should employers pay if employees need an extra airplane seat, I got sent to a conference where I didn’t belong, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Should employers pay if employees need an extra seat on the plane?

I manage a few people who have large bodies. I am nearly positive that they don’t fit in a standard coach plane seat and would require two seats in order to travel — for context, I have overheard one person saying this on the phone with an airline once and another one told me in passing.

My question is, should the company foot the bill for the extra seat (or, if it’s comparable fare, an upgrade to larger seats in first class) when these employees travel for business? Is this common practice? Both are due to travel to a conference soon and I want to make sure they have the accommodations that they need. For the record, I’m hoping to get an “if you need more space, here’s what to do” policy set and just give that to everyone who travels rather than singling folks out and awkwardly inquiring about whether their body will fit in a single seat.

My opinion is that it would be unethical not to make sure they are taken care of in this regard, but I have a feeling my penny-pinching (and tiny) director will push back and probably even fat-shame. Any ideas on how I can advocate for the company to pay for everyone to have the amount of space they need? Is this as controversial as I think it might be?

It certainly shouldn’t be controversial, although we live in a society that likes to fat-shame so who knows.

But it’s not reasonable to expect people to pay for their own business travel, which is what your director would be doing if she refuses to pay the costs of transporting these employees. And that’s the way to frame it to her — “if we’re asking people to travel for business, we need to pay the full costs of that. We can’t ask people to cover the travel costs involved in business travel, or tell them they’ll need to take a financial loss in order to do their jobs.”

2. We’re told to take sick time but we don’t have any

HR just sent an email with subject line “sick” to the entire company with no context or explanation. The entirety of the email read, “If you are sick, please stay home.”

The kicker … most of us get 10 total PTO days for the year and no additional sick time. There are also inconsistent PTO policies across the company both for people who started long ago and people who have negotiated more.

It seems in very poor taste to send this knowing most of us can’t afford to stay home. Is there anything I can safely say to them to suggest they revisit our sick time? I get the feeling they would be resistant to changing the policy because it would call attention to the inequality across the company.

My boss is a very reasonable person and I was thinking of talking to her first, but I’m at a loss how to address it. I’ve had to come into work sick so many times and put off important doctors appointments due to lack of time, so had been wanting to address this anyway but this email really has me fired up.

You absolutely can point out — to your boss and/or HR and/or the group of coworkers who you will hopefully convince to speak up with you — that if the company doesn’t want people coming to work when they’re sick, then they need to either give you actual sick leave or a far more reasonable amount of PTO. You can point out that 10 days off a year, meant to cover both sick and vacation time, is lower than average, not competitive, and a recipe for ensuring that sick people will come to work and spread their germs around, because the company hasn’t given them enough time off to be able to stay home.

And you can say, “I’m glad this came up, because it’s a great opportunity to make our PTO more competitive with what other organizations do, which will not only help people be able to stay home when they’re ill but will also make it easier for us to attract and retain good employees.”

3. I got sent to a conference where I didn’t belong

I was recently sent to an important conference on behalf of my organization, as some higher-ups were unavailable. When I arrived, it became immediately apparent that the conference was more of an intimate meeting of some very important players in my industry. I had been planning on spending a couple of days listening to talks and taking notes. Instead I found myself in discussions where I really had nothing to contribute.

The whole thing was embarrassing. It was obvious to everyone there that I shouldn’t have been sent. I decided to brush the entire experience off and try and learn as much as I could. However, in the next meeting they discussed future conferences and one of the members made a comment, prefaced with “no offense,” that for future meetings it should be made clear what level of employee was required to attend, and if that level employee was not available, “they shouldn’t just send anyone.”

It was very embarrassing and upsetting to be singled out. I wasn’t under any illusions about how out of place I was, but I do know that my attendance was confirmed ahead of time with the conference leaders.

How do I give feedback to my manager about this conference? I want to make it clear that in future it wouldn’t be appropriate to send an employee of my level (my manager is new and wouldn’t have known, this only became clear upon arrival) as I wouldn’t want anyone to experience this, but I also don’t want to appear ungrateful as it was supposed to be a wonderful opportunity. I also don’t know whether to mention this comment that rattled me. Thoughts?

“It turned out the conference was really for high-level players — people there were typically CEOs and second-in-commands (or whatever — describe the roles of the people there). I figured I’d try to learn as much as I could while I was there, but during a planning meeting they made it pretty clear that they didn’t want anyone to send someone at my level again. Obviously neither of us knew this before I went, but I wanted to fill you in for next year.”

I think you can just keep it factual like that and there’s no need to get into the fact that you felt embarrassed and rattled, unless your manager seems to really want to dissect what happened. If she does, you can be straightforward about the the whole thing. But otherwise, I’d keep it just to the parts that are relevant for next time.

By the way, since the conference leaders knew you were attending, it’s possible that the person who made the remark about “not sending just anyone” was an outlier and other people didn’t feel that way. But it also sounds like you basically agreed with that assessment, and it was just the snotty phrasing that bothered you. I’d try to separate your emotions from it as much as possible and see it as just an inartful expression of what you already knew. It makes total sense that it was embarrassing to have that said right in front of you, though! (But I promise you that in a few years, “the time I got sent to a conference where I was completely out of place” will be an amusing story you can tell other people.)

4. Have I been doing my references wrong?

I was just reading a podcast transcript, and I saw the question about the off-list references. In your response, you note that most people use their last three managers as their references. I haven’t done that! I always list the managers with my job information, and a phone number, and assumed I needed to have another three references on top of those managers I list with my jobs. Am I doing this wrong?

I think you’re talking about job applications that ask for your manager’s contact info for each job that you list, right? And so you’re listing managers there and then assuming that when you hand over a separate reference list, you’re supposed to list different people there. You don’t need to do that! They can overlap. It’s fine to list managers on your reference list who you already listed on an application. In fact, it’s usually best, because usually your references should be managers. If the employer wants additional ones, they’ll let you know.

5. Listing 19 different freelance jobs on a resume

I’m a couple years out of college and since then, I’ve been working as a freelancer in technical theater. These gigs usually last two months max (some only days), and as I’m looking into getting into more steady and traditional work, I have no idea how to put this onto a traditional resume. My current resume is very much geared towards this freelance theater work and I know it won’t translate well elsewhere. How can I translate 19 jobs in one year (which is great in theater) to something others will understand?

Group them all together under one overall job heading. In other words, treat them all as one job called Theater Freelancer (or whatever title makes the most sense). Then, in your bullet points describing that work, explain the array of work you’ve done under that umbrella. You don’t need to list out all 19 jobs; just talk about the work you’ve done and the achievements you’ve had in that broad category. And if any of those jobs were for theaters that will be particularly impressive or prestigious, you can mention those specifically by having a bullet point that says something like this:

* Designed lighting for productions at more than a dozen area theaters, including the Warbleworth Center for the Arts and the Stewpot Auditorium.

{ 568 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Rules for the comment section: No fat-bashing, no “they brought it on themselves” (given that employers accommodate lots of medical conditions caused by lifestyle factors, including things like sports injuries), no violations of the “be kind” site rule.

    1. Gaia*

      Thanks for this. Lots of assumptions get made about fat people – even by otherwise very kind people. I appreciate this being a space I don’t need to deal with that.

    2. Crivens!*

      Thank you for this. I hate that this subject often becomes a place where jerks and judgemental people think “now’s my time to shine!”

    3. Ceiswyn*


      I am a formerly-obese person, I lost all my excess weight, and I know how DARN HARD it is. It wasn’t just a question of eating less, I had to pretty much rewrite half of my brain; and that’s an ongoing project. It makes me hurt and angry when I see people hating on those who are where I was three years ago, and I really appreciate your keeping this forum clear of that kind of bullying.

    4. Thursday Next*

      I was struck by the fairness and empathy of the LW’s language. That’s not something to take for granted, and I hope other managers can learn from how the LW presented the question.

    5. Michaela Westen*

      When I was young and working, I really noticed the difference in attitude toward someone with a sports injury “wow, so cool!” and someone with a chronic health condition (me) that affected my ability to work.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        It’s one of the reasons I soon stopped trying to work for “young, hip, cool” tech companies. :p

      2. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

        FYI – a hell of a lot of chronic health problems (like mine) start out from a sports injury

      3. Michaela Westen*

        I’m sorry to hear that, Buffay! I was born with mine. I’ve never been very athletic.

    6. Oryx*

      Thank you. Your approach and the comments section on topics like this is one of my favorite parts about this site. (By that, I mean the whole “don’t read the comments section” doesn’t apply to AAM)

    7. Classroom Diva*

      It is also really important to note that needing two seats isn’t just confined to fat people. If you are very in shape, have broad shoulders or hips, or just a very big person, you may also need two seats.

      My poor brother, who is well over six feet tall and built large (not fat) is very uncomfortable in a single seat, and his legs often don’t even fit! (In other words, he really should be flying in the first class or business seats.)

      1. PJ*

        For OP#5 – (my apologies if this was stated elsewhere, I didn’t see it)

        If you’re looking to have some flexibility – that you might use the resume for a more traditional job/gig? You may want to add, in words, what skills are used in those tasks.

        I’ve done volunteer work at a theater and while the tasks are specific on one level, you can think of it as: Oh, yes, this required long term planning, or fast and accurate measurements, or managing people, etc. There’s no reason to not double dip on that, so to speak, because those are transferrable skills.

        You could either add it as a few bullet points on a resume/CV or include it in your cover letter if there’s an opportunity where you think it would be relevant.

    8. C*

      Southwest Airlines offers a free 2nd seat under their “Customer of Size” policy. You have to pay for the seat in advance & then you can get refunded the entire cost (even if the flight is full). Or you van go to the airport & they can set up the 2nd seat for free (but if you wait until the day of travel the flight could be full).

      1. PJ*

        I understand that they aren’t even charging for the second seat any more.

        It’s a great policy, and all airlines should adopt it – it’s better for logistics.

  2. Gaia*

    As someone who, until very recently, needed a second seat let me chime in:

    I was always terrified this would come up and my company would either refuse to pay or refuse to let me travel on business because of this. Because of this anxiety, I paid the cost myself. Over the four years I traveled for work this meant I spent over $10,000 in my own money on business travel.

    In all reality, my company likely would have just quietly foot the bill without comment. But I was too ashamed to ask. Companies need to cover this cost and they need written policies outlining this. Fat shaming is real and it is everywhere. We shouldn’t have to worry about it impacting our careers (more than it already does).

    1. CastIrony*

      I, too, hope for the day that fat doesn’t get shamed and hurt people’s careers. Fat people work hard, too!

    2. RoadsLady*

      The idea of just having a sensible policy is so important. As the question began, I found myself curious as if handled wrong this sort of discussion could be a mess.

    3. thankful for AAM.*

      Gaia, I feel like the AAM script leaves it ambiguous about whether the employer is willing to pay. Would you have asked for a second seat with her wording, would you suggest alternate wording that is respectful and makes it easier for the employee to ask for a second seat?

