Saturday, June 16, 2007

One Size Doesn't Fit All, Part II

I just want the name of the person that designed the modern day coach airline seat. I want to see this guy (yes, I'm assuming it's a guy, but it certainly could be a woman -- no sexism intended!) in person. I'll bet a week's pay that this guy stands about 5'4" and weighs no more than 140 -- wet! I truly believe that the modern airline seat is built for a person no bigger than 180 and 6' tall.

Over the past 5 years, I've traveled more than 150,000 air miles. Probably closer to 200,000. Every mile of it domestically. Every airline, save Southwest, has a pretty straightforward policy -- you buy a seat, you get a seat.

I have spent countless hours ensuring that I had an aisle seat. In the good old days, before about 2004 I'd check my seat assignments daily and move all over the plane to do the best I could to ensure an empty seat next to me. Since about 04, when the airlines finally realized that they couldn't just throw away a few billion dollars a year, they cut their schedules and the planes filled up. No more empty seats, anywhere! A middle empty seat was pure manna, and very rare. I would make sure, one way or another, that I had an aisle, maybe a window, but definitely not a middle seat. I would contort my schedule any which way to avoid that middle seat!

I started to fly Southwest around 1997. I remember vividly their 25th anniversary promotion -- fly anywhere in their system non-stop for $25 each way, $50 if there was a connection. Deb and I booked flights to see baseball games in Houston and Kansas City for $300 total for the two of us. What a deal.

Southwest continued to build a presence at BWI, so I flew them more and more. I always diligently got to the airport to get an A boarding pass so that I'd be ensured of an aisle seat. I still envision the horror on an oversold flight when the last middle seat on the plane is next to the fat guy in seat 6C.

Round about 2001 or 2002, SW made a big deal out of required "COS" -- their politically correct term for "customers of size" -- to purchase a second seat. They say that this was not a new policy, but I had never been asked to buy one. The deal was, if the flight wasn't full, you'd get your money back on the second seat.

For about a year, I boycotted SW, until I couldn't take the BWI to Providence connections through Philly on US Air any longer -- a 4 hr event rather than 50 minutes. I started buying the second seat.

At first, I was embarrassed by the purchase, but as time went on, I diligently bought the second seat. As I thought about the policy, it made perfect sense to me. First of all, since I couldn't contain my width in between the two armrests, even a child would be inconvenienced, nevertheless a full grown adult. Second, as long as my seat didn't cost them revenue by taking away a seat from someone else willing to pay for it, why not just guarantee that the middle seat went next to me. Also, a COS gets to pre-board the flight, so boarding group doesn't matter.

I decided not to tell my company about the extra seat purchase. If and when I didn't get the refund, I'd deal with the expense side, but not before. Amazing, since that first purchase, I have received refunds 100% of the time. This is not to say that there has not been any embarrassment. On a few occasions, the flights have been very full, and I've had to tell other customers that the middle seat was "taken". Oh, the looks I've gotten. Then there was the time that I boarded late and the flight attendant had to relocate a passenger for my extra seat. Not at all fun.

Whenever I've been over about 350 or so, another airline problem would manifest itself. The seat belt. I learned long ago that these things are not of infinite length. It's also worth noting that there isn't even a standard among the airlines. American consistently has longer belts that Delta or Southwest. So, upon boarding, as discreetly as possible, I ask the flight attendant for a seat belt extension. In case you're wonder what that looks like, well, you know the seat belt that they use for the safety demo? Well, that is an extension. Some flight attendants are great. They'll roll up the extension and hand it to me discreetly. Curse the ones that feel the need to hold the belt at one end, dangling from their outstretched arm for the entire airplane to see. Why not just get on the speaker and say "Hey, everyone, check out the fat guy in 23F!"

So 11 months ago, I required two seats and two belts.

Somewhere around November, I remember boarding a Southwest flight and think I didn't need the extra belt. I got on the plane and WaaLaa, just one belt! Now we're talking! It was a big deal to me, and it felt really good.

I last flew Southwest about 3 weeks ago and I dutifully bought the second seat. It is quite apparent by the looks that I'm getting from the gate agents and other customers that they think that I don't need the extra seat. In fact, the arm rest now goes down somewhat comfortably. Well, as comfortably as it can. So, I'm now done with that second seat. That's a big deal, because it's still a bit of a crutch. I still like the extra room, but I don't think I need it. So I'll just have to be like every other "normal" person that boards their planes. One seat belt, one seat. It'll feel weird, but a good kinda weird! Better make sure I get that A group again.



Pat said...

I guess we're lucky that they let us sit. If everyone stands then they can fit more of us on a plane. I bet they've done a study.

Stadiums aren't much better.

Happy Father's Day,


J~Mom said...

Great post! It is so great to celebrate the little things like one seat! Keep up the great work!

bigmike600 said...

I can't say I have ever flown much. Still being formerly very heavy, I can only imagine. Glad you got your refund every time. Even better is that now you do not need to worry about it. Good Job and keep it up. There is another guy who might need some advice and help from us bloggers. Go and see his blog at He is just starting his weight loss journey and we all know what a struggle it can be.