Flying While 400lbs

I wasn’t going to write about Kevin Smith being bumped for fatness because I felt like I’d written enough already on airline stuff.  But I’ve been contributing to the Kevin Smith thread at Shapely Prose.  Then tonight I wrote up a huge long comment on my airline experiences at We Are The Real Deal and … it’s a post in itself.   So.

Observations:

  1. Per the airline definition of “fit” (armrests down with seat belt on) I can “fit” in a single coach seat. This is partly because I have an “apple” body shape. It’s not comfortable — compression occurs — but it’s doable.
  2. My shoulders are pretty wide, though. When I last flew in a single coach seat (2 and 3-hour flights, same clothing size as now) I’d get a window seat and lean on the bulkhead to keep my shoulders and elbows out of my neighbor’s  way.
  3. It’s very possible that I could end up next to someone (a gent with very long legs who’s “straddling” the seat ahead to keep from crunching his knees?) who has to touch my fat thigh and risk fat cooties.  Or who also has wide shoulders and keeps brushing mine.  Or I might get reassigned to a middle seat between people who don’t want to brush my shoulders.  If they complain about me, what do you think is going to happen?  I buy a second seat or get bumped.
  4. The man of the house is slimmer in the hips and fits into a coach seat much easier than I…but his shoulders are wider than mine, and has much more difficulty not brushing his neighbors’ shoulders…
  5. Which makes me wonder why hips that don’t fit into 17″ are a huge problem, but broader than 17″ shoulders are fine. This couldn’t possibly have anything do with broad shoulders being a desirable trait among men, could it?
  6. I have been known to book 2 coach seats for a cross-country flight, primarily for my own comfort. Once was with United, in 1996, before United had its “passengers of size” policy. The more recent times were with Alaska, last fall and in 2004.
  7. I’ve never had a travel or airline website allow me to book 2 seats for 1 passenger.  I’ve always had to call the airline directly. Each time I’ve ended up on hold while the agent looks up how to book 2 seats for 1 person.
  8. Each time I’ve bought multiple seats, I’ve been cautioned that they might not be together when I fly. (??) Yes, even when purchasing as a “passenger of size” policy — the policy which says big people must buy two seats? after telling the agent I weigh 400 freaking pounds? — I’ve been told this.
  9. Cassi commented on an earlier post that she had purchased two seats in advance and was told “Oh, we’re overbooked, so we’re bumping your empty seat” at the gate.
  10. There are reports of people flying to one location in a single coach seat with no problems, but being told they have to buy a second seat to get home. Or to take their connecting flight. In other words, the policies are applied inconsistently.
  11. I also sometimes fly first class. The seats are still tight, but they are more comfortable, especially for my legs and shoulders. (I wear a 30″ inseam.)
  12. I don’t fly often. Yes, I can afford to buy an extra ticket or even fly first class (first class on Alaska is often not much more than 2 coach seats – unlike many other carriers).  But it is an optional expense, and I usually opt not.  I’ve gone years between flights.
  13. My current job doesn’t require travel. I’ve traveled for business before (wearing the same clothing size as now) and it’s not bad, but that was before the “passengers of size” policies. I’d hate to be stuck in an airport explaining to my boss I’d been bumped from a plane as “too fat” and that I’d need an extra ticket to get home.

Conclusions?

Airlines really want the problem of people who don’t fit to a) go away or b) get monetized. If there’s a complaint, the fat person is kicked out and made to pay a penalty. If there’s no complaint, then they ignore it. This capricious and inconsistent application of the policies is one of the biggest problems I have with such policies.

If you haven’t flown lately, how do you know in advance whether you’ll fit?  Sure, you can take a tape measure and start measuring seats, but unless you have a 17″ (or 17.5″) wide seat with armrests at home or work or otherwise readily available (movie theater?) you may not know.

At the same time, airlines don’t see any reason to make it easier for people to book two seats. And remember, just because you paid for two seats doesn’t mean you’ll actually get them. (Again: capricious and inconsistent. It’s like a theme or something.)

“Passenger of size” policies do make it possible to get a refund.  I did receive my refund from Alaska for my most recent trip.  But finding the form to let me request it wasn’t easy, and the people answering the customer service lines didn’t seem to know how it works either.

Some airlines are also advertising “premium coach” or “business” seats that have extra legroom. They get more money and “Hey, we have an option for tall people!”

Finally: If you haven’t read Kate’s Broadsheet piece on flying while fat, I suggest you do.  (And as always, sanity watchers warning on the comments.)