      1. Gaia*

        The absolute only way I’d request a second seat was if there was a written policy which clearly outlined approval for anyone who needs certain seating for any body size reason. And – importantly – if I saw evidence that the company wouldn’t use this against me.

        1. I Took A Mint*

          Yes, I think the only way to really make employees feel 100% comfortable about using accommodations like this (such as parental leave, sick leave, ergonomic chairs, and other perks that can come with stigma) is to have a clear written policy that employees can read/check easily at any time (ie don’t need to ask their boss if they’re considering using it) and also a work culture/environment that encourages use of perks and accommodations (so it’s not a paper-only policy).

          In short, I don’t think employees should have to ask about this, it should just be in the rules next to what class of airfare you cover and what luggage allowance and who takes care of the booking.

    4. Rat Racer*

      Let’s also hope for a day when technology greatly reduces our need for air travel (says a person who just had to fly across the country after a conference where I got food poisoning). Waiting with baited breath for a day when virtual conferences are the norm and we all attend as avatars…

      1. Nellie*

        Also, airplane seats have gotten smaller and smaller. (Or at least it seems that way.) Especially when for work travel you often need to look presentable, be well-rested, carry a laptop and other materials, it is totally reasonable for employers to cover the cost of traveling comfortably.

          1. Aviation fan*

            Seat pitch, or the distance between rows of seats, has gotten smaller. Seat width has (mostly) not.

            The 737, as even non-airplane buffs have learned over the past few days, is a 1960s-vintage design that has repeatedly been upgraded, stretched, and reworked to its latest variant, the 737 MAX. (It is less onerous to certify a new variant of an existing plane than to certify a “clean sheet” design, which is one reason Boeing went with the 737 MAX instead of a new plane entirely; that may have been to its detriment.)

            But in terms of seats — that 1960s vintage 737 had two rows of three-abreast seating each. That’s exactly the same situation as today.

            The only serious exception I can think of is the 777, which started out as 2-5-2 seating and now is more often found as 3-4-3, although most of that expansion came from decreasing the size of the aisle. There was talk of doing something similar to the A380, but that would have resulted from lowering the lower deck of the plane and would not have shrunk seat width.

            (*) Some very early 747s had 3-4-2 seating, which quickly gave way to 3-4-3. But that happened so quickly I don’t really see it as an exception.

        1. Honey, you shrunk the seats*

          They have. Last time I flew home, the slender 12 year old boy next to me filled his center seat.

          1. OhBehave*

            I read an article in the UK about seats. It seems that width HAS shrunk.

            Airline Seat width 30 years ago Now
            American 19-20 16.5-19.3
            Delta 19-20 16.79-18.3
            United 19.5-20 16-19
            Southwest 19 17

        2. TardyTardis*

          They have gotten smaller. I am a person who used to fit into them with room to spare. I have *lost* weight, and now they are very cramped. (speaking as someone headed towards Little Old Lady at warp speed).

    5. Dr. Doll*

      I’m wondering if this should be treated as a medical accommodation. I’ve never had it come up with a team member but I should ask our travel people what the university policy is — extra space for whatever physical reason is necessary.

      1. University Librarian*

        My University allows me to reserve an aisle seat due to an accommodation. I did however have to have a note on file in HR and refer to it every time I seek reimbursment.

    6. Hannah*

      I’m the same way – I pay for the extra seat myself and have never asked my boss or HR about it. If I can fly Spirit with the “big front seat”, I will, or if it’s somewhere that Alaska Airlines goes, they will refund the second seat if the flight wasn’t full and all you have to do is send an electronic request (no talking to agents). Southwest says they’ll refund second seats if you request it (and the flight wasn’t full) but I’ve never flown them.

    7. Emma*

      Another take on this: I recently had a pulmonary embolism, and now for the rest of my life on flights I have to wear compression socks and get up to stretch every 30-60 minutes. If there are no aisle seats available on the plane in coach, is it reasonable to ask for a first class seat to be paid for by my company? I have been paying the upgrades myself but wondering if this is a reasonable business expense. I suppose I could sit in the middle or window and make my seat mates get up every 30 minutes, but that seems obnoxious and potentially impossible if it is a disabled person, Mom with sleeping child, etc.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, yes, employers should cover the cost of an additional seat if the employee requires it to accommodate their physical needs.

    In addition to the moral argument, it may be helpful to frame this in the same way you’d talk about ADA accommodation. I’m not saying this is an ADA situation, but I think the lingo has enough of a legal tinge to encourage otherwise badly behaved (and cheap) managers to be better behaved. You could say something like, “of course we would reasonably accommodate anyone who would need it in order to travel—the same way we would provide ergonomic office equipment or other appropriate resources.”

    I think the key is to make it sound like it’s the norm and that covering those costs is eminently reasonable (which it is) so that Penny-Pinching Director will have a harder time countering by just invoking the cost of the additional seat.

    1. CastIrony*

      I’d be upset if I needed two seats, but the business only paid for one. Why don’t people just pay for what people need, even though the needs are different?

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Just so. Businesses pay for extras all the time. They have family insurance benefits when they employ singles. They have sick time even though some people are healthier.
        Not everyone is going to use all the benefits.
        In the same way, not everyone will use a second seat. But it’s wise to provide it for a inclusive workforce.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          EXACTLY. And a more inclusive workforce generally means people who are both better at their jobs (because you get the actual best candidates) and more dedicated to their jobs, because they know that they’re not going to get flak for their particular needs.

        2. RoadsLady*

          This so much. You’re never going to be be treating your employees identically –equal ought to be a given, but as above it’s not all going to look the same.

          Pay for what people need and recognize it as what you di when you work with humans.

      2. Tom*

        Because of the stigma surrounding larger people.
        The default mindset for many when they see a larger person is “well, shouldn`t have been eating so much, eh?” – basically saying ‘your own fault’ (while in some cases this could be true, there are plenty of other reasons that have nothing to do with how much one eats, or doesn`t)

        As a slightly off topic example – we have a TV show in The Netherlands “Kroongetuige” (Crown Witness) – which is a game where celebrities need to discover who did a murder. One of them is a saboteur (the Crown Witness) who, if succesful, gains the prize. The first season a large woman (an absolutely stunning person, and vibrant and positive too) was the saboteur – but you could almost hear the collective bias ‘fat = stupid’- so she was actually the perfect candidate here.
        As a tall, and overweight, male myself – i tend to ‘see’ these looks too – but i have learned to ignore them.
        Once they become vocal it`s harder – and if they cost money – it`s painful.

        That said, i fit in economy seat – just – and believe these seats are just too small. And uncomfortable.

          1. Tom*

            I think my 7 year old could still sit comfortable in one.
            Unless the person in front of us decides some sleep is needed – and by reclining the seat dropping his softdrink in his lap. (seriously – who thinks of that setup?)

          2. blackcat*

            I am the same size as when I was 12. I was a tall 12 year old, but I am a small adult. (5’3″ and petite).
            Can confirm, I fit comfortably in airline seats. And I do think I’m about the largest person who can be actually comfortable.

            1. wittyrepartee*

              Me and you! But even then, it’s not comfortable- just not uncomfortable. I still spend a lot of time trying to find creative ways to stretch, but never have to worry about my kneecaps being broken.

              1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                I’m 5’1, and while I don’t have a problem with legroom, I’m smaller in girth than the average American woman and need more space on the side- stop touching me, average-sized man in the middle seat who needs way more space than is available! I honestly don’t understand why airlines are allowed to make seat sizes/legroom so small, as the people have grown (in pretty much all dimensions).

          3. Thursday Next*

            I’m only 5’6” and if the person in front of me reclines, my knees get hit. My husband is 6’2” and miserable.

            At least if one of us is traveling with one of our children, we can put up the armrest between us and have a bit of extra room from their seat.

            1. Tom*

              I think your husband and me feel the same.
              Converted, i`m 6’2″ as well – plus slightly overweight – so not a small person by any stretch of the imagination.

              I can sit in an airline seat – economy – but 2.5 hours max..

              And one time – flight to Romania – only 1 hour or so – a guy even taller than me, and at least twice as wide – sat in front of me and reclined the seat .. my knees were not impressed.

              1. Dr. Doll*

                That is a giant profit margin, comparatively speaking. Grocery businesses have 1-2%, or 3-6% for high end stores. I guess optional services (travel) always command more profit than necessities (food).

              2. Sunshine*

                Yes. I hear one airline, due to fuel increases, has had their annual profit cut from $38bn to $33bn. Cry me a river.

        1. Artemesia*

          I am a tallish woman of average weight and while a bit taller than average for a woman, I am not a tall man and those economy seats now which have shrunk both sideways and leg space over the last 15 years are just miserable. I can’t imagine how 6 foot plus people or fat people manage at all. A business should be using economy plus at least and buying the extra seat for those that need it without comment.

          1. Corrvin*

            No matter how much I exercise, I just don’t get any shorter than 6’. I do short hops of 2 hours or less, and I’m grateful that I love tiny spaces and am not prone to blood clots.

          2. mrs__peel*

            My boyfriend (who’s 6’3″) has to fly frequently for work, and it’s an absolute misery for him. I’m not even sure how he does it, since I’m 5’2″ and I barely fit in a regular coach seat.

            He usually drives himself or goes by train if at all possible.

          3. PizzaDog*

            I’m 5’1″ on a good day – on some flights even I don’t have leg room. I can’t imagine what someone a foot taller than me is going through.

        2. Aviation fan*

          This can vary widely, but the standard for most corporate travel on transcons or longer is business class. There was a great post on with survey data about this several years ago. I will see it I can find it.

          1. Dinopigeon*

            This is probably just my company being shitty, but they made a policy where the in-flight time required is just long enough that flight from US midwest to the UK doesn’t qualify for business class. The three primary sites for the company globally are in the UK and US midwest, so as you can imagine, this disqualified the overwhelming majority of transcon travel. It’s also created difficulties for many employees with specific health needs.

            But I’m sure it saved a lot of money and isn’t that really what it’s all about? /s

    2. LokiButter*

      This could easily venture into ADA territory if OP is in the US. ADA covers so much more than when it was first passed.

      Whole body size may not be a disability, there are thousands of conditions and diseases that lead to increases body size, which put it into ADA-covered territory.

      1. Safetykats*

        Definitely an ADA issue. My dad, who does a ton of business travel, recently had a hip replacement and has a letter from his doctor saying he must fly business or first class, with an aisle seat, because of the resulting mobility issues. His company pays for the first class seat as a required accommodation. Needing a first class seat, or two coach seats due to body size is no different. If you’re expected to travel as part of the job, the accommodation needs to be provided.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Only severe obesity in very specific circumstances. (Also, the ADA doesn’t name specific conditions, other than HIV/AIDS, so it’s all about what opinion letters get issued and how courts interpret things.)

            2. Zip Silver*

              I can only imagine the logistical nightmare that would stem from 70% of the American population receiving ADA protection for obesity, which is probably why it’s not considered a disability. With as many overweight Americans as there are, it’s sort of the average state of affairs, not a disability from where the average populace is at.

