I was so fat I couldn’t face the misery of flying29th January 2018
I adore travelling; exploring new countries and cities – usually on my own – is something that I’ll never tire of. But, in recent years, my size has prevented me from doing the thing I love.
My first solo trip was in 2005 when I booked flights to London and a hotel for 3 nights, just to see what it was like going on holiday by myself.
I. Loved. It.
I remember feeling self-conscious eating dinner alone in a restaurant for the first time – but nobody else cared. In fact, the kind gentleman in the small, family-run Indian restaurant near Victoria station showed me to my table and then brought over a selection of newspapers. This was pre iPhone, remember.
Eating out was the only part of the trip that felt a bit weird. The rest was great. Deciding what to do each day, working out how to get there, changing my mind without having to run it past anyone. I was hooked and since then I’ve never looked back.
I spent an amazing week in Toronto, taking a trip to the top of the CN Tower and enjoying a helicopter flight over Niagara Falls.
In 2009 I visited Washington DC as Barack Obama was enjoying his first year in the White House.
I fell in love with Vancouver and visited Whistler to the north of the city just before the Winter Olympics were due to be held there.
I’ve driven round Central France and spent a fortnight in Normandy in a small gîte in the middle of nowhere, eating brie and drinking the local cider every day.
I visited all sorts of places from Copenhagen to Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro to the Algarve.
I was on a mission to see the world.
But apart from Las Vegas in 2016, the majority of these trips took place several years ago. But I didn’t fall out of love with travel, I fell out of love with travelling.
The dreaded seat belt extension
As I got bigger and bigger, flying became less and less comfortable.
At 6 ft 2 I already take up a fair amount of space in the cabin, but with every flight I took I was finding it more difficult to tolerate the feeling of being squeezed from all directions. The armrests against my sides. My knees digging into the back of the seat in front of me. The seat belt getting tighter and tighter.
Eventually, the seat belt stopped fastening.
You’ve possibly never considered what happens when the seat belt on a plane no longer fits around your middle – and I really hope that you never have to experience that shame.
The first few times it happened to me I was in complete denial. I’d tell myself things like: “This seat belt is surely shorter than the rest of the belts on this place!” and “That’ll be Easyjet saving money by making their seat belts shorter than BA!”
But no, I was just too big.
During those first few flights I didn’t know what to do so I panicked and pretended that my seat belt was fastened. Whether the cabin crew didn’t notice or didn’t care I’ll never know, but eventually I had to accept the fact that the seat belt didn’t fit and that I’d have to swallow my pride and ask for an extension.
The first time I asked for a seat belt extension my mouth was dry and my face was red. It was a pretty embarrassing thing to have to do. I thought so anyway. It felt like an admission that I was somehow different from everyone else, that this aeroplane seat wasn’t for people like me anymore, I needed a “modification”.
To be fair to the air steward, she didn’t make a fuss about it at all and discreetly passed the seat belt extension to me with some sleight of hand that Dynamo would be proud of. The only problem was that it was bright orange. Subtle.
After a few flights, I learned to cope with the shame of asking for an extension, although I didn’t really come to terms with it. I just wanted to get the flight over with as quickly as possible and I really didn’t want to fly any distance at all.
The kindness of strangers
Last summer, when flying home from my nephew’s Christening, I was sitting in the middle seat in a row and I felt really claustrophobic. I had “normal” sized people sitting on either side of me and it was like I was being squeezed. We hadn’t even taken off and I felt like I had ruined their flight, I was invading their personal space.
The flight attendant had clearly noticed my discomfort (and possibly that of my neighbours) and slipped me a note as she set about her pre-flight checks.
It read: “Mr Walker, if you would like more room feel free to move to row 2c”.
I was conflicted. On one hand, I was mortified that it I was so obviously uncomfortable and on the other I was really impressed that she’d taken the time and effort to find out my name based on where I was sitting and go to the trouble of trying to help without causing a scene.
But I was too embarrassed to move. Everyone would look.
Fast forward six months
I’m now 7 stone lighter and not only am I able to comfortably fit into a plane seat, I can wear a seat belt without an extension. I know this because I’m writing this blog on a Loganair flight from Inverness to Manchester – and the seatbelt has got loads of slack. It seems like such a simple thing but it has given me a massive confidence boost.
And on Saturday I booked a holiday to Rome to go and visit my friend Bobby. Instead of dreading the flight, I’m absolutely buzzing.
I know I’ll never have to ask for a seat belt extension ever again and my love of travel has been well and truly rekindled.