Disney World

As hinted yesterday, my November vacation was Disney World! For a week! Yes, it was fantastic.  We stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter, visited in-laws, did Mission: Space, Soarin’, ate Moroccan food, laughed at Ellen & Bill Nye, geeked out at Spaceship Earth, loved Big Thunder Mountain and Test Track, enjoyed lunch with an Imagineer, and so on.  The man of the house got to ride the remade Space Mountain — unfortunately a warning light blipped and they closed it down right as I got to the head of the line.

I didn’t encounter any overt weight restrictions. The only ride I considered that I couldn’t ride was a Raytheon item in Innoventions where you could plan your own thrill ride and then ride it in a simulator.  I was not able to fit in the simulator seats.  (The man of the house could and setup a ride based on a plane flight, complete with a loop.)

I also didn’t get to try the Space Mountain capsules, though the man of the house thinks (based on how well he fit) I would have been fine.

Ah, you may be wondering – how did I handle the walking?  Um.  I didn’t.  I had planned to build up my walking ability before the trip but ran into problems.  By the time I was getting on the plane, I was using a cane.

Getting around

Disney World, if you’ve never been, is very much A Land of Much Walking.   Especially spread-out is Epcot, my favorite part of Disney World.   Just walking from my room to the resort’s bus stop was a quarter mile; at the parks it would routinely be a quarter- to half-mile walk from the bus to the actual park entrance.  Now, I could do a quarter or half-mile with my cane, but then I’d be done walking for a while.  What to do?

Well – I was fortunate:  I was able to throw money at the problem.   Continue reading

…and believe me I am still alive

Still here, still working, still good.  Still seeing incremental improvements to my knee.  Just not updating much :)

I have been using a cane.  This is both good and bad.  Good in that the cane helps my balance when my knee decides to not support me.  Bad in that it always takes a hand.  You know how you never know how much you use both hands to carry things until one is out of commission?  Well, in this case the hand (and arm and shoulder) are fine but occupied.

I started using the cane a little over a month ago.  Why?  My knee stopped supporting me—while walking on the office treadmill.  (Scary!) The cane made it easier to balance myself when my knee went “out”.  It also helped support my weight so that my knee could do a bit less work, which made it easier to walk further.  Over time I’ve needed it less and less.   I’m often stiff when I first get out of a chair, but after taking some steps I often don’t really need it to get around the office.

Other things that aggravate my knee is stepping too quickly on a downslope, or when I start to feel fatigued.  The short walks I’ve been doing are flatish but not flat, so I definitely use the can for those.

Today I managed to forget the cane on my way to work.  I realized this as I was turning into the office garage.  Rather than driving all the way home and back, I decided to try doing without it today.  It went better than I expected.  I would stay close to my desk or a wall when I first got up (in case I needed to grab it for support) but over time I was less worried.  I didn’t push my luck by going for a walk, though.

A couple other things:

  • I got my refund for the extra airplane seat I purchased from Alaska Airlines.   I would have been okay with purchasing the extra seat if I hadn’t gotten it refunded, but if they’re willing to give me money (about $400 in this case) I’m quite happy to take it.
  • I loved Fat-o-matic’s take on the gardening myth.  Which reminds me I should prune the roses.

How’s with you?

Day in the Life: Buying Plane Tickets

Vacation planning can include flying, and this year we’re flying about 6 hours each way.   Coach seats tend to be 17″ across.  First class can be up to 23″ wide, but  I have 68″ hips.  Now, I am an apple, so a lot of that 68″ is depth not width.  Still, even first class is a tight fit for me.  On a 6-hr flight.

The man of the house has other issues.  He’s not as fat as I am, but has broader shoulders and is taller, and is very aware that coach rows are 4 or 5 inches closer together than first class.

Solution: We purchased 3 coach round-trip plane tickets for November, seats DEF in a row with moveable armrests.  Officially the extra seat is mine, but in practice we’ll share the extra space.  Making the actual reservations involved a call to Alaska Airlines, because the website balked at letting me put the same name on 2 seats.  I also learned a few things that may be of interest:

  • Because I am a person of size buying an extra seat due to my size,  about $26 in taxes were waived for the extra seat.
  • Because I am a person of size buying an extra seat due to my size, if there is at least one unused seat on my flights, I can get the cost of the extra seat refunded.

For me, this is a good solution.  It’s a solution I’d consider if the coach seats were 24″ wide, actually, as long as the armrests go up.   6 hours is LONG time.

