'I'm a fat woman and just flew internationally. Here's what it was really like.'

A few years ago, I went viral on an app called Quora. If you're not familiar, it's a place where people around the globe ask experts with insight and knowledge to make sense of their burning curiosities.

I was an expert on being fat.

The question I answered: What do you do if you board a flight and the overweight person you are seated next to spills into your seat? 

My answer was from the perspective of the overweight person who "spills" into the next seat. 

Watch: Tips from savvy travellers. Post continues after video. 

Video via Mamamia.

I laboured for hours over what to say and how to make people care. I wanted those who hate flying next to fat people to know we also hate that they have to fly next to us. We hate that our bodies affect not only ourselves but them, too. We feel terrible and yet, we still have to get on that plane, strap up and fly, just like they do. 

It's not fair at all, I argued, that anyone might have to sit next to me. In fact, I find the whole thing incredibly unfair. I also struggle with the fact that I have to feel uncomfortable – because plane seats are not made for me. If 39 per cent of adults globally are overweight or considered obese, it shouldn't be out of our imagination to think airlines might accommodate for different body types.

The responses to my answer were mixed. Many people supported my message and there were also plenty that debated the value of my body and shared opinions about whether I deserved to fly at all. 


There were no real solutions, but I tried to offer an alternative perspective.

I often wait for the sales to fly business class and although the seats are not much bigger, the level of comfort and care is beyond my expectations. Sometimes I even book two economy seats, but unfortunately, flights are often overbooked and this isn't always a guarantee.

But this weekend, I flew single-seat economy. My heart was in my stomach right from the moment I booked right through to the second I sat in my seat.

I had very low expectations. I was anticipating a pretty awful trip, especially given the fact that I've previously experienced some seriously humiliating encounters during flights. 

A family member once surprised me with an economy ticket so that I could visit family. I wasn't able to tailor my trip to my plus-size needs. I was seated next to a couple who became visibly upset when they learnt of the arrangement. If there were a time to be swallowed whole, it would have been then. 

In the past I've been treated with very little dignity, I've had people point and whisper and I've even had airline staff throw seat belt extenders at me. 

To say I wasn't expecting much was an understatement. At the very least I hoped that people would just leave me alone.

Read more from Shannen Findlay: 'I’m plus-size and didn’t buy clothes for one whole year. Here’s what I learnt.'

My sister flew with me and said not to worry, to take up some of her seat if need and just to relax. I knew leaning on her would mean she'd have to lean on her seatmate. 


I know that my body takes up more space than the average person's. I knew the flight would be difficult even despite the fact I had her support.

The moment I stepped foot into Sydney airport, a wave of ease came over me — today was my lucky day.

At the check-in desk, the attendant assured me I'd be in the best possible seats available — right next to the entry doors. Fortunately, as soon as I boarded staff discreetly rearranged our seats and allowed us a row with a space in between. 

Listen to this episode of The Quicky. Post continues after audio. 

They handed me a seatbelt extender and winked. They were beyond considerate, always checking in to see if there were additional ways they could make my flight more comfortable. I cried happy tears as the plane took off, thankful that I was not made to be a burden, instead, I was welcomed with open arms. 

However, I will soon have to return home, this time flying by myself. I haven't booked yet, but I know which airline I'll be choosing. I now know that I should ask the tough questions in advance — so that I am not put in situations where I end up feeling anxious and alone.

Although I know there's always a chance the next flight might be terrible, I now have hope, because I've seen the opposite. Because of the kindness and compassion I experienced while flying with Air New Zealand, I've seen that fat people can travel with dignity instead of shame.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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