              1. Not Australian*

                Well, in an ideal world the seats would actually be large enough in the first place of course … but that’s another conversation. 8-(

              2. TL -*

                It’s about ~32% obese and ~30% overweight, not 70% obese. And the medical implications of overweight, especially mildly overweight, are unclear (an active healthy eater overweight person may not see significant increased risks for lifestyle diseases).

                1. Emily K*

                  Overweight people actually outlive both obese and normal-weight people. The research has been showing this for at least a decade, but you’ll rarely hear anyone talk about it. It doesn’t fit the moral paradigm people have around weight, where fat is supposed to be bad and unhealthy. So when the research keeps not conforming to that expectation, it just gets ignored (or in some cases, the researchers have been antagonized).

                  Here’s one recent-ish review:

              3. Observer*

                In that case, it makes even more sense for a business not to be stupid about accommodating people who are overweight.

              4. Michaela Westen*

                Remember, medical science considers people who don’t look fat to be overweight. Pretty much anyone without the skinny body type is considered overweight.

            3. Holly*

              “Disability” under the ADA is defined as an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. There are individuals who may fit that definition due to obesity, others where it may not. An employer should be safer than sorry, as they would not want to be in the situation where they are in litigation over this issue.

              1. fposte*

                Historically, the courts have held that obesity per se isn’t a disability under the ADA. That seems to be changing, though. As PCBH notes, the “being regarded as disabled” protection under the ADA, which applies even if you’re not disabled, could be relevant and has been found so in one recent decision. Second, the EEOC has compliance guidelines that suggest obesity does become a disability if it’s over 100% additional body weight. I’m seeing more commercial law sites posting on this recommend treating it was a disability regardless, including explicitly recommending two airplane seats if necessary.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            I think that as the medical community is (finally) figuring out that obesity is not because “Fatty Mc Faffat is a just a lazy glutton” … that there are a whole lot of reasons, that obesity as a diagnosis, regardless of cause, will necessarily become an ADA thing … eventually.

            I think it’s a ways off still and the public is going to take some work to enlighten, but eventually.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              The gut bacteria transplant results have been phenomenal in demonstrating the underlying physical basis.

              1. wittyrepartee*

                After years of yo yo dieting, a friend of mine just effortlessly dropped 10 pounds by going off birth control.

                1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                  Hormonal effects can be staggering too — but if someone doesn’t recognize what we’re talking about on this one, search on “fecal matter transplant”. It’s an unexpected side-effect of something researchers first started investigating for digestive problems like celiac and IBS — and they started finding weight-change after the transfer that was beyond what was expected addressing the initial condition.

                2. wittyrepartee*

                  Yeah, there’s also a lot of evidence that part of how gastric bypass works is by changing your hormonal and microbiome profiles. It’s nuts.

                3. RUKiddingMe*

                  Yep there are so, so, so many reasons but in the public mind it’s fat = lack of self-control, glutton.

              2. ChimericalOne*

                Yeah, the gut bacteria stuff is just jaw-dropping in what it means for the conversation.

            2. wittyrepartee*

              I’m in public health- and like… my question is always like: “even if it was just a ‘lack of self control’ that causes people to gain weight (which I do not believe at all), it’s clear that it’s a pretty ubiquitous issue. Why aren’t we coming up with ways to make sure that fat people are healthy? It’s pretty clear that just fat shaming people doesn’t help at all.”

              1. Oryx*

                Because diet culture.
                It’s so pervasive in our society, people don’t even realize how much it has infiltrated every layer of life. They just go along for the ride, supporting the idea that fat bodies = bad and thin bodies = good. Even when they think they are being body positive, there are still small everyday microaggressions many participate in without realizing.

              1. Glutton*

                All of those factors have a statistically significant role in weight but it’s much smaller than food has in weight (the laws of physics apply – excess energy has to come from somewhere. Now appetite problems can be hard to overcome.

                As for genetics – there was no obesity epidemic 50 years ago, have our genes changed so much?

              2. JKL*

                Calories in calories out IS scientific and logical. There are, of course, other factors involved in weight, but eating more food means you gain weight; that’s a fact. Dismissing that is just as bad as saying that it’s the only factor affecting weight.

              3. Glutton*

                Except that… The laws of physics apply? Fat is stored energy, it needs to come from somewhere. The only way for the body to get that energy is through food.

              4. Glutton*

                I never called anyone a liar. I said that people tend to underestimate or overestimate their actual caloric intake. It’s hard to get it right when you don’t measure everything. There are studies that clearly show that.

                Its true for underweight people, too

              5. Glutton*

                Exercise, specifically weight lifting, as well as sufficient protein intake can minimize this. Also, keeping your weight loss at no more than 3 lbs a week is also a good way to combat any health issues.

                95% of people burn calories within their estimated limits for their age, sex and weight. Even the outliers differ by no more that 200kcal which can also be worked with. And adding more muscle helps.

              6. Glutton*

                JKL, thank you.

                Actually, calories in calories out is the only factor determining weight but of course, we don’t always have control over the calories out part and it can vary. And restricting calories is very hard in many cases. Also, calories in calories out is not the only answer when it comes to health. You can lose weight if you eat only twinkies and dorittos as long as you eat at a deficit but that’s obviously not healthy for anyone.

              7. Glutton*

                Most people’s BMR is within the estimates. Also, if you measure all your food, some items will have fewer calories than measured, some will have more and on average you’ll be mostly right. In the long term, if you try to eat at a deficit and measure and log everything, then you’ll lose weight at a fairly predictable rate.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Whether the ADA applies is very fact-specific, which is why I think we can’t speculate based on what OP#1 has written. There are certainly contexts in which body size may qualify as a “disability” within the meaning of the ADA, but it’s not a listed disability, and we don’t have enough information to conclude that it applies, here.

        More importantly, OP wants a policy that does not target or single out employees that may need this accommodation. That suggests to me that OP would not want to limit the policy to individuals who qualify for accommodation under the ADA. And to be fair, there are also people with smaller body sizes who may require a second seat, too.

        1. Jenny*

          Although you need to set some limit, reasonably. Otherwise you would face the potential of doubling travel costs across the board. Requiring preapproval, maybe?

          1. Kowl*

            Jenny – I disagree about setting limits in advance. I’m a fan of the AAM idea of – as a default – treating employees as the adults they are. If you’re assuming your employees will try to cheat and steal and bend the rules to their advantage, this is so much an us vs. them mentality that there’s likely a problem in your hiring practices and/or culture.

            I have family members who would need similar travel accommodations based on very clear ADA rules, as well as those who would be in the gray area from a legal standpoint but deserving of said accommodations as adults who value their work and their health. Both are absolutely valid.

            Your argument is the pot-holed path to everyone needing doctor’s notes for sick days, or not giving adoptive parents the same time off as birth parents, or etc etc etc.


            1. Jenny*

              Yes but OP’s boss is frugal. He is going to want standards. Setting travel policies is not the same as a doctor’s note.

              1. Le Sigh*

                It’s not — but then who’s doing the pre-approval? Someone from the company?

                “Otherwise you would face the potential of doubling travel costs across the board.” — also, based on what though? I feel like sweeping comments get made like this whenever we talk about anything in this arena (not this site, just in general).

          2. Observer*

            If you’re actually facing doubling of travel costs, then you are probably doing travel wrong. The reality is that most people (even people who are clinically obese) are not going to need 2 seats in most airlines. If pretty much ALL of your staff have a good reason to request two seats, then it’s pretty clear that you are choosing sub-cattle class on Sardine Can express, probably the red-eye followed by immediate meetings. And that’s just a ridiculous way to do travel.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              “…sub-cattle class on Sardine Can express…”

              Can I just say I love the way you phrased this?!

            1. Aviation fan*

              “Passenger of size” policy is (anecdotally but strongly so) applied most frequently on Southwest (WN), however. I would avoid them if this is a real issue. (And again, while seat PITCH varies considerably from carrier to carrier, seat WIDTH less so. And that has more to do with the kind of airplane than carrier preference. A320 seats are a smidge wider than 737 seats.)

        2. WakeUp!*

          But you said below that preventing an employee from traveling because of the seats issue *would* be an ADA thing. Which is it? Did you change your mind, or is there some nuance I’m not getting?

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It’s nuance :)

            A person’s body size might not qualify as an ADA disability.

            However, limiting someone’s opportunity because of a perceived disability (here, assumptions re: body size and cost) could violate the ADA because it covers “real or perceived” disabilities. Which means even if you don’t have an ADA disability, if your employer starts acting like you do and penalizing you for a perceived disability, that conduct is discriminatory and unlawful.

            1. RUKiddingMe*


              I’m not *obese, clinically or otherwise, but human bodies and the myriad reasons one might need accommodations by and large shoukd be decided by those who inhabit said bodies.

              Will some people cheat? Yup. Some tellers will embezzle money, some hotel managers will give free rooms to their friends and some people working at 7-11 will hand out free Slurpees to all and sundry.

              However we need to start from a place that assumes trust in those we hire and take aporopriate measures if someone doesn’t live up to that trust, not preemptively potentially discriminate against everyone.

              * About 15 years ago I hained like 75 pounds in a six month period. Pretty much everone thought I was just being a lazy glutton. I was *sick.* Seriously sick. My doctors and husband understood that I was eating no more, actually less than normal but others thought it their business to intrude and judge.

              Nope I was no longer walking (up hill even) everywhere. In fact I was barely moving because…sick.

              Therefore I got fatter which made me more sick, which made me need to be less physical, which made me fatter, which made me more sick…and around it went for like two years.

              If someone had decided I didn’t need a second seat based on their arbitrary non-medically informed *opinion* it would have sucked.

      3. Elysian*

        In the letter writer’s case, it sounds like this person travels infrequently, so this is a small price to pay for compassion. But the ADA exists for a reason – if we didn’t legally compel some employers to provide accommodations, they wouldn’t. And honestly, even with the ADA sometimes they don’t. But it makes everyone’s lives a little more expensive, because we’re spreading the cost of providing some accommodations around as a cost of doing business.

        But accommodations can get expensive! If this person was a frequent business traveler, I could see a smaller company saying that either they would have to get by with just one seat/pay for it themselves/transfer into another position because it would be impossible to cover the cost of that on an ongoing basis. I appreciate that that sucks for the employee, but there are employers out there (especially smaller ones) that just couldn’t afford this all the time. It is easy to say “do the right thing for your employees,” but when you only have $Y coming in you can’t have $2Y dollars going out and continue to stay in business. Assuming this isn’t a legally required accommodation, I can understand how lots of employers would say ‘Sorry, but we can’t.’

        1. neverjaunty*

          If a company can’t stay in business without shifting its business costs to its employees, it shouldn’t be in business.

          1. Elysian*

            That could mean an awful lot of business never start. I mean, even the employment laws we’re always talking about — ADA, FMLA, etc — only apply to employers of a certain size. The ADA only covers employers with 15 or more employees in the first place! The larger you get, the easier it is to spread these costs around. If you have 5 employees, you’re probably cutting costs in a lot of places. That doesn’t mean the company shouldn’t exist.

