Picture Of Passenger Causes Sizable Stir

December 4, 2009

in Non-Stories

The picture below has been making the rounds, including recently on The Jay Leno Show. The photo was received by the blog Unusual attitude which is on the aviation news site Flightglobal. The blog stated that it purportedly was taken by an American Airlines flight attendant concerned about inconveniences and safety issues. Click here to see a follow-up post from the blog addressing challenges to the veracity of the photo. As reported in the Telegraph, American Airlines has announced that it’s investigating the matter.

Our Portly category has plenty of stories about passengers sitting next to obese seatmates, but the seatmates probably didn’t quite reach the proportions of the guy in the picture (the person in the Like Pleats On A Dress story might have come the closest). You really have to feel for the poor fellow sitting next to the hefty guy. Note that his head is turned towards him, probably from shock. Hopefully he’ll email us his story and share what certainly was a flight from hell!


ps December 4, 2009 at 8:17 am

This has been all over the papers over the last couple of days. Bottom line was the guy (in the middle) was compensated and gave up his seat. Seems that the king sized flyer ended up taking 3 seats.

Kad December 16, 2009 at 3:09 am

No ps. It was a fully booked flight, which means the 3rd (window) seat was also occupied. This poor guy looks like he could occupy 2 seats comfortably. The guy in the middle of the pic didn't 'give up his seat' either. He was bribed to take a later flight with vouchers and 1st class. As far as I understand it, he was actually asked to leave the plane though. As in he didn't have any choice.

Fatty, for whatever reason, got to fly, even though it appears to be an OBVIOUSLY PAINFUL safety issue.

ps December 16, 2009 at 12:42 pm

I thought I said he was compensated and gave up his seat. Didnt know he was asked to leave. Even so, it was his choice and he said yes and hopefully he had more space with some compensating cocktails. Wouldn't want to be in the window seat in an emergency on that flight. The first reports said he took the whole row.

MJ December 4, 2009 at 10:04 am

Wow, nice of you to make the poor guy a freakshow for the sake of entertainment.

Kad December 16, 2009 at 3:11 am

Welcome to humanity. Or haven't you heard about Barnum and Bailey?

Are you so PC you can't see an obvious problem here? Yeah, right. In case of crash, wipe 400 pounds of fat off you, then try to find an exit………gimme a break. I don't care why he is large. He IS large. Fact.

Sabrina December 4, 2009 at 11:33 am

Poor guy?!?! Um, he did this to himself! Thats like telling a heroin addict, "Oh, you poor thing!" This is just unacceptable.

Andrew December 4, 2009 at 12:00 pm

that's just ridiculous, a major safety issue. I'm not bashing "large" people, but this guy needs to make better accommodations for himself… if you "know" you aren't going to fit, "FIT", in a single seat, then you NEED to buy another seat or take another form of transportation. Simple as that.

Cam Tompkins December 4, 2009 at 10:36 pm

I almost feel sorry for him… My anger is toward those who let him board! For the love of god he needs AT LEAST two (2) seats, christ alive, imagine scrambling past him in the event of an emergency!!

MJ December 5, 2009 at 11:25 am

Sabrina, you have no idea why he is as large as he is. Two thirds of people with BMIs above 30 have metabolic abnormalities. Weight is far more related to genetics than eating habits. I'm not saying that every fat person is fat because of genetics, but you can't make assumptions.

And being fat doesn't take away his humanity. This picture of him is being paraded all over the internet like a freak show. He still deserves to be treated with respect.

So go take your judgmental attitude and shove it.

Bob December 6, 2009 at 2:04 pm

He's being exhibited like a monkey in a zoo!

Jim December 7, 2009 at 7:01 am

You can make excuses until the cows come home…..

Granted some people have an easier time losing weight than others…..but, it is possible for everyone to lose weight with proper diet and exercise….regardless of metabolic abnormalities.

Eat less, exercise more. You will lose weight.

You are an enabler….trying to make excuses for others and possibly yourself for your own lack of ambition and self-control.

nyuu December 8, 2009 at 5:33 am

I keep wondering, if it really is genetic (and only genetic), why is average obesity increasing so fast so recently?

More likely, it is a combination of factors. True, big-boned people will never be small, but that doesn't mean they can't get fit. :/

Bob December 22, 2009 at 3:31 am

Why is it that the majority of people with “metabolic abnormalities” happen to live in the U.S.? Maybe we need larger seats on passenger flights. I think everyone would benefit from that…except maybe the airline$.

