I hate flying Southwest Airlines, because of their Lord of the Flies boarding process, but this time I happened to be in the first boarding group, so it's tolerable.
As I approach, I see that the exit row is open and the window seat that doesn't have a seat in front of it is calling my name. I usually like to sit on the aisle but having unlimited leg room really appealed to me. As people board, the middle seat remains open. I begin to picture how great it would be to have no one in the middle for the whole three hour flight.
If I hadn't been busy trying to scare off potential seatmates by making piercing eye contact with each and every person who boarded as they got close, I probably would have seen an easily 400-pound man slowly make his way on board. The aisle seat was long taken and the middle seat next to me was the first open seat in a very full plane.
Watching him was somewhat like watching a locomotive board an airplane. He was radiating heat and had what almost seemed to be steam rising off of him as the cool air from the vents struck him. He was considerably wider than the aisle and had to forcibly wedge his ass into the seat when he sat. Then he proceeded to overflow voluminously onto the seats on either side of him.
The woman in the aisle seat was able to lean into the aisle, but with fifty percent of my seat being filled with arm girth, side boob, and waist flab that did not belong to me I started to panic. I was shoved against the wall by a soft, moist furnace with nowhere to go. Claustrophobia and panic welled up within me and when the flight attendant came by to do the perfunctory "are you willing and able to perform the duties…" spiel I said "No. No I can't. I'm all smashed up in here and claustrophobic and I'm having a panic attack."
Then the woman in the aisle seat – seizing the opportunity – interrupts to say she has a bad back and if she had to lean into the aisle the whole three hours it would be debilitating to her and she wouldn't be able to do her exit duties. We get a dead eyed stare from the attendant who then asks the other passengers if anyone would like to trade for the exit row since the people sitting there can't perform.
I go ahead and move through the open space ahead of me and climb across the people there to get into the aisle. A smartly dressed (for Southwest) gentleman from the back agrees to take my seat, until he sees what he's moving into and then he refuses. After seeing this ensue, there are no more takers. The attendant is not going to put me back there in my state of agitation. I'm now expecting to be escorted off the plane, but a saint appears. A tiny woman, sort of a young, thin Rhea Perlman offers to take my former seat.
I slink back to her former seat as the gathered flight attendants decide to put the big guy in the window seat and young Rhea Perlman sits in the middle seat and then someone then swaps with back-pain lady. One of the attendants leaves the huddle and comes back with the little seatbelt extension they use as a prop for the safety talk. Then the attendant goes and gets the other one from the front of the plane. He needed both extensions, and during the safety talk they had to pantomime the seatbelt part.
Some of you are probably thinking I am indeed a horrible person for instigating this, and are wondering why I didn't have empathy for this morbidly obese person who was having a terrible, embarrassing time as well. Fuck him, I have no sympathy. Why? Because it was a conscious decision on his part to try to fit himself into something a reasonable person would know wouldn't work. He had to know something like this could/would happen.
I'm all for making accommodations, but the accommodation here would be putting this person in two seats, and whether that is on his or the airline's dime is a different battle for him to fight. Despite his obesity (which can be a handicap and develop from many, many causes, so there) he has no right to take up large portions of two other passengers' seats that he didn't pay for. He had to know he wouldn't fit but he chose to try anyway. So fuck him.
There are many physical things in life that many of us cannot do. Those activities are different for everyone. I cannot sing, dribble a basketball, or grow hair on the top of my head. I know these things and don't ever try. My would-be seatmate can't fit in a single airline seat, and he shouldn't try. But he did.
If you think I'm the bad guy here, go ahead and think that, but I bet you wouldn't have swapped seats with me for what would have been a three hour hot sweaty claustrophobic plane ride. Unless you're a young, thin Rhea Perlman. Then you'd be a saint.