            1. Observer*

              Wrong. I don’t care what size company you are – when you are talking about the basic costs of doing business, if you don’t have it, your business is not sound. Period.

              1. Elysian*

                Well, that’s a very idealistic world you live in, but that is not how businesses work. Particularly small ones, and small non-profits (who can’t even raise prices to offset costs).

                And it is correct that the ADA doesn’t kick in until 15 employees. And FMLA at 50. Etc. I would also add that extra airplane seats and other types of accommodations are not “basic” business costs. They can be a cost of doing business, but they’re far from basis. Even the ADA has an exemption for accommodations that cause an undue hardship on the business.

                It doesn’t sound like this would be a hardship or a frequent occurrence for the letter writer’s employer, but that is far from a universal experience.

                1. Observer*

                  If you need to have people travel then the cost of their travel IS “basic cost of doing business”. If you don’t need them to travel, then it’s waste of money in any case.

              2. Win*

                You are talking about doubling the price of a plane ticket for one person vs another.

                Businesses don’t start flush with cash… and if they can send EE 1 for half the cost of EE 2, they probably will.

              1. fposte*

                To put it another way, it could mean an awful lot of people who are currently employed wouldn’t have jobs. That’s not something to shrug off.

                1. Elysian*

                  Exactly. There are trade-offs in situations where money is in play. Maybe the alternative is that no one at all travels anymore unless it is absolutely essential. Or that the business goes under covering those costs and then those people don’t have jobs at all anymore.

                  I’m not saying we shouldn’t live in a world of baseline decency (and there are lots of reasonable arguments about where that baseline should be), but under the current rules in the US this isn’t likely to be a legally required accommodation and I don’t fully fault employers who compassionately say that No, they can’t afford that. I mean, if they say they can’t afford this and then pay shareholder dividends that’s a different story. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

                2. Le Sigh*

                  Perhaps. But there’s also a decent chance you lose that employee, in those circumstances, legally required or not. If I’m doing good work but am left buying my own plane tickets or something similar, or have to suffer through uncomfortable travel, or can’t take leave to have a baby…I will probably go look for another job. And then they’ll have to find and hire a new person.

                  I get what you’re saying, but it also might not be a great payoff in the long-run.

                3. fposte*

                  @Elysian–plus dividends suck :-). But that’s another conversation.

                  I mean, it’s absolutely true that the defense against activism for more costly worker rights is always “We’ll have to cut employment!” And sometimes that’s a lie, and sometimes it’s true but that’s okay, and sometimes it’s true and a bad thing for the workers there.

                4. Lissa*

                  Yeah, I think it’s one of those things that is sometimes used disingenuously, but that means that some people take it as “it’s literally never a valid concern to look at how employment numbers will be affected” which is also wrong IMO.

              2. Aviation fan*

                @Crivens, Are you volunteering to be one of the people who doesn’t get a job, then?

            2. Le Sigh*

              This gets said during every minimum/living wage debate, debates around paid leave and maternity leave, etc. (I could start a business if only I didn’t have to pay people enough to eat and pay rent!). It gets said by both small businesses and large — except the large ones have money to throw around and stamp out attempts at legislation that would require treating employees as if they’re as valuable as a company in our country.

              I do acknowledge that every penny counts when starting a business–my father ran his own for a time–but it’s not an employee’s responsibility to trade basic benefits and pay for that, unless, I dunno, they’re a partial owner and choose to forgo it knowing it’ll pay off in the long-term. It also bites a company in the butt. If you’re not investing in the right employees, aren’t you hurting your own business? What if a fat employee brings in a lot of business, but costs you an extra $1,000 a year for travel? What if your best cashier, who’s amazing with customers, has higher health insurance costs? Employees who don’t feel supported leave when they can, and it’s a lot more expensive to replace them then absorb the extra costs long-term.

              1. Le Sigh*

                Also, a point I wanted to add: while it’s true every expense can be tough on a small business, big business throw these claims out, too, every time we discuss better supporting employees with health insurance, paid leave, etc. To me it’s a symptom of our society, which treats industry and business as far more valuable, and employees as expendable. Frequently these arguments aren’t rooted in dollars and cents facts, and the discussion isn’t solving a puzzle to see how we can balance both. They’re rooted in a desire to minimize any and all expenses for the people further down the ladder, regardless of whether the company can afford it or not, regardless of impact on employees, in an effort to maximize profits and shareholder gains (if publicly traded).

                And rarely is that actually re-invested in employees long-term; instead, many employees struggle to make ends meet, put up with crappy work conditions (if stuck for any number of reasons), or leave if they can and the company writes of high turnover as a cost of doing business. And for those on the lower end of the income spectrum, business effectively pushes the cost of supporting folks onto public programs, which still don’t do enough to help, and then we demonize people who use them–and when that happens, it means companies aren’t as self-sustaining as they want to claim. Much or all of this is legal, but it doesn’t make it a good way to do things, and it means I am pretty quick to side-eye claims of “we can’t afford it!”

                1. Win*

                  It is an interesting debate (to me) that I do not know the answer to. Walmart employs 2.3 million people. They are known for paying as little as possible, offering minimal benefits, etc.

                  Is it a better good for walmart to employ this many people, provide this many paychecks (as small as they may be) to a broad group of people? Would it be better to cut their staff dramatically and demand more from the workers, pay better, and offer benefits? I do not know… there are certainly companies that employ both strategies and in-between. Apparently it works out well for the folks at walmart because I have never heard of a shortage of applicants.

                2. Michaela Westen*

                  Wal-mart has enough to pay workers more and give better benefits without cutting staff dramatically. They just *say* they can’t afford it.

                3. Batman*

                  Yeah, large companies are being disingenuous when they say they can’t pay their employees more. They CAN, they just don’t WANT to because it would eat into profits, which would cause stock prices to go down which would make shareholders mad. And many of the people in charge of the company own a lot of shares of stock, so this affects them directly.

              2. RUKiddingMe*

                Yeah IMO if an employee is covering the cost to run a business then they are not an employee. They are a partner.

            3. Dragoning*

              There are a lot of people who would argue, categorically, that yes, it does mean exactly that.

        2. Observer*

          As it happens, reasonable accommodations actually make good economic sense. Sure, there are some costs involved, but when you look at the cost of the kind of employee who it makes sense to send on these trips, even a couple of thousand dollars a year is a drop in the bucket. Compare that to the cost of getting the wrong / a poorer employee and / or turnover and it becomes clear pretty quickly that businesses overall tend to do better when they accommodate.

    3. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yup. I could see other employees being resentful if they got upgraded to business class – like “oh, your fat ass gets a Business Class seat, but my bony ass is stuck in Coach?” But assuming everyone’s in coach, it’s like “we pay for everyone to get flown out to the event in economy seating,. If it happens to cost more for one person (because they need 2 seats, we have to fly them out on a different day, people in one office are farther away than the other office branch, or whatever) that’s between us and the accounting department. You’re all getting the same shitty peanuts and no extra guacamole.”

      1. Jamaja*

        I agree with this comment. I, personally, would be resentful, despite acknowledging that people need to be able to fly (2 seats, or not). I’m 5’9″, ~185, and I fit comfortably in coach, and have even when I was ~220. Some people hold all their weight in their legs/hips, or waist, making things uncomfortable enough that they don’t fit even if they weigh less than I do. My husband hates flying economy, because even though he’s thin and only 6’2″, he has really long legs, making the seats very uncomfortable. But, all of that to say, yes, I’d be frustrated having to fly economy while others got business class, just because they weighed more.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          But you wouldn’t know why they are overweight and saying you would resent it because they weigh more sounds a lot like judging them based soley on their body size. i.e. fat shaming.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            Why they’re overweight is irrelevant – what’s relevant is that they’re getting Business class flights while their coworkers have to fly coach.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              Agreed. Why they are overweight is irrelevant. Also from a coworker/peer perspective why they got a different class seat is irrelevant because that’s a management decision made with info that you may not be privy to. However Jamaja said “…just because they weighed more…” which says to me that she is resentful not of someone getting an upgraded seat, but that the “fat” person got an upgraded seat.

              That may well be the only way to make the accommodation, and if it is the only way then resenting them because they get a better seat ‘just‘ because they weigh more sounds like fat shaming.

              I can see that others disagree with my assessment, so I’m going to leave this here and move on.

          2. LJay*

            No she’s not fat shaming.

            She’s resenting it because even if you do fit in an economy seat, it is pretty much nicer for everyone to fly in an upgraded class. Pretty much everyone on a plane could do with more legroom, not having your seatmate’s elbows encroaching on your space, food (or better food), free alcohol, use of fancy headphones, possible lounge access, possible amenity kits, etc.

            She would resent it whether it was because the other person weighs more, or if it was because the person getting the perk had a higher title, or if it was because they had to hop off the plane and go to work.

            I mean, if it’s an accommodation it’s an accommodation, and I don’t think anyone begrudges the other person getting what they need to fly. But if extra space is it then two seats seems fairer than an upgraded seat (at least a meaningful upgrade like to business or first, not economy plus) because then they’re getting what they need but not extra perks on top of it.

            It’s like if someone had a dietary accommodation, but while everyone else got cafeteria slop the one person with the accommodation got food from a restaurant with a Michelin Star. If that’s the only way to accommodate them, that’s the only way to accommodate them. But it would be fairer if they got a meal that fit their needs that was closer to the quality of everyone else’s meal, or if everyone got to partake of the Michelin Star restaurant food.

            Nobody is resenting the accommodation if the other person gets a gluten free meal. Nobody is resenting the accommodation if someone gets two seats on the plane. But getting something that is objectively better, that would also be objectively better for other people not getting the accommodation, is going to result in some hurt feelings and resentment.

            (And people having their feelings hurt or feeling resentful is not a legitimate reason to deny an accommodation, and does not qualify as an undue hardship for the employer. But it is something that is likely to result and that the company/the manager will have to manage.)

            1. Jamaja*

              You said this so much more eloquently then I could, thank you. I was trying to work through why I was resentful, and you’ve got it in spades.

            2. Lissa*

              Thank you, yes! I also acknowledge I’d feel resentful – it would be an emotional reaction, but it would be there. It wouldn’t matter “why”, that wouldn’t even come to it. Your paragraph about the dietary accommodation is perfect IMO.

            3. cruel optimism*

              This is a weird thing to resent.

              I experience chronic arthritic pain, which means that I’m not able to be very physically active, which means I’ve gained weight. I also have naturally wide hips. So, I’m not merely uncomfortable in small seats– I’m in a great deal of physical pain. Sitting in a small seat, for hours without being able to move, with burning, throbbing hip pain is *torture*. It’s not just nice for me to have a larger seat– it’s a necessity.

              So while, sure, everyone (even thinner people) would be more comfortable with a larger seat/more leg room, NOT everyone is in intense physical pain when they sit in a smaller seat.

