Flying while Plus-Size; a Conversation with Kirsty Leanne
Emma Langley, 01.07.19
We recently got together with Kirsty Leanne, a UK-based plus-sized travel blogger, to sit down and discuss the travel and airline industries in regards to plus-sized travellers. Not only passionate about plus-size representation in the travel sphere, her amazing blog and instagram feed provides travel and fashion inspiration for plus-size travellers, as well as great travel planning tips, destination guides, solo-travel advice and packing tips.
The Interview with Kirsty
What first gave you the confidence to travel solo?
I love to travel alone, however, I wouldn’t say I am 100% confident just yet. There are definitely still some times where I think ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing?’.
Initially, though, my confidence to travel solo came from my first solo trip when I was 19. After my first year of university, I decided to move to California for four months as part of a summer work programme. I had never travelled alone and decided that I needed to move to a completely different country to give me the courage I needed to face my fears. It’s still one of the best things I have ever done and I honestly think it has shaped me a traveller.
Do you find solo travel to be more expensive than travelling with a friend or partner, and what tips do you have for solo travellers on a budget?
I have found that in a lot of cases, travelling solo has been cheaper, but that’s only because I’ll stay in a hostel where it doesn’t matter how many people are in a room because you’re sharing with absolutely anyone. I also find that because I’m travelling solo I can pick the dates that best suit me, which is usually the cheapest dates possible.
If you are solo travelling on a budget I would suggest stocking up on snacks and lunches from a supermarket. Whilst you’ll still have opportunities to try local cuisine, you can greatly cut down on some food costs. I also suggest finding a travel card or tourism card for your time there - they usually have great discounts!
What advice would you give to a plus size traveller flying for the first time?
I think the best advice I can give is to be as prepared as you can. I don’t want to sugar coat things and say that you will be okay as flying can be an incredibly difficult experience as a plus size traveller. There are lots of different ways you can prepare, including finding out the size of the seats. Once you know this, you can book where you want to sit accordingly. Other ways to prepare for a flight as a plus size traveller include wearing comfortable clothing and contacting your airline to find out if they have a customer of size policy.
If you had to pick, what has been your favourite destination to visit?
Oh wow, this is a difficult question. Can I say three places? I love California as it was my home for four months. I love Nashville because I have never felt more comfortable in a city and I love Wroclaw because it is both fascinating and beautiful.
What do you look for when choosing a destination to travel to?
It depends where I am going. If I am looking for a city break I like to find places that have a lot of character, rather than an industrial or commercial city. Whilst I do like some of the obvious cities like New York, I much prefer places like Wroclaw in Poland. If I am going on a trip that isn’t necessarily to a city, I just want to be sure there are lots of things for me to explore. I’m not great at lying by the pool or relaxing at the beach, as I’d much rather be out and about seeing as much as I possibly can.
What are the essentials you always have to pack no matter where you go?
I absolutely swear by my chafing shorts, as I wear a lot of dresses and skirts when I travel. Since wearing these the amount of times I have experienced the dreaded ‘chub rub’ is practically zero. I also like to carry my travel water bottle with me, especially if I know there is going to be a water station where I can drink the water.
Do you have any packing tips to help get the most out of your luggage allowance?
Oh gosh, I am the WORST when it comes to packing. In fact, on my way back from America just a few weeks ago I got stopped for having far too much in my case. I had to squeeze everything into my SECOND carry on. Honestly, I really really overpack.
The best advice I can give though is to use packing cubes. Although they don’t really change the amount of weight you’re putting into your case, they do help when it comes to making more space. My favourites are the ones that have an extra zip on the outside to compress all of your clothes into a tiny little package. Maybe that’s why I’m always over the allowance….
How does the experience for a plus sized traveller today compare to when you first started travelling?
I first started travelling as a plus size traveller around three years ago and in that time, unfortunately not a lot has changed. I think that now that I openly speak about plus size travel in a candid way, I am actually noticing more and more things that are becoming increasingly difficult. In terms of travel marketing in the media, I have noticed a few small changes when it comes to influencer marketing, but that’s about it. I think these things take a long time to change, so hopefully, we’re due something big soon.
Which are airlines are getting it right for plus sized travellers?
