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An Airbus, two enormous buttocks, and me

(or, Advice for the larger traveller)

by Ben Shillito

On the 9th of December 2009, your intrepid correspondent boarded an easyJet flight from Stansted to Amsterdam.  Not exactly Earth-shattering news, and hardly any of your business in the first place, except that this was more than just a holiday.  This was fatandproud’s first piece of investigative journalism – a fact-finding mission to discover the truth about holidays for the large in a world designed for the skinny.

Firstly, then, the plane.  ‘Airbus’ conjures up images of the mighty A830, a sky fortress packed with squashy cushions and ample head- and leg-room.  The Airbus A319 I flew in was actually more of a bus than anything else.  You’d be forgiven for thinking someone had stapled wings and an engine to the sides of a decommissioned National Express coach.  Windows the size of a child’s hand, a gangway the width of a London Underground ticket barrier (famously the smallest ‘doorway’ in the known universe), and ‘overhead’ storage lockers that would graze a Munchkin’s cranium.  The image I’m trying to conjure is essentially the word ‘cramped’, printed in a very small font.  Imagine human triplets gestating in an Oompa Loompa’s womb.  That kind of thing.  And yet … the warnings I was given (and believe me there were many) turned out to be un-founded.  Yes, the seat was small, the fit tight, but I did fit, and I’m not a small guy.  I’m a 5XL guy, with a waist size in the mid 50s.  But I fitted, and the woman next to me still had enough elbow room to read her book.  The leg room was again tight, but no more so than the back seat of an average family car.

What, then, of the seatbelt?  Well of course it didn’t fit.  In fact, it was about four inches too short.  So I asked the stewardess (a rather pretty young lady, truth be told) for an extension, which she proved with a (rather pretty) smile.  Clunk, click, tug it tight, the whole exercise lasting just a few seconds.

On the return journey, my fears thus allayed by the easy outbound flight, I was delighted to find that I was not the largest person on board.  A Dutch man of such enormous scope as to be possibly the descendant of a bipedal manatee couple, who boarded the flight from the disabled section in the gate, and whose journey seemed a little less easy than mine.  First, he wanted to sit at the front for the extra leg-room, but the stewardess apologetically explained that the seatbelt extenders don’t fit the belts in the front bulkhead seats.  ‘What do you suggest?’ asked the Dutch monolith, and the stewardess took him to the back of the plane, gave him a double seat (folding away the armrest) and provided the two extensions he required.  Now of course there’s the possibility that this man may have been horribly embarrassed by this ordeal, but in all honesty the stewardesses could not have been sweeter or more accommodating, and I have to say I was impressed.  The question, though, is this – why would a man of twice my ample girth choose to travel anywhere in a tiny plane?  It’s almost as if he wanted the hassle.  When I flew to California in 2001, I went on a 747, in World Traveller (economy) class, and found the seat to be more than big enough, the aisle lovely and wide, and the whole thing very comfy and accommodating.  So would I choose to fly anywhere in a plane that I knew wouldn’t fit me, if there was a larger (and not significantly more expensive) option?  Simply, no.  I wouldn’t.

We tubbies have to factor this into our travel plans – we have to be realistic.  My flight to Amsterdam took 40 minutes.  Much longer than that, and the cramping might become an issue.  So if I was going further, say as far as Eastern Europe, or the other direction towards the States, I would pay the extra to go in a bigger plane, and accept the fact that the additional cost is the price I pay for having a large backside in a world where smaller is the norm.  So, it’s unfair.  Well, that’s life.

What of the rest of my holiday?  No significant issues to report.  The hotel was lovely, the bed spacious, and although a lot of the Amsterdam coffee shops are cramped, by and large continental Europeans are not as judgemental of fat people as we are in the UK, so I had no issues.  One thing I must mention, though, is an airport issue, and it’s a biggie – if any part of your body, be it an elbow or just a fold of clothing, touches the side of the airport security scanner, the alarm will sound and you will be searched.  This is embarrassing, time-consuming and not pleasant, so for God’s sake tuck your arms in when you go through or you’re in for a delay.

In summary, then, with marks out of ten for fat-acceptance and general easiness:

EasyJet Airbus – 8/10 (see above for details)

Stansted airport – 6/10  (small benches, lots of walking)

Amsterdam airport – 8/10 (spacious, lots of seating)

Hotel Terminus (Beursstrat, Amsterdam) – 9/10 (uncomfortable toilet but huge bathtub)

Amsterdam itself – 8/10 (some cramped bars but friendly locals)

I should also mention that Amsterdam scores a lot of extra points for being cigarette-friendly.  There’s even a smoking room in the airport, for crying out loud! Nothing to do with fat issues, but it meant a lot to me.

 

 
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