There's little sympathy out there for obese air passengers. Along with crying babies, they are the butt of many an in-flight joke and the neighbour that the majority of fliers will avoid at all costs. There's overwhelming support for a "fat tax", whereby larger travellers are forced to pay more.
Such surveys are gleefully reported by websites around the world (including this one), usually with a guffaw-grabbing photo of a portly gentleman struggling to squeeze himself into an economy class seat, but very few actually seek comment from the objects of our collective fury: the fat passenger.
Perhaps seeking to redress the balance, this week an anonymous US woman published her thoughts on Medium, an online forum. Her heartfelt blog recounts weeks of fear, anxiety and sleepless nights, and that's before she's even stepped on the plane.
"My breath tightens immediately when the call comes," she says. "It's my boss's boss, telling me there's an important meeting in another city.
"The news hits hard — it's a high-pressure time for my job, friend, family. My heart is pounding and my breath is tightening. I close my eyes, feel my feet on the ground and my breath in my throat, trying desperately to avoid the embarrassment of a full-blown panic attack at work. I will have to get on a plane. And I am fat."
She then goes on to describe the research required to ensure she won't be charged double - or even denied boarding.
"There's so much that happens before I even buy a ticket. I research policies, because every airline has one now for 'passengers of size.' All of them include the possibility that I will be charged double, or denied a seat on the plane on the day of the flight, leaving me to explain to my boss, partner, friend, family why they won't be seeing me this week.
"Southwest famously let director Kevin Smith board, then publicly escorted him off the plane for looking too fat for his seat. United will refuse to board you unless you agree to purchase an additional ticket at the day-of price, and who has $600 to spare? I check first class prices, where seats are slightly wider and put me at less risk of passenger complaints. $1000. I move on.
"JetBlue doesn't have a policy — which means it is the most unsafe of all. I flash back to my last flight on JetBlue, when a passenger loudly complained to a flight attendant while I sat next to him, about how he couldn't be expected to travel like this. She moved him to another seat, switching with another passenger. She wouldn't make eye contact with me for the entire flight. Neither would the other passengers in my row. I was so big, and so invisible. This could happen again. I blink back tears."
As the day of the flight nears, her anxiety intensifies.
"I practice how I will sit on the plane, pushing my body against the cabin wall, one arm holding the other firmly over my chest, so that I will make no physical contact with the person sitting next to me. I bring mints, so I won't need anything to drink, so that the flight attendant won't have to reach across the row for the fat person. I research whether the airports I'll pass through have a history of confiscating seat belt extenders. If I bring my own, I'll be spared the white hot spotlight of asking the flight attendant for one."
After boarding, she's subjected to rolling eyes, open rudeness - and even attempts to surreptitiously film her.
"I line up first, not because I am impatient, but because I've selected a window seat, and I want to be settled before anyone else in my row. If I have to step past them, I will hear the familiar, belabored, disdainful sigh. The throat cleared, the muffled groan. These are the sounds of my body being seen in public.
"I get on the plane, get into my seat, fix my eyes on the baggage handlers below, and avoid interacting with anyone unless they address me first. I grasp my arm and cross my ankles, making my fat body as small as possible. I have carefully observed what makes other passengers snap at fat passengers, roll their eyes, complain to staff. For me, these are inviolable norms.
"Someone pulls out their phone as they pass. I remember the countless, surreptitiously filmed youtube videos of fat passengers on planes with titles like "Gross Obese Fat People on planes overweight" and "fat man slobbering on airplane, sleeping, snoring, drooling" and "BAN DISGUSTING FATASSES." I make myself smaller still, doing my best impression of a calm person. There's nothing to see here. Move along."
Despite her experiences, she is surprisingly philosophical about the situation.
"I understand why all of my fellow passengers are on edge. Because everyone is uncomfortable in airplanes. They're designed to fit as many people as possible — which doesn't lead to comfortable seats for anyone. Flying is costly, uncomfortable, stressful. And at the peak of all that stress — boarding the plane — the person my fellow passengers see is me. Rather than being a compatriot, stuck in the same frustrating, uncomfortable situation, I become a scapegoat for all that frustration. I become the other.
"In that way, air travel is sadly familiar, a microcosm of what happens so often as a fat person. I am watched — and judged harshly — as I try — and fail — to fit into a space that was made for someone else. I am always too big, always too much, always unacceptable. I must make myself smaller and smaller, reducing and reducing endlessly, my stubborn body resisting at every turn. Still, I am never quite small enough to make anyone else comfortable."
The Telegraph, London
See also: The 20 most annoying things about flying