              You don’t know the reason why someone is overweight, whether or not it’s the result of a chronic medical condition or a side-effect of medication or whatever. What someone perceives as a perk could actually just be one of the few things that’s less crappy in a very painful existence.

              Why would you resent that? It’s like resenting someone using an asthma inhaler so that they are able to breathe… because even though you don’t have trouble breathing, it’s possible you *could* be breathing better.

              1. Jamaja*

                I didn’t say it was logical, or fair, but the resentment is there, whether you feel it to be valid or not. And, to be honest, there is always going to be a stigma surrounding things that are seen as “changeable”, whether or not they actually are. It’s a lot easier to forgive someone the use of a loud oxygen machine (like a post today), because it’s seen as a medical necessity. Two seats isn’t seen as a medical necessity, due to all of the internalized fat hatred, stigma around obese people, etc. I have tons of internalized fat hatred, thanks to years of my childhood being obese and being conditioned to hate myself. I’m working on it, but I can’t say I’ve mastered the grace to not be resentful. I am a work in progress. I do apologize if I have offended you, or anyone else.

            4. OhBehave*

              Well said. If I was the person needing the accommodation, I would much rather have two seats in cattle class than one in the cab. But having a seat elsewhere, I would feel uncomfortable wondering whether my traveling companions thought twice about it or not.
              The problem arises when you have a jerk boss who you think would malign you for asking for more. Adopting a business class policy across the board is reasonable.

      2. Midge*

        Roxane Gay talked about the difference between buying two coach seats and a business class seat on an interview for Fresh Air. Basically, although the airlines say they want obese customers to buy two seats, they’re just not set up to accommodate that. From the gate agent not understanding why you’re giving them two tickets to scan, to flight attendants making confused, sometimes rude comments during the final headcount, it sounds like it can be a humiliating experience. I hear what Traffic_Spiral is saying. I’d also be annoyed if coworkers were flying business class and I was in coach. But as someone who hasn’t navigated this myself, I thought it was an interesting perspective.

        1. Jessica*

          >Basically, although the airlines say they want obese customers to buy two seats, they’re just not set up to accommodate that.

          my personal favorite is when they say this, and then sell that second seat out from under the person who bought it first.

    4. Amethyststorm*

      I agree that they should cover it. I am however, concerned that companies will use such a policy to discriminate even more than they already do.

    5. smoke tree*

      You’d think it would be common sense that a company will pay what it costs to get any given employee to the place the company wants them to be. It’s not like these employees have shrink rays that they could choose to strategically employ if they wanted to–if someone needs an extra seat, they need an extra seat.

  4. Radio Girl*

    It’s pretty standard practice for conference invitations/promotional material to define “Who Should Attend,” or at least it used to be…

    1. Kiki*

      Yes, and the organizers knew the LW was coming in advance and appear not to have said anything. I don’t think the LW should be the one to feel embarrassed— it seems like the organizers (or maybe the higher-ups at LW’s company?) dropped the ball here. I feel like this is the type of situation that nobody will think less of the LW for— it felt embarrassing, but everybody there is probably aware that it wasn’t your fault.

      1. MK*

        I think the person who mainly dropped the ball was the one who made the comment. It’s possible the organizers didn’t make it clear who should attend, or that the OP’s bosses didn’t read carefully or didn’t think it would matter. After that, I can understand that the organizers might not want to reject the OP’s company representative,even if they knew she was too junior (which might not have been obvious anyway).

        1. Margaret*

          I don’t even necessarily think that person dropped the ball. Their point was that it should be made clear what level of employee needed to attend… and the LW was in the whole mess because it was obviously unclear to someone at their company that an employee at their level was not the person who should be attending.

          Perhaps it was a little brutally direct for the commenter to do it in front of the LW, but their point was ‘conference organizers need to make this expectation clear’ not ‘you magically should have known.’

          1. Observer*

            The person who made the comment had a valid point. And, no they didn’t “drop the ball”. They did worse – they internationally embarrassed someone who was not at fault in this mess.

            When someone says “no offense” that’s a signal that they know perfectly well that what they are about to say is offensive.

        2. Daisy*

          I don’t agree there was anything wrong with the comment. If the problem was that ‘the organizers didn’t make it clear who should attend’, then it was a reasonable action point to raise in relation to planning future meetings.

          1. Nerine*

            OP recognised that she didn’t have anything to contribute and proceeded to not contribute anything. She behaved perfectly appropriately in a situation that wasn’t of her own doing and tried to make the most of it.

            Common decency dictates that you don’t make an attendee of any social or professional gathering feel ostracised simply because their level of hierarchy is not yours.

            Hearing “they shouldn’t just send anyone” (quote from the OP’s letter) is hurtful and makes a person feel ostracised for a factor that wasn’t in her power to change. There is no way the person who made that comment couldn’t have done so later, in private, to the organisers etc., etc.

            Common decency is a value anyone should aspire to display, no matter their level of professional hierarchy.

            1. GreyjoyGardens*

              Yes, this, absolutely. The “No Offense, But” commenter was the jerk, not the OP. (And whenever someone prefaces a comment with “No offense, but…” you know they are going to say something offensive and/or cruel.)

              OP shouldn’t feel bad.

              1. Adlib*

                Yes, I was about to come here and say this. I greatly dislike that phrase for exactly that reason.

            2. kittymommy*

              This so much. Whether the LW should or should not have been there, whether it is the fault of the conference organizer’s, her employer or some combination of the two, it is not the fault of the LW. She was assigned a job and she did it. The person who made that comment is out of line, regardless of being right or not, and if they are as high up as they seem to indicate that they are, should also realize that the LW probably didn’t have much of a choice. It was a classless and rude comment and quite frankly they should be embarrassed by it.

          2. Psyche*

            The comment would have been fine if made in private to the conference organizers. Saying it where she did made it very passive aggressive.

            1. Someone Else*

              I’m a little torn on this because it sounds like the meeting in question where it was said was actually specifically a forum to discuss this sort of thing with the organizers. So the person who said it probably could’ve found an opportunity to make the thoughts known privately, but at the same time, if they’re literally in the session for discussing that sort of thing…I can easily see why for not-intentionally-jerk reasons, they said it anyway. Hence the “no offense but”. I agree that preface is generally a sign of bad things to come, but here it could’ve been much more an “I realize this is about to be awkward because you’re here and you know it and I know it and I’m not blaming you I’m blaming the people who sent you” kind of thing. Like OP shouldn’t have been put in the position of being there, but the person making the remark was trying to use that session for its intended purpose. It wasn’t the most tactful thing, but I’m not convinced it’s conclusive evidence of assholery.

          3. Jam Today*

            If you compelled to preface your comments with “no offence, but…” you’re saying something offensive and you should not say that, or figure out another way to communicate whatever non-offensive point you’re trying to make.

            1. Mephyle*

              Except… in this case, for the reasons cogently explained above by the commenter known as Someone Else.

          4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            Nope. There was so much wrong with the comment. There is a time and place for things, and saying it in front of the OP was not that time or place. It was rude and unnecessary. I would have been tempted to respond in the moment because it was beyond rude.

          5. Yvette*

            I think the “they shouldn’t just send anyone” part was uncalled for. They could very easily left that part off.

            1. Kyrielle*

              This. There are much kinder ways to have said it if they truly felt it needed to be said in the meeting. “I think in future, the conference literature should be clearer about what is going to be done at the conference and who it might be of interest to” for example. It would STILL have been awkward and best said in private, but…it’s a lot kinder all the same.

        3. RUKiddingMe*

          I think the person making the comment, if they were part of the organizers and not simply an attendee should have addressed OP’s employer not OP herself. It was rude and humiliating. It’s not like OP went of her own volition. Was she supposed to refuse her manager’s request that she attend?

        4. Kiki*

          I think it’s possible that the commenter truly meant no offense and felt like they were addressing an elephant in the room. I think it was clumsy and there were likely more tactful ways to make their point known to the organizers without calling attention to LW publicly, but it was a planning session where everyone was asked for their input on what could be better

          1. OP*

            Hi OP here! I obviously agree that there would have been a better way to handle it but now I’ve got a bit of distance I can understand why it was voiced, it was a planning meeting after all. After reading all these comments I feel much better about how I handled the situation – I initially wondered whether I should bow out of the conference entirely or if that would have seemed even more odd. Ultimately, I can see a thousand ways that the commenter could have handled it better – particularly knowing the prominent position they are in – but I can see now that their comment doesn’t reflect badly on me and I now know if I’m ever in their position exactly how I’d handle it!

            1. MK*

              To be clear, I don’t think the comment was malicious or neccessarily even snarky. But is was very thoughtless and, frankly, very ill-mannered, uncollegial and rude. This person should have found a different time/place to address the (apparently valid) issue of a company sending someone unqualified to the conference.

              1. GreyjoyGardens*

                I agree. That comment was something to be said to the organizers or whoever was in charge, in private, not in front of the OP. I don’t know what they were expecting OP to do about it – grovel and beg forgiveness? Buy everyone donuts?

                1. LJay*

                  I mean, the comment seems to be have said to the organizers in a planning meeting, or at least in a planning meeting discussing concerns to bring up to the organizers for next time. They weren’t necessarily expecting the OP to do anything about it. They were expecting the organizers to do something about it. I’m in tons of meetings all the time where not every item on the agenda is an action item for me.

                  It was just awkward because the OP happened to also be attending that meeting.

            2. Elise*

              OP, I have been in the position of a bystander when this type of comment (whether thoughtlessly or intentionally rude) was made, and the person who made the comment was the only one I ever thought less of.

              I find that certain people in higher level positions like to keep the exclusive club they are in and don’t mind letting the lower level staff now about it if they see them as interloping. I really don’t think that was the intention here, but I’d like to see people be more thoughtful of how they speak and remember how it feels to be singled out in front of executive/leadership level staff.

          2. Greek Yogurt and berries*

            I think also that the commenter was likely meaning for her comment to get back to the OP’s boss(or whoever sent her). The OP described on another comment “that they sent a intern in place of the CEO” which would be a clear dig at that group that is there that in itself would have been provoking to the others. OP was your name and title on anything at the conference, or was it the person who was intended to come? I am wondering how many people outside of your company knew your role at your company before you got there. None of this is OP’s fault, I think OP is caught between bosses that didnt handle themselves well. I can see the irritation that the others would have, I do think taking notes is a great idea but I wonder in this instance if it made OP more out of place, and highlight how much she was not supposed to be there.

            1. OP*

              My attendance was confirmed by email before I arrived but potentially this was missed by organisers. I hadn’t thought about how the note taking would make me look more out of place – its a good point. But I guess I was in the frame of mind that I needed to get something out of attending. The discussions were fascinating and I knew I was likely never to end up in a room that filled with experience and knowledge again – I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to learn just because I was out of place.

              1. Sleeplesskj*

                Right! It may have been awkward but it was an exexpected opportunity! Awesome that you saw it that way!