Oh gosh, is it bad if I say nothing at the moment? Airlines are working on fitting as many people as they can in one plane, so the space available is only getting smaller. I’m hoping this will change, but I think it will get worse before it gets better. The only thing I can think of is that if you need, you can ask for a seatbelt extender. I think SOME airlines are wising up to changes that need to be made - I hear Southwest are pretty good, but I haven’t travelled with them personally.
Have you ever experienced negative attitudes and behaviour from other customers challenging when travelling?
Yes, unfortunately, this happens more than I’d like to admit. One of the most stand-out experiences I ever had was when I was on a Ryanair flight to Mallorca. I was sat in a window seat (thankfully) and the woman next to me was really angry that she wasn’t allowed to sit next to her friend. From what I understood, it was because she didn’t want to pay for the upgrade. The whole time we were on the flight she kept forcing the armrest into my thighs, even though she could see that it was causing me pain. Towards the end of the flight, she turned to her friend a few rows back to say she couldn’t sit next to me any more because I’m too fat. As much as I wanted to say something, I just pretended I couldn’t hear because I had my headphones on.
Do you think it’s harder being a plus size woman than a plus size man when travelling?
This is a really hard question and to be honest, I think it’s about the same. Both plus size men and plus size women will experience the same troubles when it comes to travelling.
What changes would you like to see in the travel industry?
One of the biggest changes I would like to see in the travel industry is for plus size people to be used in more marketing campaigns. As a plus size traveller, I know how hard it can be when you don’t feel as though you’re represented within the companies you are purchasing from. In some cases, I know it has stopped people booking their trips. Travel is not a one size fits all industry, and brands need to start realising that.
I recently carried out research on ten of the most popular travel companies in the UK and found that 95% of their marketing materials do not include plus size people. As they make up 67% of the UK, I feel as though they’re missing out on a huge portion of their audience.
Do you think there is enough accessible knowledge out there regarding plus size travellers, both for airline staff and for the general public?
I think that as plus size travel is becoming a more talked about topic the amount of information that is available is definitely increasing. People like me are sharing their own experiences, giving all of the advice they can to others so as they don’t make the same mistakes that we have. I’m hoping that when it comes to brands, this kind of information will start to become widely available and that soon it will be the norm.
Are there any other industries which are good for plus-size diversity that you think the travel industry could learn from?
It is a very hot topic at the moment, as there are not a lot of industries that are excelling in it. As I am in the plus size community I see a lot of talk about diversity and at the moment I think the industry that is doing their best to be inclusive is beauty, even though they still have a long long way to come. I feel like I have said this a lot in this interview but I think it’s coming, it’s just going to take a lot of time and a lot of pushing from people like me!
Apart from yourself of course, are there are any other plus size travel blogs, accounts or groups you’d recommend that people follow?
What is your dream destination to visit?
Oh wow, another hard one! I have so many dream places I want to visit but I think a road trip across the whole of the United States would probably be my ultimate dream trip. I have already seen a lot of America but in the grand scheme of things, I haven’t even touched the surface. After that, my next dream trip would be to French Polynesia.
Do you have any upcoming trips that you're particularly excited about?
I have quite a few things upcoming! My next big trip is in October and that’s to Thailand! I went to Asia for the first time last year and absolutely loved it, so I’m really excited to go back and see somewhere completely different. After that my next big trip is to California, which will be the first time I go back after living there almost 8 years ago now. A couple of months after going back to California I am going to be doing another Trek America trip (like the one I have just been on) across the West Coast instead of the East. Hopefully, I’ll get some smaller trips planned around these bigger ones too!
Thank you so much for talking to us, Kirsty! We too, hope to see change coming soon for plus size travellers.
If, like Kirsty, you also have problems sticking to the baggage allowance, you can purchase additional bags directly with us at Alternative Airlines. Similarly, if Kirsty has inspired you to try your own solo-travel adventure, make sure you check out our blog on solo-travel tips. You can also follow her tip of finding the cheapest day to fly by using our best fare finder!
At Alternative Airlines, we can help plus-sized travellers make travel more comfortable
Did you know that you can check the seat pitch size directly on our website during the booking process? You can also compare the seat sizes and pitches of popular airlines’ economy classes here. Once you have decided on the best airline for you, you can also choose your seat when using Alternative Airlines, such as by choosing a window seat, an aisle seat or a seat with extra leg room.
You can also contact us if you have any concerns about your travel, and we will always do our best to help. Whether it’s concerns about the size of the plane seats or about accessibility in airports, we will try to answer any queries you may have.