfortable as it was. There was no way I could afford a second seat.
Shortly thereafter, the flight attendants came on, gave their spiel, and told everyone to make sure they were in their assigned seat. The guy looked at his ticket, said, "Oh, I'm in the wrong seat," and moved to the row ahead of me. This meant I had two seats to myself (yay!) and didn't have to feel embarrassed. The guy sitting in front of me reeked of body odor, and it kind of amused me that he'd rather sit next to someone who stank instead of a fat girl who was barely in his space. My upper body is very small, and it peeves me off that airlines charge if your lower body encroaches on the other person, but having a large upper body is okay (even though I've had to lean over on some flights to make room for a football player's shoulders).
Anyway, I asked the FA for a seat belt extender and tried not to cry. I knew I was big, but I didn't think I was THAT big, and having to ask for an extender when I was only a half-inch away from buckling it made me feel even worse.
I was miserable all the way to Albuquerque and worried about my flight home all week.
Luckily, the flight home was much better. I ended up next to a guy who was really chatty and liked to talk about traveling. After we put the arm rests down, I said, "I'm sorry if I'm touching you. I haven't flown in a while and didn't know I'd be too big." He sort of waved me off and said, "Hon, NOBODY is comfortable in these tiny seats. Don't worry about it." That made me feel so much better! :) Then I asked the FA for an extender, and he gave me a dirty look. I started to hold back tears again, and the guy next to me said, "Just ignore him. He looks like he's angry at the world. I doubt it's you." Awww. :)
It still sucked, though, because we were both fidgeting to get more comfortable, and I had to keep my legs pressed together as tightly as possible all the way home, which really hurts after a while. He got up a couple of times, and it felt so good to relax and stretch a bit before he came back, but I was miserable before we were even halfway to Chicago.
Since then, I haven't flown. I am perfectly okay with buying two seats since it means I'll be more comfortable and I won't have to worry about touching a stranger (not only do they not like it, but I don't like it either). I have no issue with the policy at all. I simply couldn't afford to buy two tickets when I wanted to visit Brent, so I took Amtrak. Brent is terrified of flying, so he started using Amtrak too, and we've been using it for every trip to Albuquerque since then.
Enter our trip to San Francisco this June. I started to plan it on Amtrak and realized 1) it was almost sold-out, 2) we'd require an extra five vacation days for travel time alone, and 3) the price was insane since the rooms were almost sold-out (there is no way in hell I'm going to sleep in a reclined seat near babies and kids for 2.5 days each way). We started discussing it, and he mentioned he'd be willing to face his fear of flying if I could find a decent price.
My stomach started gnawing at me because I'm only ten pounds lighter than I was the last time I flew. He pointed out that I could be close to 275 by the time we leave; plus, I'd be sitting next to him, and he doesn't care if my thigh is touching his. He said if I could get the arm rest down at 310, that means I can definitely have it down and comfortable by June. All good points.
So, I started looking at flights from Chicago since getting him onto one flight per day will be much less stressful than having to get him on two planes in one day. ;) The cheapest flight was through Virgin Airlines, which I had never heard of until now. I was really impressed with their design, branding, in-flight amenities, and the overall "feel" of the airline.
The best part? A quick check on SeatGuru showed that their coach seats are 19.7" wide.
On most airlines, that's business class or even first class. I couldn't believe it. I double-triple-checked that on every site imaginable, and even Virgin's website confirmed it. Somebody at Virgin sympathizes with women who have wide hips (or at least acknowledges that even skinny people feel crammed in like sardines). Hooray for Virgin! I've nicknamed them "Junk in the Trunk Airlines".
Anyway, I measured the chair in my office at home, and it was 20" between the armrests, which are low like the ones on an airplane. I fit just fine, even in sweats, which don't have a corset effect on my thighs like jeans do.
Since it was a little big, I brought the tape measure to work, where I measured the seat on my office chair. It is 19.7" EXACTLY. I sit in this chair every day, and it is perfectly comfortable. I don't even have to squeeze my legs together.
I did a little dance of joy because now I don't have to worry about our flight at all. Even if I don't lose any weight between now and June 8, I'll still be able to fly without worrying about judgement. I'll also have Brent with me, which means no worrying about some stranger giving me a nasty look, even if I'm not encroaching on their space. I'll probably get a window seat, and Brent will be in the middle seat since he's skinny. ;) Plus, with his fear, he has absolutely no interest in looking out the window.
I do have it as a mini-goal to fly on a plane with 17" seats and be reasonably comfortable. (I say "reasonably" because nobody over 4'8" is truly comfortable in airplane seats.) At some point, I'm going to have to take a test flight somewhere. I'm hoping I can talk Brent into flying to Albuquerque for Christmas, so that may be my test flight. Virgin doesn't have flights to Albuquerque. There are direct flights on Southwest, however, so we'll probably use them. I shouldn't need two seats by then, but I'm going to purchase one anyway since they've relaxed their policy and will refund the second seat once your flight is complete regardless if the flight is full or not. I think that's very nice of them, and it makes me happy since they're one of the cheapest, best airlines out there. Hopefully, I'll board and find out the second seat wasn't really necessary, and having the third seat will just be a bonus. I've been on flights where the middle seat isn't taken, and it's so nice to put that arm rest up and share the space with the other traveler.