              2. Walter White Walker*

                OP, I think you handled everything beautifully. You are the only person in this scenario who did not embarrass themselves. I hope that this becomes a funny story to tell over drinks sooner rather than later, because I’d buy a couple rounds just to hear the whole story unfold.

                1. Lance*

                  Agreed; there’s not really anything more you could have done in this scenario, and it sounds like you at least tried to make even a little of it. Whatever your company might’ve been expecting in sending you, this is the best you could’ve done.

                2. CM*

                  +1. OP, you did everything right. While I totally understand you feeling embarrassed in the moment, you really had no cause for embarrassment. Meanwhile, it seems like you made the best of the situation by taking this as a learning opportunity.

                  I’ve seen this happen too, where a company sent a paralegal to a conference meant for C-level people. The conference organizers realized next time, they needed to make it clear who was invited, and also should vet the people who registered. It was a little embarrassing for everyone, but the paralegal was the only person who had no responsibility or blame in the situation. (Like you, she didn’t try to act like a CEO — she realized her position and mostly stayed in listening mode.)

        5. Nancy*

          “… the organizers might not want to reject the OP’s company representative…” That is an excellent point, if it is a conference on the use of silk in the fashion industry, are you really going to refuse a representative from Versace or Hermes no matter what their level or if they didn’t really belong? Why risk alienating a brand like that?

          1. Observer*

            If that’s the logic, then wouldn’t it make sense to not offend the person they send? Either the company is big an important enough that you accept whoever they send or they are not. But “accept whoever they send” includes actually treating that person with basic courtesy. Comments like this do NOT qualify!

            1. Nancy*

              Absolutely, but it seemed as though the comment came from another attendant, a conference member, not an organizer of the event.

          2. CM*

            Sometimes the purpose of events like these is more to have a “CEO summit” where high-level execs talk strategy. If a lower-level person is in the room, it can inhibit these types of conversations — you don’t necessarily want to disclose information to them, and they have nothing they can credibly contribute.

      2. Elemeno P.*

        I agree with this. My coworkers and I once attended a conference that accepted all levels, but accidentally attended a panel that was for much higher-up people than we were: everyone was in suits and there were special snacks and everything. They had us introduce ourselves and then were fine with us quietly sitting in the corner and listening even though we didn’t quite belong. The next year we brought our director to the same panel and balance was restored.

        I get that it’s a difference of a conference vs. a whole panel, but that commenter absolutely should have brought it up quietly. It didn’t hurt them to have someone listening and learning.

      3. Aveline*

        The organizers likely don’t check credentials. They assume that the people they invite won’t pass this down to someone at a level who shouldn’t be there.

        This is all on OP’s higher ups. S

    2. WellRed*

      I agree. Also, did they not have a session schedule, with descriptions, available ahead of time which may or may not have offered some clarity.

      1. OP*

        There was a timetable sent around before outlining what I assumed to be talks to attend. If they had been talks with presentations etc it would have been completely appropriate for me to be there because of the projects I work on. What no one could have known before I got there was that the ‘talks’ were meetings. We’re talking, 15-20 people maximum discussing topics related to my industry.

        Overall I think there was a reliance on the fact that the majority of attendees had been at multiple previous meetings of this kind and would therefore know the content and appropriate attendees. We’ve had a change of management since the last meeting who would not have known the makeup of the sessions and it wasn’t stated on the invite. I imagine this reliance on familiarity won’t happen again.

        1. Aveline*

          Your last paragraph says it all. This is a failure by your leadership. Not by you or the conference.

          While that doesn’t excuse the blunt or rude comment you received, it does clarify that it is totally not your fault.

          1. EtherIther*

            I still don’t see how the conference is not somewhat at fault, they could have easily specified who should attend like most other conferences do.

            1. Not very senior leader*

              If this was a recurring by-invitation-only event for select senior leaders to share experiences in X (they are a thing, at least in my industry), they could have reasonably assumed that everybody knows what the expectation is. Obviously the new leadership at OP’s org did not understand and hadn’t been briefed on the nature of the event but that is not on OP and probably not on the organizers either (see the “recurring” bit). Scheduling conflicts might mean that the invitees might have to send in a deputy on occasion but an intern would definitely raise eyebrows and be unable to contribute effectively.

    3. Half-Caf Latte*

      Sure, but maybe the employer registered people who were at the level appropriate for a conference, and then for whatever reason, couldn’t attend, but were able to transfer the ticket to OP. In the intervening time between registration and the conflict, they either forgot about the level, or the person who made the decision didn’t know/felt like sending OP was better than letting the reg go to waste.

      I’ve seen this happen loads!

      1. Beatrice*

        It’s also possible that the OP is the highest ranking person with a strong understanding of X topic at her org, if they’ve had a lot of recent management turnover and it’s a relatively niche topic. I’ve been in that situation.

    4. Aveline*

      Not at the highest levels. It is common for conferences designed for a large group of people. But it’s not a universal for all conferences.

      DH goes to two conferences by a telecom company. Let’s call them XCom. XCom has about 5-10 conferences nationally per year. Most of them are open-invite for all people who use their products. The two conferences he attends for XCom are invite only and no materials are provided ahead of time. He’ll get an agenda a few weeks out so he can arrange his other meetings around the sessions he wants to attend. It is understood that XCom invites only those people they really want to attend and that those people can send surrogates, but should be very careful who they send b/c otherwise it’s a waste of everyone’s time and money.

      DH has been to three conferences this year where there were no materials ahead of time, just an invitation. Because it was understood that this wasn’t an “open invite” to anyone relevant, but a “invite only” to a specific group of people with a specific skill set.

      I think that if this was geared for the top level of OP’s area of interest, it’s likely that this wasn’t included in the materials, because it was understood by everyone invited. Well, everyone except OP’s higher ups.s

  5. CastIrony*

    Asking a related question on OP#4

    Are superiors sufficient, or does it have to be managers specifically?

    1. sacados*

      It should be someone who can speak to your work in detail — so if there is a superior, not your actual manager, who worked closely with you and can really help sell what a great asset you were, then I think listing that person would be equally acceptable.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ideally it should be someone who was in a position to evaluate your work with some degree of nuance. Sometimes that can include people who were above you but not your direct manager. The key, though, is that they worked closely enough with you that they can talk with nuance about you.

      1. RPCV*

        What if you’re in a role where your manager doesn’t see your work on a daily basis? And/or you’ve been with a company a long time, and your previous managers are also still with the company? Does it really look that bad to not have 3 former managers as references?

        I use one former manager and two colleagues that saw my work way more any any of my managers did (not that they were bad managers at all–the nature of my job doesn’t require much day-to-day oversight or task setting by managers), but I’m not sure if that would come off as trying to hide something or what. It’s a conundrum. Even the manager I use hasn’t been my manager for nearly a decade. Those that have are all still with the company.

        1. Yorick*

          Your manager may not be able to evaluate your technical skills, but they are the person who is best positioned to talk about your broader performance (do you meet goals that are set? do you work well with colleagues or have there been problems? etc.)

      2. Mimmy*

        Hope it’s not too late to ask (since this post is from yesterday) but what if you’re an instructor and your managers don’t actually observe your performance? All they know is the feedback they get from students plus what I discuss in case conferences and 1:1’s with my direct supervisor.

    3. JM in England*

      In my experience, the best references are your direct managers ie those who see your w ona daily basis.

    4. Teapot marketer*

      I have the type of work environment where my supervisors don’t know much about my quality of work (they see the final product but little else), yet my colleagues do a lot of peer review so they are much better at evaluating me. When providing references I usually provide a former manager, a current senior colleague, and then someone (colleague or manager) who seems relevant to the job I applied for. I acknowledge that I don’t apply for a lot of jobs, so I have some flexibility on who I ask.

    5. Elise*

      I had this issue recently. I had to fill out a reference form prior to the interview and the header said only direct supervisors. Well, I ended up using a supervisor (who will give a good reference so that’s fine) from 6 years ago instead of a superior I work with very closely that is on our leadership team. Their input would have been more helpful to the hiring manager, I’m sure, but oh well. At least the other two I listed were supervisors with more recent experience with me.

  6. Shinobi*

    I fly occasionally for work and do require an extra seat. Whenever possible I fly southwest as they refund the cost of the extra seat after travel. It makes expenses a little annoying but it ends up costing the same. Plus you get to pre board so you save on early check on. And if you have two people traveling together they can board together so you might only need one EXTRA.

    I have flown first class as well when it was necessary because southwest was not an option. My company has always covered it.

    Since a number of airlines now charge for extra leg room and emergency row seats you could extend the policy to everyone who needs accommodations for their height as well. That way it wouldn’t make your employees of size feel quite as singled out.

    1. irritable vowel*

      I really like the suggestion to contextualize it alongside people who need extra leg room – that way, it gives the boss less of an opportunity to make it about fat-shaming and emphasizes the message that I think the OP wants to make, that people have different shaped bodies and business travel should accommodate that.

    2. sacados*

      Seconding, the extra leg room thing is a really good point!
      That way it’s really just a blanket policy about “any employee who, for whatever reason, needs something other than the standard economy seat.”
      I have a friend who is 6’11” — he DEFINITELY does not fit in your standard airplane seat. But I can’t imagine his company deciding not to hire him or refusing to send him on necessary business travel because of it.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      I like the idea of comparing it to extra legroom, but if the penny-pincher higher up also considers that an unnecessary expense, it’s not likely to be a helpful analogy. I do think the idea of seating these two people together – i.e., buy three seats and let them share the one in the middle – is a good one.

      1. TychaBrahe*

        I second Southwest, although i once had to drive from Denver to Grand Junction, because Southwest doesn’t fly to a lot of smaller markets.

        Another option, since LW1 mentioned sending two people who would both need extra accommodations: buy three seats instead of four. Very few people need the entirety of the second seat, so if they sat together, they could be comfortable with only 50% extra expense.

        You have to be very clear with the airlines, however. I once had to purchase two seats on a non-Southwest airline, and they gave me two non-adjacent seats. *That* was fun.

    4. pcake*

      I like the idea of including extra leg room – my husband is 6′ 7″, and he can’t fly without it.

  7. Silence*

    If paying for two seats becomes the job’s responsibility, wouldn’t it be possible for the employer in the future to consider the size of the person that the employer will need to travel? After all, it would be an extra cost to consider. I think it may keep some people from getting the opportunity to travel for work. It’s not always about fat shaming. In this case it’s actually about extra cost.

    1. JR*

      Sure it’s an extra cost, but companies often bear extra costs for various employees based on their needs. Some employees have higher health care costs. Some need more sick time. Some will take parental leave, FMLA, or disability leave. Some work faster than others. Some need accommodations that can be costly. Some companies pay for pumping moms to ship milk home during work travel. A very few will fly the nanny and the baby with the parent of a young infant. Companies will rarely know who will actually cost them more, and for many of the scenarios I list above, it would be illegal, or at least immoral, for them to discriminate in the hiring process.

      1. RoadsLady*

        I almost wonder if it would be just as expensive to pay for the theoretical consultant who would analyze your hires to such a degree.

