A New Petition Is Urging the FAA to Make Planes Accessible for Plus-Size People

Jae'lynn Chaney is pushing the airline industry to be more inclusive.

Interior of airplane with passengers sitting in seats
Pollyana Ventura/iStock/Getty Images Plus

It never ceases to amaze me, the lengths of human achievement and ingenuity that were reached to create airplanes, and then the complete and utter lack of imagination surrounding how humans should be transported in them. Airplanes are not comfortable for just about everyone, not children or the elderly, not for abled or disabled people, not for short people or tall people. Passenger planes are designed for maximum profit and that typically means minimum comfort.

A woman named Jae'lynn Chaney is trying to change some of this, by launching a petition to the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation, and Travel Security Administration calling for more comfortable and accessible seating for everyone—particularly plus-sized travelers.

"Air travel should be comfortable and accessible for everyone, regardless of size. As plus-size travelers, my partner and I have unfortunately experienced discrimination and discomfort while flying," Chaney wrote in the petition posted on Change.org. "During a flight from Pasco to Denver, my fiancé was subjected to hateful comments, disapproving looks, and even refusal to sit next to them, amounting to discrimination. Similarly, on another flight, I was forced to occupy only one seat with immovable armrests that caused me pain and bruises."

Chaney goes on to detail not only the physical pain she has endured on flights, but also poor treatment from other passengers, including hateful comments.

Chaney is not the first person to address the glaring issues with airline seating regulations. Aubrey Gordon wrote about the topic at length in "Flying While Fat," published on BuzzFeed. For many plus-size travelers, even the chance to keep their uncomfortable and sometimes painful seating is up in the air.

"Among the most persistent challenges of flying while fat is navigating the maze of airline policies about when and whether we’ll be permitted to stay on a flight. Current policies for so-called passengers of size vary substantially from airline to airline, leaving fat passengers, especially larger fat passengers, to determine which airlines will allow us to keep our seats and which won't," Gordon wrote.

The internet is filled with advice for plus-size passengers on how to navigate the various indignities that come with traveling in what can only be summarized as a hostile environment. Every airline has different rules and policies and coupled with rampant fatphobia, so plus-sized passengers are tasked with not only dealing with the usual travel headaches, but an added dose of discrimination. There is a notable absence of airlines seeking to address this glaring disparity.

Chaney's petition asks for the FAA to put better policies in place that will better protect the dignity and rights of all passengers, regardless of size. Last year, the FAA put out a call for feedback from the public on how wide airplane seats should be, seemingly acknowledging the problem. To date, the petition has attained nearly 7,000 signatures.

"The FAA must require all airlines to implement a clear customer-of-size policy that prioritizes the comfort and well-being of all passengers," the petition reads. "This policy should include clear guidelines on accommodating larger passengers, such as providing larger seats, seat belt extenders, and alternative seating arrangements."

Chaney even does the job of policy makers for them, and outlines examples of policies that could address this industry-wide problem. Those suggestions include providing accessible additional seats, reimbursing plus-size passengers who purchase additional seats independently, clearly communicating industry-standard policies, employee training, and additional airport assistance to plus-size passengers if necessary. The call for inclusiveness also extended to a call for at least one wheelchair-accessible bathroom in all new planes, and clear standardized protocols for plus-size passengers going through TSA.

The first passenger airplane was flown back in 1932. In the near-century since, it is almost inconceivable that the airline industry is so exclusionary. But it is a harsh reality for so many people. As more travelers continue to be vocal about the mistreatment they face while flying, airlines and their industry regulators will have a harder time ignoring these urgent issues.

To read the entire petition, head to Change.org.

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Opheli Garcia Lawler is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @opheligarcia and Instagram @opheligarcia.
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