What It Feels Like To Need A Seat-Belt Extender On An Airplane

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.

Every time I get on a plane, I wonder if the seat belt is going to fit me.

The first time I ran into this problem, it caught me by surprise. I grabbed the small metal clip with my right hand, pulled the big metal clip holder down the thick woven strap with my left hand, and as I went to insert one into the other, I suddenly realized there was a good inch of space between them, preventing me from buckling up.

I tugged once, wondering if maybe there was some elastic that would save me. I sat up higher in my seat, praying that a narrower part of my hips would be more forgiving. No luck. The girl next to me buckled up, tugging her strap tight across her lap so that the unused portion of her seat belt hung down like a tail.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.

My face felt warm with embarrassment, so I grabbed my sweater and laid it across my lap. Would a piece of cotton save me in an emergency situation? Of course not! But, in that moment, my sweater saved me from a slow death of humiliation, which seemed like a fair trade.

Just before takeoff, a serious-looking flight attendant walked briskly down the aisle and peered down each row. She barked quick orders where necessary: “Sir, turn off your laptop!” “Ma’am, please put your seat in the upright position!” She passed my row, stopped, and then backpedaled until she was looking right at me.

“Miss, I need to see your seat belt,” she declared, motioning for me to lift my sweater off of my lap.

I had two choices: One, I could activate the nearest emergency exit, slip down the inflatable slide, run down the tarmac, and abandon my trip. Or, two: I could lift my sweater off of my lap and basically let the entire plane know that I was too big to fit into a seat belt.

I moved my cardigan aside, and before I could open my mouth to explain, the flight attendant smiled kindly and quietly reached into the overhead bin to grab me a seat-belt extender.
An airplane seat-belt extender is actually the seat belt that flight attendants use during their in-flight safety demonstrations. If passengers are having trouble fastening their seat belts, they can ask for an extender to make the seat belt longer.

Related: Don’t Wait On Your Weight To Travel

The seat-belt extender gave me the extra inch I needed and then some, so I actually ended up with a tail hanging down, too, just like the svelte woman sitting next to me.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.

As a plus-size person who likes to travel, a seat belt that’s too small should not make me feel so ashamed that I put my life in danger by not wearing one at all. Now, I don't think twice about it. If I board a plane and my seat belt doesn't quite fit, I flag down a flight attendant immediately and request one. They are always available, and I've never been greeted with sass or rudeness from the attendant. 

Related: Would you buy your own seat belt extender?

But, rather than sit back and be satisfied that the seat-belt extender would always be my saving travel grace, I'm looking forward to the day when I don't need one at all. The initially mortifying experience actually helped motivate me. Although I promote body acceptance and embrace my curves, I'm not as fit as I want to be. My plus-size journey is ongoing, and it's experiences like this that give me motivation on my quest.

I have health goals that keep me working out regularly and paying attention to the food choices I make. As I begin to exercise more and change my diet, I love fantasizing about the day when I board a plane and sit erect with my seat belt tightly fastened while the flight attendants make their way throughout the cabin. They don't offer me anything extra, and I don't need to ask for additional assistance. 

After dropping nearly 55 pounds since that first seat-belt-extender experience, I'm pleased to admit that I rarely need the extra material. Sure, every now and then, depending on the make and model of the plane, I do still need one — and I refuse to be ashamed to ask for it.

More from Body


R29 Original Series