        If I were in charge, I’d send the big guy who happens to be best for Travel End Goal.

        No decent company is going to base their travel plans primarily on size.

      2. Kat in VA*

        Good point. I’ve had three neck surgeries. The first one “took”, the second two most decidedly…did not. (I joke the only thing keeping my head from popping off my neck like a cork out of a champagne bottle is roughly half a pound of titanium fore and aft). I have a doctor visit every month because I have to take pain meds, which are one month supply at a time. That right there is costing the insurance roughly $150 a crack after it’s all said and done, plus the cost of my meds.

        I will at some point require an incredibly (to me) expensive fourth fusion, encompassing four levels, that will likely go north of $100,000 before it’s all said and done, as well as PT, downtime from work, and everything else.

        My husband is a type II diabetic (which is hella HELLA expensive if managed properly), and I have four kids who have their own assorted issues here and there. We will probably single-handedly drive the company’s insurance costs up in 2020 (hyperbole, but still). However, I’m also very good at my job (or so I’m told) and I have a couple of execs that I like to think would fall down dead – or at least be extremely handicapped – if I up and left.

        Is it worth it to my company? I like to think so. It’s possible the person who requires travel accommodations might be rockem sockem fantastic at their job (or, in my case, rockem sockem fantastic AND possess the necessary high security clearances to work with some of our customers). There’s always tradeoffs with employees, and some of them cost monetarily more than others.

        Deciding not to hire The Purple Unicorn Awesomest Guy At This Job Ever because he might cost you double the seat cost when he flies to a customer site would be bad business practice, indeed – even before discrimination rears its ugly head.

        1. TardyTardis*

          Ah, this reminds me of the year my husband had to be airlifted due to kidney failure after the chemo knocked them out–I knew then my company really, really loved me…

    2. WS*

      Yes, we should definitely only employ people who fit in airline seats, are 100% able-bodied, never get sick, never have children/elders/partners/other caring responsibilities, and don’t require holidays.

      In reality, people are a varied bunch and any responsible employer deals with that as part of dealing with, well, reality.

      1. Silence*

        I am not saying that is the case ( and know you’re sarcastic), but it certainly can be something that an employer can make a note off in his mind. Especially places that are on a tight travel budget.

        1. Perse's Mom*

          If their travel budget is that tight, their employees probably shouldn’t be traveling at all.

          1. CC*

            This! The airplane ticket is usually not even the greatest expense in traveling — the hotel is.

            1. Justme, The OG*

              Most definitely. I book travel for my team and one night of a hotel is usually more expensive than the flights.

            2. Tammy*

              Absolutely! Especially if you’re located in a city with a smaller airport and basically all your flights involve connections. The last time I traveled for business, I paid the “small airport, so everything’s a connection” price for my ticket, and the cost of the company-chosen hotel for 5 days was nearly five times the price of the plane tickets.

          2. Willis*

            Yes! I feel like the same type of company that doesn’t want to cover an appropriately seat/seats is the same as the type getting people to share hotel rooms or travel with only a carry-on. If you want people to travel, you have to be able to pay for it!

        2. WS*

          Yes, it’s the same argument used against granting reasonable maternity leave: that the employer will “make a note off in his mind” not to employ women of childbearing age. That’s certainly possible for bad employers – of which we know there are plenty – but not a reason for everyone else to behave badly.

        3. Observer*

          That’s actually not such a sarcastic comment. There are actually employers who try to hire pretty much that way. And employers who technically don’t but try to keep people from “costing the business money” by actually using the benefits that they are entitled to.

          There is a reason why many companies don’t allow their hiring managers to ask questions like “do you have kids?” The reason is that “making a note in his mind” and using that information is ILLEGAL, but it happens all the time. So much so that simply asking about is likely to count against the employer.

          1. fposte*

            I think religion is probably a better example there, since family status isn’t federally protected.

            1. Observer*

              Family status isn’t but gender is. And if an interviewer asks a woman this, someone is going to say “Do you ask ALL employees this, or just the women?” And there you are.

              But, yes, religion and disability are also good examples.

              1. fposte*

                But for kids, you have to prove disparate impact. For religion, just factoring it in is illegal.

                Disability is the outlier in that it is actually illegal to ask.

    3. WakeUp!*

      The first “you may also like” is literally about this exact topic. (Spoiler: don’t do it)

    4. Michael Clump*

      Removed. You’re welcome to repost this without the opining on how people should solve their weight problems, which is inappropriate here. – Alison

    5. Gaia*

      Rest assured when I tell you many employers already consider body size in employment decisions.

      But nevertheless, lots of things cost businesses more for person x than person y and we don’t let companies make employment decisions around those (health care for older/pregnant/disabled people is often more expensive but employers can’t refuse to hire them or refuse them insurance all other employees receive, etc)

      1. Thursday Next*

        I think companies do make decisions around costs associated with health/age/pregnancy—it’s just difficult to prove.

        I’m pretty sure this has happened to us bc of costs related to our child’s disability.

    6. Akcipitrokulo*

      If it is the job’s responsibility, that implies an obligation not to discriminate, which definitely pushes it into the “may not be a factor in hirng decisions” territory.

      Also, it’s a shit thing to do.

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This is of course fact dependent, but I’m fairly certain that preventing an employee who requires two seats from travel or other core work functions/activities would violate the ADA. It’s not just a money issue—you can’t bar people from professional opportunity/tasks on the basis of their real or perceived disability. And cost, alone, often is not a good enough reason to skirt accommodation (even non-ADA-qualifying accommodation).

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think it depends on whether the employer believes their weight/size is a form of disability in this case.

          You’re right that we don’t know enough to know if each employer has an ADA-qualifying disability. But if the employer starts discriminating or withholding professional opportunities from folks of larger size because the employer believes it’s too expensive to accommodate, they may start running into the perceived disability prong of the ADA. This is always fact dependent (and current employees have better standing than candidates), but the employer could inadvertently trigger the ADA if they begin treating body size like a disfavored disability that they don’t want to accommodate.

      1. fposte*

        Let’s also, for kicks and giggles, throw in that in at least one state obesity is a protected characteristic in its own right, and it looks from rulings like California protects it if there’s a demonstrated physiological cause for the condition (which is a weird hair-split but whatever).

        1. Zephy*

          “Demonstrated physiological cause”? What other causes of obesity are there? I’m trying to think of ways to get fat that aren’t physiological in nature. Genie wish gone awry? Romani curse? Steal candy from Wonka’s factory???

          1. fposte*

            I think the meaning is “obesity as an offshoot of something that could be considered a disability” (like, if you’ve ever had thyroid troubles, or if you were mobility-impaired following an accident) whereas “I am a statistically unremarkable American” wouldn’t suffice.

          2. Glutton*

            Dude, I have already removed your earlier comments and warned you about violating the rules here. Now I am banning you. – Alison

    8. misspiggy*

      A lot of people are disagreeing with you here, but in my nonprofit field, disabled employees who need more expensive seats (like me) quickly learn not to request them, because we don’t get selected for travel. If one absolutely cannot travel without higher cost, one ends up working for a disability-focused organisation or not in a travelling role.

      I can think of one exception who was accommodated, but he came to need the extra cost while already at senior level.

      1. Rosalind Franklin*

        Yes, I’m thinking of a similar thing when I first started – a coworker needed to pay the under-25 fee for rental cars, which ended up being quite pricey. It was written off at the time, but current org is MUCH more concerned with budget and travel dollars are finite – today, she wouldn’t be proposed for travel that required a rental car, when you could just as easily send a different employee. But I’m in a very strange field and my boss is very new to corporate budgeting, so maybe a more experienced director would know how to write things up and have travel money not be so finite….

        1. Observer*

          Well, when it really is “just as easily” it’s one thing. But the reality is never so simple.

      2. Observer*

        That’s true in a lot of non-profits, but that doesn’t make it right or sensible. In fact, in many cases, it’s illegal because being a non-profit doesn’t exempt you from the ADA (and obesity is not the only reason someone might need “expensive” accommodations.)

        It’s also true that a lot of nonprofits engage in a lot of other management practices that are problematic because heaven forbid they should “waste” money on “luxuries” (which aren’t luxuries). I have a little bit of sympathy in those cases, because that’s often mandated by funders – including funders who REALLY, REALLY should know better. But, even then, it’s still really stupid and wrong.

    9. Jennifer Juniper*

      That could also lead to gender discrimination, since most women have wider hips than most men. In other words, a woman could need two seats where a man of the same weight would only need one.

    10. Kat*

      Companies already do this, and many more things under that are equally reprehensible under the guise that they just can’t afford it. In reality some companies actually can’t, but letting them off the hook with that opens the door to add in other health and family issues and then companies are only hiring 18-30 year old Men with no children because they are cheap to keep on. With the inclusion of creating a healthier workforce that gives the employer a closer look into their employees health and even with HIPPA regulations its not hard to analyze down the biggest health care spenders in a company. People usually know what type of place they work for and if they can ask for accommodations or if when they do their job will suddenly be restructured or they will be downsized.

    11. pcake*

      I really dislike that idea. Why not send the best person for the conference/event/whatever; if it costs a little more, at least the company is getting the best representation and the person who can understand what’s being discussed, contribute and make the company look the best.

      Shouldn’t that be more important than the cost of an extra seat – particularly as making your company look good that way can make your company better relationships and more money in the long run?

      1. Michaela Westen*

        There are many, many examples of penny-wise pound-foolish management. To me it seems all corporate managers went to the same school to learn the same stupid stuff.

    12. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      If a company needs to pinch pennies that badly…adjust the thermostat for a month.

    13. Observer*

      “extra cost” has been the excuse given for denying every sort of reasonable accommodation ever. Ultimately, this cost is a very small proportion of the cost of employing people. Furthermore, it tends to even out.

      Here is an interesting one – for years companies found excuses like this to not hire women (or to set conditions such that women woudn’t / couldn’t take these jobs.) It turns out that companies with a significant number of women at all levels of employment and women on the board do better than companies who don’t. Obviously the “extra cost” is an investment in actually making bottom line profit.

    14. SoonToBeRetired*

      I’m 100% certain my government employer would not pay for an extra seat, because of audit concerns. We frequently have to stay in the least expensive hotel in the area, even if there are safety concerns. (example: the conference is at the Marriott, but we stay at the Motel 6 about 20 miles away, and share a budget car with 5 adults.)

    15. Lisa*

      What if I told you that this already happens? Fat people face discrimination in hiring and at work all the time. Often it’s the result of unconscious bias, but not always. This isn’t a “what-if” scenario.

  8. Suzy Q*

    #3 Wow, what an opportunity you were given to get to know high-end industry leaders! I would have listened mostly during the first session and afterwards, I’d have googled every one of them in order to connect better at the remainder of the conference. Why you would blow it off simply because it was above your level is beyond me. Also, when that snarky comment was made, I’d have responded that they (or you) didn’t know who would be in the position to attend next time. After all, people get promoted!

