Posted by: Bro | July 13, 2008

The Injustice of Being Tall

I am flying back to my hometown on Tuesday. I enjoy air-travel up to when I sit in an airplane seat, and enjoy it even more once I get out of the seat. You see, I am somewhat taller than average, standing 6’4″.

When I walk down the aisle of the plane, I bob and weave to avoid overhead bins, their covers, and the carelessly placed pieces of luggage within them. In some planes, if I stand up straight, my head will brush the ceiling. This doesn’t bother me.

I’m also one of those people who actually waits until my row is called. So that means I get to wait once I board the plane, for all those who disregarded the instructions to stow my bags. As a side note, their rush makes no sense, since they are actually delaying the boarding process and the flight. However, this doesn’t bother me either.

It’s once I place my bag in the bin, and then sit down that I get bothered. Once seated, I have about -2 cm of knee space. Removing the magazines from their pouch doesn’t help because my legs are long enough that they jam into that little lip between the magazine pouch and the fold-down meal tray. This bothers me.

It also bothers the person in front of me once we reach cruising altitude. It’s at that point that people recline to get more comfortable. The person in front of me cannot. Often they will try once, twice, three times and maybe then look around and see the source of their problem – my knees. On other occasions I have had to tap them on the shoulder to let them know that their repeated bouncing against their seat was only succeeding at driving my ass further into my own seat. Well, I don’t say that, I just say, “Sorry, those are my knees.”

What bothers me more is when the people in front of me are in the emergency row. Honestly, do you need more leg room? It’s bad enough that half of the time they look too old or weak to lift their carry-on luggage, never mind carry out the responsibilities that come with that seat. I should get those seats automatically. I am stronger and taller.

I was resigned to my discomfort on planes and thought it sort of funny until earlier this year. On January 10, 2008 the Canadian Transportation Agency decided that persons with disabilities who are accompanied by a personal care attendant or who require additional seating for themselves, including those determined to be functionally disabled by obesity for purposes of air travel, don’t have to pay for a second seat. That’s right, people who are so obese that they are considered disabled don’t have to pay for a second seat.

Am I being too harsh? The Canadian Transportation Agency does say that this does not apply to persons who are obese but not disabled as a result of their obesity. My problem with that is that disability is not exactly a high standard to meet. Consider the definition of a disability from the Canadian Human Rights Act:

disability means any previous or existing mental or physical disability and includes disfigurement and previous or existing dependence on alcohol or a drug

What? That’s circular, so surely there must be a better definition. Oh here, the definition from the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act looks better:

“disability” means,

(a) any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical co-ordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device,

(b) a condition of mental impairment or a developmental disability,

(c) a learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language,

(d) a mental disorder, or

(e) an injury or disability for which benefits were claimed or received under the insurance plan established under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997; (“handicap”)

Well, both (a) and (e) use disability, so they seem almost circular, but (a) is narrowed to certain causes. I wonder what defines “illness” though? Maybe the tribunal’s original decision will shed more light on it. It can be found here: in which you’ll find the following passages. If I understand it correctly, it seems the definition of being disabled by one’s obesity depends on a case-by case assessment and that it involves determining whether the individual’s obesity “resulted in activity limitations and/or participation restrictions to the person in the context of travel in the federal transportation network.”

My height limits my activity in the federal transportation network. I cannot stretch, my legs get stiff, and it hurts. It also limits the participation of the person in front of me. They cannot recline. Where’s my free seat? I don’t even have the option of exercising my way out of the discriminatory practice.

Don’t you go saying that my height is a gift. I’ve got more to say on that later.


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