I’m writing this blog as my Air New Zealand flight makes its way over the Pacific Ocean toward Los Angeles, my destination for two weeks. I have been anticipating this flight for quite some time because the last ten years of international flying for me has been an experience only those who are of a large variety can appreciate.
As I have travelled around the world for more than two decades the last ten years have been the most frequent but also the most challenging as a large person. Things like the look of horror of the person you will be sitting next to you as you approach your seat; the shuffling of that person as they slide to the far side of their seat in case I infect them with some deadly disease; seat belts being too short; the need to sit up tall so that you can fold your tray table down or just finding some form of comfort; your stomach becoming a ledge for your tray table; not needing the tray table because you can just use your stomach to rest your peanuts and diet coke; having diet coke as your drink of choice and feeling the daggers of mockery from the person next door; the tricky balance of food spillage’s because there is no room to flex your arms; the constant bumping of people, bags, and food/drink trolleys as you spill out over the edge of your seat into the aisle; and then the worst part of all… when the person in front reclines their chair and you have next to no room left between your protruding stomach and the seat in front. Having said that, I once flew Emirates and enjoyed their roomy economy seats presumably for the large Arabs, and probably fat Westerners.
Mind you, you can have some fun as well. Once I was travelling with two friends—Rob and Mark—who were large men as well. We were catching a flight from Macau to Bangkok on budget airline Air Asia in the early days when there were absolutely no allocated seats. The trick back then was to make sure you were at the front of the queue at the gate, then you literally ran to the plane to get the best seats.
On this particular flight we were at the front of the queue, which was another funny story—okay, let me digress for a moment. Mark and I were kind of loitering around the gate area very early and he said, “follow my lead and watch what happens.” Suddenly he bolted from where we were standing, motioning me to follow, and lined up at the gate in position number one and then I quickly followed into the second position. All of a sudden everyone ran to the queue, thinking we were just about to board. Within seconds the whole flight had lined up halfway down the departure lounge concourse. We were stuck for at least 30 minutes before any call would be made.
Eventually we are called to board the plane and released through the gate entrance. Being bigger—and I mean by several times—than everyone else we pretty much blocked anyone being able to slip past us to get to the plane first, which is not that easy for those who know Asia well. We arrived at the plane and decided to sit in the front row. The plane was in a 3 x 3 configuration and Rob and I sat on one side leaving the centre seat vacant on the basis that no would want to sit there unless the plane was chocker. Mark went on the other side and sat in the centre seat and looked across to us, smiled and said, “watch this.” Now Mark is a big boy so what he did next had Rob and I in hysterics, particularly when passengers were boarding. He literally began to melt his body over his arm rests so that so that part of his body took up a third of the seat either side of him. As you can imagine, when the mostly Asian passengers boarded, their faces showed that they were never going to sit next to him. Suffice to say we all had a great flight without anyone sitting next to us. I’ll miss that!
However, most of the time, it’s an uncomfortable, unsettling, embarrassing, awkward experience and one you endure rather than enjoy. I have been upgraded from time to time to business class, which is a completely different experience, and another story for another time.
Anyway, back to my flight to LA. The first thing I noticed tonight as I sit down is the space there is between me and the side of the seat, and on both sides. Normally as I sit down you kind of melt and mould into the seat knowing that once you wiggle in, that’s pretty much the position you are cast in for the duration of the flight, minus the times you get up to move around, stretch your legs and fold yourself into the toilet. I know what you’re thinking, ’that’s what happens to me’ but in your mind double, triple or quadruple your weight and think about it. Have you ever wondered why it seems to take the fat guy twice as long to go to the bathroom on an airplane than you? Well, now you know why.
The next thing you notice is the leg room in front of you… and then you stretch out your legs, like right out… wow… it’s almost like business class. There was one guy on my flight who was a big fella and like me would have one of his legs out in the aisle to give it some stretch knowing, even in his sleep, that he was constantly moving it to make way for people.
