Sydney Watson, an Australian-American conservative political commentator who has recently changed her Twitter bio to “Very important doctor. Claiming to be American-Australian” made international headlines this week when she posted a photo of her wedged in the middle seat of an American Airlines plane between two “obese people.” TIP: Here’s how to NOT get stuck in the middle seat.
Sydney wrote: “I am currently – literally – WEDGED between two OBESE people on my flight. This is absolutely NOT acceptable or okay. If fat people want to be fat, fine. But it is something else entirely when I’m stuck between you, with your arm rolls on my body, for 3 hours.”
I am currently – literally – WEDGED between two OBESE people on my flight.
This is absolutely NOT acceptable or okay. If fat people want to be fat, fine. But it is something else entirely when I’m stuck between you, with your arm rolls on my body, for 3 hours. pic.twitter.com/9uIqcpJO8I
— Dr. Sydney Watson (@SydneyLWatson) October 10, 2022
Sydney didn’t hold back and followed up with a series of mean tweets: “I don’t care if this is mean. My entire body is currently being touched against my wishes. I can’t even put the arm rests down on either side because there’s no fking room. I’m sick of acting like fatness to this extent is normal. Let me assure you, it is not.” She went on to say: “If you need a seat belt extender, you are TOO FAT TO BE ON A PLANE. Buy two seats or don’t fly.”
Better yet, watch Sydney explain in her own words what happened in the video below:
American Airlines’ social media team responded with a politically correct response: “Our passengers come in all different sizes and shapes. We’re sorry you were uncomfortable on your flight.”
Our passengers come in all different sizes and shapes. We’re sorry you were uncomfortable on your flight.
— americanair (@AmericanAir) October 11, 2022
Of course, as expected, this divided the internet; some people took the side of the obese passengers, others sided with Sydney and some just blamed the airlines themselves like Jorj McKie who tweeted: “I think the real problem isn’t the fat people, but the airlines making the seats ever-smaller to squeeze a bit more profit out of the flights. If American’s position is that passengers come in all sizes, then their seats should be designed to accommodate those sizes.”
HILARIOUS VIDEO: How to Keep the Seat Next to You Empty on Southwest Airlines or On a Bus or Train
I feel the pain of all three travelers and although I cringe to side with someone so mean-spirited as Sydney, I think she was in the right … especially after reading American Airlines’ official policy for people of size, which states: “If a customer needs extra space outside a single seat to travel safely, another seat is required. We encourage customers to address all seating needs when booking. When you call to book, Reservations will make sure you get 2 adjacent seats at the same rate. If you didn’t book an extra seat in advance, ask an airport agent to find out if 2 adjacent seats are available. You may be offered a seat in a higher class of service that may provide more space; in this case, you’ll be responsible for the fare difference. If accommodations can’t be made on your original flight, you can buy seats on a different flight at the same price as your original seats.”
There’s no denying airline seats are getting smaller and Americans (and Australians) are getting bigger. I’m just shy of 6 feet, weigh 200 lbs and I barely fit in coach seats. But American Airlines’ policy doesn’t really specify what constitutes a person of size or who determines if the passenger “needs extra space outside a single seat to travel safely.” Is that the job of the passenger when they’re booking? The flight attendants working the flight? A passenger like Watson, who can’t move?
There have been many times when I’ve ended up sitting next to someone who is much larger than me and it’s no fun so I can’t imagine being wedged between two people of size. Once, I couldn’t lower my tray table because my seatmate’s stomach was in the way. I felt bad for the person but thinking back on the situation, they really should have purchased two seats or tried to get upgraded. Here are my tips for everyone on how to get upgraded to first class.
To make Sydney’s situation worse, it turns out the two obese passengers were traveling together and they didn’t want to sit next to each other. Apparently, they didn’t want to be smooshed up next to each other either.
Sydney tweeted: “I said to the man, “hey, we can swap seats if you’d like to sit together” (his sister is on my left) He says, “no. That’s okay :)” …and then I started shrieking internally.”
RELATED: Are You Obligated to Switch Seats on a Plane?
Their tactic of taking the aisle and the window and leaving the middle seat open is smart if the plane isn’t full since those are the last seats to get picked.
TIP: When traveling in a party of two, a savvy traveler trick is to book a window and an aisle when it’s a row of three across, and hope that no one takes that middle seat. But if someone does come for the middle seat, then of course one of you has to move into the middle seat in order to sit together.
However, these days, thanks to the pent-up demand in travel and airlines not flying as many flights as they did pre-pandemic, flights are almost always 100% full.
The brother and sister travelers might have had better luck on Southwest Airlines where there’s open seating so the only way they would have had someone sit between them is if the plane was completely full. RELATED: Taylor Swift’s Clever Southwest Airlines Tip For Keeping the Seat Next to You Empty
In a generous move by American Airlines’ executive team, they sent Watson an apology letter (below) stating that they were sorry the flight attendants couldn’t move her to a different seat and gave her a $150 travel credit. Sydney replied: “I’d rather take the $150 American Airlines offered me as a refund and give it to someone who needs a PT or a gym membership.”
Well, here’s the email I got from American Airlines. pic.twitter.com/bfa2jwoZYE
— Dr. Sydney Watson (@SydneyLWatson) October 17, 2022
Ways to Avoid This Situation in the Future
1. Avoid the middle seat
Sitting next to one person of size is tolerable but being stuck between two people of size makes for a miserable experience so always avoid the middle seat. Here’s how to get the best coach seat on a plane and never get stuck in a middle seat.
2. Alert the flight attendants
Flight attendants have a lot to do to get the aircraft ready before takeoff so if someone is spilling into your seat, then privately ask the flight attendant before they close the plane’s door to move you to another seat. Best case scenario: They upgrade you to first class. Worst case scenario: They make the you or the person of size take a later flight that’s not as crowded or where the larger passenger can purchase two seats.
How about you? What would you do if you were in Sydney’s situation?
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I’m with Sydney, and before you get all bent out of shape over my opinion, please read my entire post.
Of course the middle seat is awful under the best of circumstances. I generally pick a window seat, and if someone sits in the middle, I won’t even lean on their armrest and I will do everything possible to avoid touching them altogether. That’s just being courteous. The brother/sister couple were fully aware that their condition would cause any center passenger. They may have known this when booking their tickets, and certainly before boarding the plane, with a great deal of time in between. It’s their responsibility to take any actions they might have available to mitigate the inevitable discomfort they would cause.
On the other hand, it’s the airlines that set the stage for scenes like these in the first place. I think a simple solution is for them to offer a seat-splitting ticketing option. The idea is allow the widow and aisle seat to purchase the middle seat for 50% of the seat cost. If both the window and aisle passengers purchase both haves, then everyone wins and everyone gets what they want, more space for the passengers and more money for the airline. If someone purchased the +50% seat and no one purchased the other +50%, then someone could purchase the middle seat. The purchaser of the +50% seat would get a refund accordingly. Finally, the airlines need to require oversized persons to purchase the +50% seat, and if no one buys the middle seat, oversized or not , the +50% seat holders get a refund for the premium they paid. Simple and fair to everyone.