Cjung December 5, 2009 at 1:31 pm

One of my favorite sites is Shorpy the "100 year old photo blog." It's been noted over and over how lean people were way back then. For example this beach scene: http://www.shorpy.com/node/7191 (click on the highlighted text in the caption to see it enlarged). Find any obese people? I've looked at numerous photos on Shorpy showing crowds on the street, beach, board walk, at parties, parades and political situations and while I've seen some thickset folk, I haven't seen any obese people. Back then a hugely obese person was quite unusual – so unusual that they could draw the crowds at a freak show (i.e. "the fat lady"). It's nowhere near as unusual nowadays.

Jojo December 6, 2009 at 10:43 am

Good observation Cjung. I think the obesity epidemic is a result of the kinds of foods that are pushed on us, and on our sedentary lifestyes.

BTW, I really liked that Shorpy site!

Mick December 16, 2009 at 10:43 am

Yeah, cjung, that shorpy site is one of the best I've come across in a long, long time. I've bookmarked it and will re-visit it when I get home tonight. Thanks for the info!

DSD December 6, 2009 at 7:40 am

He is either sitting on the arm rest or that is Photochopped.

If it't is infact a real, unaltered photo I am VERY surprised that they let him sit like that, blocking the aisle. I have been on flights where the FA NAZI nearly threw me off because I had my FOOT in the aisle before take off, and I was in the last row so it wasn't like I might trip someone coming from behind.

As for "poor guy, show him some respect", its not like you can see his face and identify the guy. IMO its a photo illustraiting what many of us have had to endure, but with the guy not hanging into the aisle.

MJ, if it's metabolic abnormalities that are causing the majority of these issues, then how the hell does Bariatric surgery cure the problem? All that does is reduce the amount of food a person can take in.

Kad December 16, 2009 at 3:33 am

Who cares why he is large? He is large. Simple truth, and yes, he is sitting on the seat arm. Good argument for a good rail network.

The plane didn't fly until the guy in the middle was paid off to give up his seat.

MJ December 6, 2009 at 7:43 am

Cjung, does it occur to you that people the size of the man in this picture are still a rather small portion of the population? We're talking under 6%, according to the CDC.

(source: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Flegal et. al. JAMA 2002)

Kad December 16, 2009 at 3:35 am

CDC numbers lag reality by a few years, and it isn't PC to say everyone is FAT. During the civil war, the average height was 5'6". During the Revolutionary War, it was 5'4". This guy is huge, and there is something wrong with a diet that produces giants in only 2-3 generations. I call foul on the frozen food aisle, and on fast food.

Demotage December 6, 2009 at 2:58 pm

RE: comparison with woman in "Like pleats of a dress". Comparing the two of these people is apples and oranges. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that the woman I encountered was of similar weight to the guy in this picture, but she was a completely different shape. Her shoulders were half as wide – all her weight was in the middle and bottom. This guy, although large, looks kind of solid – like he wouldn't have folds of fat. The woman I encountered was smaller frame, and had rolls of fat around her middle.

Anyway, I don't blame the guy for his size – its is really his problem until he makes it someone else's problem. I know a guy about the same size as the guy in this picture and he always buys two seats or goes 1st class so as not to crowd anyone.

MJ December 7, 2009 at 4:57 am

@DSD I had a whole answer written out and when I went to submit, the "connection was reset" and it disappeared. But basically:

Bariatric surgery isn't a magic bullet. It makes many people far sicker than they were before surgery. Twenty percent of patients end up back in the hospital soon after the initial surgery with potentially life threatening complications, and almost all patients experience a range of side effects, which almost always include: nausea/vomiting after eating more than 3 oz of food at once, sudden diarrhea (dumping), hair loss, and nutritional deficiencies (including things like scurvy, which are almost never seen in developed countries). (Full list here: http://thinforlife.med.nyu.edu/surgicalweightloss

The "curing" of conditions like diabetes is likely only temporary, as many patients begin to regain weight after about two years, and diabetes tends to return around the same time. Bariatric surgery is essentially surgically induced anorexia, which is neither maintainable nor healthy in the long term.

Especially since WLS statistically extends a patient's life by only 3 years, I don't see any real purpose in making those extra years (as well as the ones he/she would have lived anyway) painful and unpleasant.

I'm sure there are people who have WLS and are healthy, but the risks with this surgery are far higher than would be accepted with almost any other surgical procedure I can think of, and for many, the primary goals are aesthetic, rather than medical.

Tim Spooner December 7, 2009 at 9:35 am

I saw a guy on an Air Asia flight from Bangkok to Udon Thani 3 weeks ago. Easily as big as the guy in the pic and once he opened his mouth (he was in the same shuttle bus as us on arrival ) it confirmed he was from the USA (no surprise there). Anyway, the point is that Air Asia put him in a row by himself at the very front of the plane. Thus, no inconvenience to other passengers and he could just be rolled out of the exit if anything bad happened. However, pity the poor litlle Thai girl we saw him with at breakfast the next day, we hope she charged double!