Next there is the most magical experience of all… the seat belt… this is where I’m feeling like a kid with a new toy. My normal action is to first make the belt as long as possible before trying to clip myself in. I’m so conditioned to do this that I automatically do it as I sit down, like a pre-flight ritual. Of course this time I pull the strap over to buckle it in and I discover that it is far too long and so I delight myself in pulling on the strap to tighten it and I get childishly excited by how many centimetres I pull it to get into a position that is tight, but not too tight. I’ve estimated that the dangling end of the strap is a good thirty centimetres long… wow, that’s amazing. I unbuckle the belt, make it long again and repeat the process just like a kid would do. Why? Because I can! Normally I have to force it without any slack because I refuse to ask for an extender belt.
So here I am, with room in the seat, leg room enabling me to stretch out and even cross my legs (I know!), and a seat belt length that is flapping around my seat… awesome!
Once we are in the air I prepare to write this blog article, I let the tray table down and pause for the stunning sight of space after it’s fully folded out. It didn’t hit my stomach as it came down and what’s more I can pull it close to me on the runners. I do that a few times. Why? Because I can! I get out my iPad and wireless keyboard and open Evernote, my number one note taking and article App, and I start writing. Sure it’s not like writing at my desk or at a cafe, but it is more than sufficient for the task at hand.
We’ve been interrupted for our evening meal. Michele (my wife) and I discussed this part of my travel before I left. Because I only have limited space in my tummy following my Bariatric surgery we both agreed that I should try and eat a little bit of it because it is a long flight. When I got to the airport I had a small meal in the Koru lounge to tide me over until the inflight meal at about 8:30pm.
The most important thing for me when eating is to eat as much protein as I can handle with only minimal veggies and carbohydrates. Tonights meal is a choice between Chicken Masala Curry with Basmati rice or Beef Casserole with mashed potatoes. No surprises here, I chose the curry. The dinner tray also had a potato salad, bread roll, cheese and crackers and Kapiti triple chocolate ice cream. I’ve tucked the cheese and crackers away for later and ate about half of the curry, and a small amount of rice. Obviously I was still half full from my snack in the Koru lounge three hours earlier. After a few minutes I decided to have a go at the ice cream. 100mls of triple chocolate Kapiti ice cream… “mmmmmmmmm… Kapiti haft mere mmmmmmmmm.” A bonus on this flight is I don’t have anyone sitting next to me and so I have opened the tray on that seat, put my dinner tray on it, and return to my writing.
As I sit in this ordinary, uneventful international flight in ‘cattle class’, I am enjoying the simplicity of flying as a much smaller person. Honestly, it is as much of a novelty as it is in business class… well almost… they don’t serve port in economy 🙁 I know I will outgrow this novelty as I slip into the supposed anonymity of normal sized people, but it’s these moments that I want to capture as a marker point in my journey to being a person of health and wellness. The weight loss I am experiencing has not only given me a new lease of life physically, but it has also given my mind and soul a new energy to reflect on the little things in life that give me such joy and how important they are.
I’m enjoying my life, and as a follower of Jesus I am also grateful to my creator God who has given me the opportunity to be successful in one of the areas I have struggled with for nearly thirty years. I am finding new meaning in the Corinthians passage that talks about our bodies being a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). The inference here is that we should take care of this temple, our body, because this is the residing place of God himself through the Holy Spirit. During this shift to health, I confess that I feel like I finally get this idea of treating my body as a temple, and I have enjoyed offering my body in worship to God. Like every area and dimension of my life there is a lot of work to be done, but the emphasis I am having with my physical body is both liberating and a deep joy. I hadn’t anticipated that when I embarked on this journey, but I’m glad I am experiencing it.
Let me leave you with a thought my Bariatric Specialist Nurse shared with me the first time I meet her after my surgery, ‘Live the healthiest life you can enjoy not endure’… Now for a bit of sleep in my roomy airline economy class seat number 39G.