  • We’ll have more room to move around.
  • I’ll have two seats to put bags underneath.  (Not all cities have stores that stock clothing in my size, which adds an extra horror to lost luggage. The man of the house wears a readily available size.)
  • I can maneuver between the narrow coach rows, so if he needs the aisle to get in/out that’s okay.
  • Fewer surprises at the gate.  We bought the extra seat already; if they try to split my seats I can bring quite the moral outrage of how we paid extra to have the space required.  If it does come to that, the fact that I’m superfat is in my favor.  I’ve overheard gate attendents discussing  “This person has 2 seats, do they really need them?”  before I check in — and then suddenly it’s “No, those 2 seats must stay together….”

This does require the money to buy an extra plane ticket.  Not everyone has the money.  It requires some research.  This might not work as well if I had children to sit with or more serious mobility issues; if we both needed aisle seats, for example.

As always, SeatGuru is very helpful in looking up seat sizes.

On Cooking

Two trend stories that are pretty different:

Pollan’s argument is that Americans as a whole are eating less nutritious, more fattening food than they did 50 years ago.

I spent an enlightening if somewhat depressing hour on the phone with a veteran food-marketing researcher, Harry Balzer, who explained that “people call things ‘cooking’ today that would roll their grandmother in her grave — heating up a can of soup or microwaving a frozen pizza.” Balzer has been studying American eating habits since 1978; the NPD Group, the firm he works for, collects data from a pool of 2,000 food diaries to track American eating habits. Years ago Balzer noticed that the definition of cooking held by his respondents had grown so broad as to be meaningless, so the firm tightened up the meaning of “to cook” at least slightly to capture what was really going on in American kitchens. To cook from scratch, they decreed, means to prepare a main dish that requires some degree of “assembly of elements.” So microwaving a pizza doesn’t count as cooking, though washing a head of lettuce and pouring bottled dressing over it does. Under this dispensation, you’re also cooking when you spread mayonnaise on a slice of bread and pile on some cold cuts or a hamburger patty. (Currently the most popular meal in America, at both lunch and dinner, is a sandwich; the No. 1 accompanying beverage is a soda.) At least by Balzer’s none-too-exacting standard, Americans are still cooking up a storm — 58 percent of our evening meals qualify, though even that figure has been falling steadily since the 1980s.

The local paper’s theme is that people are changing their eating, shopping, and dining habits this year to save money.

“We’re seeing people still using coupons and their shopping lists, but now they’re interested in health again. People figured out they can eat healthy without it costing more,” said Phil Lempert, editor of SupermarketGuru.com.

“They buy a can of Hunt’s crushed tomatoes for $1.50 and add their own spices, instead of a jarred sauce that’s $6 or $7, that’s loaded with sugar,” he said.

Often, the canned tomatoes are generic, or what the grocery industry calls “private-label.” At Costco, private-label items are gaining ground about six times faster than usual.

These articles are discussing different things — but I read them on the same day and found the juxtaposition funny, so naturally I’m mashing them together here.  Pollan is much more far-reaching, tying together the rise of The Food Network, Julie & Julia,* changes in food marketing and manufacturing, and social trends.  But I do wonder if the periodic need to eat cheap will keep cooking alive longer than Pollan’s pessimism would dictate.

I did laugh at Pollan’s closing shot, itself a quote from researcher Harry Balzer:

“Easy. You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.”

This might make people eat less.  At first.   But it won’t necessarily be the foods Pollan wants (I doubt he’s a Hamburger Helper fan ;)

Personally I view being able to cook is one of those self-sufficiency things: I can change a tire, I can assemble a bookcase, I can fix the toilet when it’s running, I can sew on a button, I can assemble a computer, and I can bake bread.  It’s about being able to take care of myself.   In day-to-day life, my husband cooks much more than I do.  Partly it’s because he’s home before I am, but also he likes to cook more often than I do.  I’d say we eat at home, or take lunches to work, about half the time.  Lately it’s been over 90F each night and our AC is broken** and I’ve been going out for air conditioning as much as the food!


*Linking to the book, since I read it and loved it.  It’s apparent Pollan has also seen the coming-out-this-weekend movie.

**According to the local paper only 13% of Seattle residences have AC.  Repair appointments are a week out.

Good Thoughts for SJ

SJ Tucker

SJ Tucker

This morning the independent musician, singer, songwriter, and all-around nifty person  SJ Tucker goes into the hospital to have an ovarian cyst removed.

I first heard of ovarian cysts when a friend had one removed that filled a 5-gallon paint bucket. Friend weighed around 330lbs at 5’6″.  For over a year she’d known that something was inside her belly.  But she didn’t want to deal with doctors.  Finally she ended up in the hospital for a broken leg and a nurse became curious about how her belly was distended, as if something was in there.  An ultrasound and an MRI later, and she was in surgery.

