‘I just shut up and bear it’: What it’s like to travel while larger-bodied

Editor’s note: All interview subjects self-identify as fat. The terms “larger-bodied” and “customer of size” are used when discussing airline policies and the general population.

When the seatbelt sign comes on during a flight, passengers know to buckle up. But for larger-bodied travellers, it’s not always so simple.

Jennifer Germyn, 34, flies regularly for work, and the length of the standard aircraft seatbelt and narrow seats often leave her bruised and in pain.

“Most of the time, I guiltily tuck the connector under my shirt and pretend it fits, knowing that it puts me in danger,” the B.C. native said. “I get dark purple bruises on my hipbones from the armrests every time.”

Embarrassment keeps Germyn from asking for a seatbelt extension.

“It hurts like hell.”

Travelling for Germyn isn’t just for pleasure: her livelihood as a software developer depends on it. This means she has to choose between keeping her job and undergoing physical pain and extreme anxiety to fly.

“I just shut up and bear it because this is the way I normally move through life,” she said.

This is a reality for many larger-bodied people when it comes to travel. Advocates argue that airline policies are discriminatory and need to better accommodate diverse body sizes.

While some airlines attempt to address these needs, there are still many barriers that make travelling for large-bodied people difficult, stress-inducing and downright painful.

The average size is increasing — and airplane seats are shrinking

The average size of an airplane seat started to shrink in the 1980s, and economy seats are now often around 17 inches wide. The amount of legroom on aircraft has also decreased.

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