Lon December 7, 2009 at 10:09 am

MJ, you've responded three times now and have not yet addressed the issue. I'm almost as big as the guy in the picture and I pay for a 2nd seat, it's the curteous thing to do. Period. Nobody's judging the guy for his size, just saying he needs to PAY for the space he takes up since he's taking it away from someone else. I don't care WHY he's as big as he is. He has no right to spill over into another paying passenger's seat.

MJ December 7, 2009 at 2:20 pm

I have mixed feelings on this subject. I'm small enough to easily fit in one seat, so it's not personal in that sense, but people use the issue of airline seating as an excuse to dehumanize "the obese." If you look at the comments here, sure there are a few people who seem to sympathize, but there are also the ones who feel the need to make this about "what he did to himself" as he is "obviously" at fault for his size.

If you're large enough to regularly buy two seats, you must also know that airlines regularly take seats away from large passengers who have paid for two seats just to fit another fare on the plane. We simply don't know the context of this photo, and I still think it's ridiculous to spread this picture around the internet to make an example of an individual who is, you know, a real person with feelings. I'd be interested to see if he responds or outs himself.

And yes, on the other side, I don't like sitting next to someone who needs more space than their seat has. I did pay good money (especially since I'm a student and don't have much in the first place) for the ticket and I want to be able to use the full space allotted to me.

Kad December 16, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Lon, it seems like the polite thing to do, even if it disadvantages you in some ways. Knowing you are large (which, as I said in a post below) may have nothing to do with life choices, doesn't negate the fact that you are, well, plus-sized.

I hope you in no way understood that I have anything against large people. I don't. The physics of flight might though, when more people realize that pilots 'estimate' the weight of passengers, and that their guidelines for estimating weight are 25 years out of date.

Here in Ontario, a couple of smallish planes (puddle-jumpers with commuters or hunters) have gone down over the last several years because of weight problems.

Kudos to you if you honestly evaluate your own comfort (and that of your fellow passengers). I know it probably isn't cheap, but at least everyone is sort of comfortable….

Even a guy like me (170 lbs) isn't comfortable in economy. I really don't know how the larger folk do it.

Cheers Lon. Let's keep it real.

btw if I ever say anything that you feel is incidentally insulting, call me out on it and we can talk about it. Chances are it was a delivery/interpretation issue, and nothing ill was intended.


Kad December 16, 2009 at 3:01 am

Sorry guys, I couldn't read all of what I imagine to be thoughtful posts.

I don't give a rats ass if he is large due to genetics, poor habits, or poor health. He is large. Simple fact.

Do you want this guy on the rollercoaster next to you? Actually, if the bars don't lock, they make you get off. So now we are going to try and strap a 400 pound man into a 100 pound seat held to the aluminum floor of a plane by 4-8 bolts (anyone know the actual number?)

Look, I know it isn't PC, but not everyone can do everything. Do you want this guy on your eco-tour of Costa Rica, huffing and puffing up mountains with you?

Yet another reason to develop substantial passenger rail-networks in north america. Some people should just not be flying. It's not my fault or his (likely). He is simply a HUGE man.

I'm all for average weights for passengers on ticket prices. For every pound over, you pay an extra dollar. Avg are now considered to be 180 pounds. A lie. Avg, flying through the US, is at least 235. Maybe some planes will have to go down before pilots no longer use a calculator from the 1980's to calculate takeoff weight.

Yeah, I know. Seems harsh. The physics of flight are difficult to break though.

And the guy in the center seat was given 1st class on the next available flight.

Mick December 16, 2009 at 10:46 am

Kad, I don't always agree with your viewpoints, but in this case I do. And I like your style, too – no matter what, it's always interesting and to-the-point!

Kad December 16, 2009 at 11:14 am

I appreciate the response actually Mick, because I was really trying to not be an a**hole about it, while at the same time being brief. Difficult to do sometimes in the online world.

I'll take the compliments where I can get them though. 🙂

I'm just glad you didn't misunderstand what I was saying. Reality sucks sometimes. I know. But, like physics, difficult to break.

Cheers Mick.

NomdeVoyage August 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Well, I'm curious; Does anyone know why the middle-seat guy was coerced into giving up his seat ( and all the perks that went with that, ) and not the large guy instead?

Some guy named Dave August 23, 2013 at 11:59 pm

He is actually a normal sized guy, everyone else was headed to the Little People Convention in Atlantic City. He only looks humongous because the pathetically small seats in coach are only big enough for Barbie doll sized people.

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