Sunday, 27 January 2013

Fly the friendly skies - 2 huge NSVs today

I think we would all admit that flying has changed since 9/11.  Not only are the rules as to what can be carried on board an aircraft more draconian than ever (since when does having my hair gel in a see-through plastic bag prevent terrorism??), but the whole thing is much less pleasant than it used to be.  Back when I was a kid, flying was more of an experience - - you got served real meals, with actual cutlery, and the service was attentive.

Nowadays flying is more of an ordeal to be endured.  First the ridiculous lines at security, then the pleasure of removing shoes, coats, and jackets, and separating out your computer from your briefcase and other electronics, and separating out your liquids and gels from your luggage.  Then the quick scan, and 10 minutes on the other side of the x-ray machine doing the modern shuffle dance of trying to put on shoes-jacket-coat whilst picking up purse, computer, liquids and gels, and stuffing everything haphazardly into your bag, all as quickly as possible so that you don't hold up the line of people behind you who are impatiently waiting to put on their shoes-jacket-coat.  And god forbid you have to check any luggage, because who knows how much will get stolen out of it before you get it back ... if you get your luggage back.

But it doesn't end there.  Once you're on the plane comes the eternal question of the overhead bins - - will they have room for my briefcase, or won't they?  Has some person taken up an entire overhead bin for his/her rolling zebra print suitcase and matching garment bag and winter coat?  It's like Schr√∂dinger's cat, except with overhead bin space:  there may or may not be enough room for your briefcase, depending on some random event, but you can't know without opening the bin.

And of course, now comes the worst part of all.  The seat.


As a "person of size", with that size historically ranging from 22-26, I found fitting into chairs of any kind, and airplane seats in particular, a challenging ordeal.  My thighs each measured 35" around before I started working out, which gave each leg an approximate diameter of 11" or so ... while the standard airline seat is only 17" wide. 

I could usually fit into the seats, but the armrests would ride up my hips, and my thighs would possibly encroach on my neighbor's seat, if I had a neighbor.  Mortifying.

But not as mortifying as the seat belts.  I haven't been able to fasten an airplane seatbelt in around 8-10 years or so.  It didn't matter what type of aircraft I was flying on, the damn things were always 2 or 3 ... or 3 or 4 inches too short to get around my immense girth.

Years ago, back in the early days of our courting I was flying with the Nerd on some American airline, and as I had put on weight recently, I could not do up my seatbelt.  This was the first time that this had happened in years, and I was taken by surprise.  I spent several agonizing minutes desperately trying to shimmy back in my seat and sucking in my gut in a futile attempt to get the thing to latch.  Nothing worked.  I was sweating with exertion, stress and frustration, and my hands were shaking from my desperate attempts to bridge the gap.  Finally one of the flight attendants on her pre-flight check saw my problem and brought me a seatbelt extender. 

 She was actually very nice about the whole thing, but I was mortified and felt humiliated.  For no reason, really, because it's just a piece of safety equipment that every airplane carries.  Heck, you can even purchase your own seatbelt extender online, for your convenience.  For me, though, when the flight attendant brought me that seatbelt extender I felt like it was the end of the world.  I was no longer a normal person.  I was fat.  Not just fat - - I was big enough to require additional strapping.  I actually fought tears all the way home, I felt so embarrassed and humiliated.


For every single flight I have taken since that day, I have not worn my seatbelt.  "But it's not optional" you say, "you have to wear your seatbelt".  Not true.  You only need to make the flight attendants think that you are wearing your seatbelt.  They are busy with their departure checklists and aren't actually pulling on people's belts to ensure that they're properly fastened - - as long as the seatbelt looks like it's done up, they aren't going to bat an eye.  After all, they expect the belt to be done up, and if it looks like it is done up, they're not going to question it - - it's a simple function of human nature.

For years, every time I sit down on a plane I try the seatbelt, only to discover that it doesn't fit.  Then I tuck the clip end into my waistband, and arrange my jacket and arm so that the flight attendant can clearly see the seatbelt going around my waist.  They see only the one end, however, not the clip.  The other end of the seatbelt is usually hanging down between the seats, or is under my leg.

Sure, if there were ever to be severe turbulence, I would be badly hurt.  And in the event of an accident, I would be the first to die.  But I would die knowing that I didn't use the fat girl seatbelt extender.  Sheesh.  How stupid can we be?  That's like motorcyclists who don't wear helmets.  I freely admit that this approach is short sighted.  And stupid.  But it is an emotional response, and even though I am not proud of it, I felt (emotionally) that I had no other option to preserve the last shreds of my self esteem, because airplane seatbelts just do not fit.

Until today.  [cue the sound of trumpets and angels singing]

Today I flew into Ottawa airport on an Air Canada Airbus, and as I went to do my usual "pretend I'm doing up the seatbelt" routine, something magical happened.  The seatbelt did up.  Not only that, it was loose.  I had literally inches to spare!

I felt like asking the flight attendant if he could check my seatbelt, just to emphasize how done up it was, for real.  I did it up and undid it several times, reveling in the novelty of it all.  I know that straight size people do this all the time and never give it a thought, but you have to put yourself in my shoes - - I have not been able to do up an airline seatbelt since the end of Clinton's second term as President.  This was a truly wonderful thing.  I almost wished that there had been turbulence, so that my secured self could be safe with all the other passengers.

My second win was a graphic reminder of how many inches and how much weight I actually have lost.  I was trapped in the middle seat on the flight to Ottawa, beside the partner who will be arguing the motion, and another very nice gentleman.  In the past I would be folded in like a pretzel, desperately trying to squish my legs together so that I would not encroach on either man's space.

Today?  I fit comfortably in my seat (fastened seatbelt and all), and had no problem at all being in the middle.  Other than the fact that each man took an armrest, leaving me armrest-less, but that has nothing to do with weight.

2 significant travel wins in a day?  I'll take them. 

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