Reading about Kayla Hilton’s 93lb cyst last year brought a new fear: what if a cyst was growing in me and I didn’t know it?   How large could a cyst grow before I knew something was going on?

So, this is a fear of mine.  But it’s not happening to me.  It’s happening to a fierce fun bard whose music I dance to and who I laugh and giggle with after shows.

SJ, as you can probably tell from the picture, isn’t fat.  (She’s also not exactly tall.)  Her band name, Skinny White Chick, came from a bumper sticker crossed with a sense of irony.  SJ spent 5 days in the hospital while they did tests to determine what was causing the blinding pain that landed her there, and now she’s going in for surgery.

I would like to ask you to think of her or perhaps pray for her today; that complications will be few to nonexistant, the incisions will be small enough to heal quickly, and that the cyst will be easily removable.

I also invite you to listen to her music. No, she doesn’t have insurance, and there are fundraisers going on to raise money to pay her medical bills.  If you like the music, she’s selling the CDs and downloads … but really, today I just want her to finish this day healthy and healing.

UPDATE: SJ came through the surgery fine.   Whew!

How many non sequiturs are IN this one anyway?

This comment came in reply to my review of my review of Health At Every Size:

I personally belive that living a comfortable life is a way to longevity, so if you believe that you are over-weight, have the determination to loose the extra fat you dont want, you can do it and never loose focus.

Er … I’m confused.   I don’t “belive” my life, I live it.  And while I can see why having “loose” bits of focus flying around might be bad,  I’m not sure how I could have loose parts of my body falling out.  I mean, ew.

Besides that, I have a comfortable life. My income is above the median income for my area.  We have a nice house, paid-off cars, college educations, a relatively low crime rate, pretty good health, and my job doesn’t carry huge risks of death.   More www.TheComfortableLife.com than “comfortably affluent”, but that’s okay with me.

So why would I want to engage in a practice that I know makes me anxious, angry, depressed, frustrated, rebellious and resentful?  Especially when every time I have lost weight I have gained it all back?  Why should I waste my time making myself crazy?  It makes no sense.

The comment continues:

Personal trainer for 5yrs. Check out my sig for more tip you can use to shed that extra fat.

Jacob

When I was first married, we worked with a personal trainer for 3 months.   I increased how much I could lift and learned new techniques for building arm strength around my carpal tunnel issues.  I also increased speed & gained endurance on the treadmill.  It was much more satisfying than the numerous “get in shape and lose weight” programs I’d been on – because my goals were achievable: stronger, faster, longer.  Comparing that very positive & helpful experience with this loser (or should I say “looser”?) is just sad.

(Oh, and his blog has “Loosing that weight is possible” in the header.)

Paid to Lose Weight?

Headline: Weight loss easier when you get paid for it.  Granted, that is a new spin; usually you just pay to lose.

Dr. Kevin Volpp, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, who was concerned that dieting requires deferred gratification and decided to create a a reward system which gave dieters “rewards in the present”.   Note the assumption that “the obese” are not capable of deferred gratification.  How I’ve managed to spend less than I earn, save for retirement, get a Bachelor of Science, or rehabilitate my knee is a total mystery because I have obviously have no self-discipline whatsoever.

What form did these rewards take?   They experimented with 2 forms:

[A] deposit contract, in which participants invested a small amount of their own money — between 1 cent and $3 per day — which they would lose at the end of the month if they failed to reach their goals. People in this group also got a bonus if they met their goal.

I could see this type of program becoming a new staple of “wellness” programs.   “Join our Diet Program for $5/week and if you lose weight you’ll get $40 at the end of the month!”

[A] lottery-based design in which participants played a [daily] lottery and were allowed to collect their winnings if they met their weight-loss target.

As the study involved a relatively small group – 57 people divided into 3 groups, one of which used the lottery.   If they’re divided evenly then the odds of winning are over once a month.  So, one group had a “set” reward, the other had an element of chance. Continue reading

DayintheLife: Weight-Loss Evangelism

Inspired by Cherie’s post. [One of the occasional series of posts about my typical day.]

The last stranger who approached me about a weight loss program said it was a Christian program that her church was sponsoring.

I started laughing.

She looked shocked and stammered something.

I shook my head and told her no, diets don’t work.

She recovered a bit, and said, “Well, all the women in the group at church have lost a lot of money…”

This is when I really lost it.  “No, really? They LOST a LOT of MONEY? THAT I believe.” I was pointing at her face, nearly yelling. “THAT, I BELIEVE.  THAT. I. BELIEVE.”

Then I turned and nearly ran for the door.   Continue reading