    1. PineappleBun*

      I might be mis-reading your term “blow it off” but there is no suggestion to me that the OP ducked out of the conference and I don’t believe she missed any opportunities either. The fact is if you’re surrounded by CEOs talking CEO stuff (or whatever equivalent), and you don’t have that level of insight/knowledge, there is very little you can do to contribute – and at that sort of gathering, the top people won’t be much interested in spending time with people who can’t share insights.

      I know because I’ve had the same thing happen to me and it sucks but OP was right that you just shrug and keep listening…there’s nothing else that can be done. It would have looked strange and inappropriate to disagree with the comment that top-level meetings shouldn’t be kept to those in top-level posts (right now) who can contribute.

      1. Willis*

        Yeah, it reads to me like the OP acted perfectly reasonably – she realized it was for higher level folks but got over that and decided to try and listen and learn as much as she could. Of course it’s appropriate to still make conversation with folks and add whatever she could of value, but I don’t think she (or anyone in that position) could really Google and Gumption themselves into having very meaningful contributions overnight.

        And for what it’s worth, I totally think “no offense…” comment guy could’ve provided that input in a more tactful way!

        1. KP*

          At the same time, I think “no offense” guy probably literally meant no offense, that OP shouldn’t take it personally. I know how hard that is to not take personally! But really, I think no one wanted this happening again to either someone else in OP’s position or that of the CEOs.

          1. Maria Lopez*

            “No offense” guy literally DID mean offense, and the remark was not necessary to make at all. OP should make sure to keep his name so that when she is promoted above him she can react accordingly.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              That seems like an excessive reaction. The OP actually agreed with that person’s assessment; the problem was the awkwardness of saying it in front of her. (That may have been necessary if they were doing planning for future sessions, but then it should have been more diplomatically worded.)

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Although, actually now I’m thinking that it could have been worded just fine. We don’t know the context or what was said. I wouldn’t be particularly outraged if they were talking about the circle of organizations to invite next time or something else relevant and the person said, “No offense to Jane, who I know was asked to attend and has made the best of a difficult situation, but what can we do next year to be clearer in our invitations? Jane has been gracious in unexpected circumstances, but we should make it clearer in the invitations that we’re inviting X and Y employees, and if invitees aren’t able to attend, they shouldn’t send just anyone in their place.” That’s still awkward for the OP, who’s sitting right there, but it’s a reasonable thing to raise at a planning meeting and could be done in a way that’s not egregiously rude.

              2. MK*

                I mean, I doubt it was malicious, but it would come across as pretty gauche to me, no matter the tone. And your somewhat long-winded speech below is not appreciably better, as it puts even more attention on the OP and reads a bit condescending to me. And I find it hard to believe this was the only and last opportunity there was to discuss next year’s attendees.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yeah, it’s certainly not perfect. But my point is that the comment about “making sure to keep his name so that when she is promoted above him she can react accordingly” is over the top for what could have just been a remark that was poorly timed but reasonable in substance. The OP doesn’t need to be encouraged to see ill will and outrage where there probably wasn’t any.

                2. Nerine*

                  “I find it hard to believe this was the only and last opportunity there was to discuss next year’s attendees.”

                  Indeed. It takes a certain person to feel like they can make that comment in front of the lowly underling. Not pretty.

                3. BethDH*

                  In my field, it certainly might be the last/only chance to discuss it, as it is not standard for us to have a bunch of high-level people on email chains, and the meetings don’t involve enough people to make some standard conference-review survey-type things make sense. Maybe that doesn’t apply to OP’s situation, and I would have been mortified myself, but it is also possible that this was the best time to say something to avoid someone else being in the same situation again. When I try to think of better ways to phrase it, I can come up with some, but they’re all pretty wordy and not things I could come up with on the fly.

                4. MK*

                  BethDH, an email chain might not be “standard”, but it’s surely not forbidden, is it? I am fairly senior myself, and if the other option is to embarass a junior (possibly young) person in front of a lot of my colleagues, I would choose another way, even if it created a minor annoyance. Nor is it neccesary to have a conference-review survey to voice a concern to the organizers.

                5. Aveline*

                  Seconding Beth, this is often the only time all the organizers can have a face-to-face. I’ve been there. You rely on those wrap-ups to be honest and blunt so that you can make the next year’s session better. Often, the people doing the day-to-day work on this take those session input and go do the actual work.

                  So it isn’t entirely unreasonable to assume that the person making the blunt comment was in line with expectations.

                6. BethDH*

                  MK, certainly not forbidden, but you wouldn’t get a response in most cases, and would cause other problems for colleagues not in the room who are the ones actually executing the changes (as Aveline mentions). This might be very field-specific, but I’m imagining the equivalent meetings in my field, and the people involved only get together once a year even though smaller groups of them might end up together other times.

                  I think it is terrible that the OP was put in that position in that meeting and in the event as a whole. I guess I just think it’s also possible that that really was the best way to make sure the change was made so it didn’t happen to someone else! I wish the speaker had figured out a better way to say it to minimize the embarrassment, but I’m not sure that avoiding it entirely was a workable solution, especially since we don’t know what other communications had been made for this event that weren’t passed down from the higher-ups to OP.

            2. MK*

              I agree. At the very least, it shouldn’t have been made in front of the OP, and preferably she should have waited till after the conference and mentioned it to the organizers as feedback or waited till the next one being organised.

            3. Engineer Girl*

              Retaliation for such a small offense? really?
              And retaliation should never be part of a managers toolkit anyway. Or anybody’s for that matter.

            4. Nerine*

              ““No offense” guy literally DID mean offense…”

              And if they didn’t, at the very least they were oblivious to what it feels like to be singled out as ‘inferior’ in public.

              1. Natalie*

                Oh FFS, acknowledging the reality that someone isn’t a CEO doesn’t mean you’re singling them out as inferior.

                Obviously it was embarrassing. But things can be embarrassing even when everyone involved is behaving perfectly politely.

                1. Nerine*

                  Alright, I’ll try another word: undesirable.

                  Nobody’s disagreeing with OP having been ‘out of place’ at that conference. But acknowledging that reality is emphatically not the same as making that comment in front of her, to other people, which, yes, FFS, is singling her out as inferior in public.

                2. Aveline*

                  Yes. If this had been a blue teapot maker at a red teapot conference and that had been pointed out, it would not have been rude.

                  We weren’t there. We don’t know if it was rude or merely blunt.

                  And it only really matters if OP still feels it was harmful to her. If not, it’s entirely beside the point.

                3. Rachael*

                  As an “underling”, I certainly have been in the room as a project manager and had a distinct feeling that everyone was wondering why I was in the room (a room of Vice Presidents working on a project that I am managing). In my case, it was not necessarily hostile, but definitely a “she is not one of US”.

                  I have witnessed that some people at that level seem to really bristle that someone in a “lower station” is attending a higher level meeting. Usually those people are insecure and feel that they worked hard to get where they are and do not welcome someone who they feel has not “done the work”. This also happens a lot in projects when you are trying to plan the stakeholder list and some feel that others should not be invited to meetings solely on their title, not skills.

                  I’m not saying that is what happened in this case, but I do have experience of embarrassment when the “why are YOU here” question is asked (although retaliation is definitely not a correct response). Some people absolutely mean offense and some people are just oblivious to how such a comment would make someone feel. The OP certainly should just brush it off and move on, but the person who made the comment should learn, as the commentator said above, to be more tactful. In my case, I’ve always made these comments/recommendations in private.

            5. LQ*

              Reacting accordingly would be inviting the right people to a meeting. Which is what this was. This is something people talk on here about all the time. People hate meetings. People want to only be invited to meetings where they are needed. This person was identifying that they did a poor job of ensuring that the right people were at the meeting and they should do a better job next time.

              It’s not an offense at all. It sounds perfectly reasonable. Yes the OP could (and it sounds like did) get something out of listening in, but if the meeting lacked the people it needed then it did. It’s like if you have a design meeting and no one invites the designer but you get someone from accounting who likes to draw and might learn something.

        2. Op*

          Hey! OP here! Thanks for all your responses – and for answering my question. By ‘blow it off’ I just meant ‘not let it bother me.’ I basically spent two days furiously making notes.

          It makes me feel a lot better to see people agree with how I reacted and understand the situation. I cannot emphasis enough the differences between myself and the other attendees – think new graduate teapot intern turns up to a conference of teapot Ceos.

          1. Christy*

            I’d have been mortified! I think the best possible way you could have reacted to the “no offense” was to say “no arguments here!” with a smile. Would I have had the presence of mind to say that in the moment? Probably not.

              1. OP*

                Hi! I don’t think he was necessarily expecting a response from me as the comment was made to the wider group (who all agreed).

                1. Nerine*

                  How unpleasant a situation that must have been. At least some of the worthies must have felt uncomfortable.

          2. blackcat*

            Hey, OP, it really sounds like you handled this well.

            Not exactly the same, but my advisor was once invited to do present at a session at a conference. My advisor is a BigName in our field as well as AdjacentField. This session was at AdjacentField conference. OurField is super casual. Like, no judging if you’ve got stains on your shirt casual. In AdjacentField, people wear suits to conferences (this is not all that typical in academia).

            He sent me instead. And didn’t prep me on how to dress/etc.

            There I was, young graduate student in a button down, black jeans and sneakers, with an audience of 200ish people, on a panel with greyhaired BigNames wearing suits.


            I talked about our group’s work and did my best to not let it bother me.

            1. OP*

              I googled all the attendees the day before, realised the situation and wore my fanciest outfit. I was this close to wearing jeans – a close escape from even more awkwardness!

              1. Half-Caf Latte*

                Honestly your comments show that you made the best of it.

                The awkward commenter was awkward, but I’d try to reframe this as “I was professional and polished enough that he felt comfortable saying awkward thing in front of me because he thought I would be professional about it.” i.e.- he knew you knew the score already.

          3. Helena*

            OP, when you discovered that you were the intern at a CEO conference, did you let your boss know about the situation? If so, how did she react? Because it seems to me she should have given you some kind of guidance here.

            1. OP*

              I think in future I would definitely reach out for guidance. But I also knew I was attending because my boss was engaged in something time consuming and important & as I was at the conference (which I had travelled for) by the time I realised I didn’t see what else could’ve been done. Essentially, I tried not to bother my boss figuring that the advice wouldn’t change my actions.

              1. Helena*

                You’ve clearly thought this through, and I think you’re on the right track for the future. I’m in an industry where relationships between leaders at different organizations can be very fraught, and I suspect my boss would have told me to apologize to the organizers on behalf of my organization, then leave, in case the leaders wanted to have sensitive discussions that I shouldn’t be privy to. I’d be bummed about missing the learning opportunity, but it probably wouldn’t be worth upsetting the delicate balance. YMMV, depending on industry and boss.

              2. Holly*

                I honestly would have checked in with my boss at that point – it’s their call if they want you to stay since you’re already there or to leave to prevent future issues.

      2. Blue*

        I’ve been in this position, as well. Everyone was quite nice and didn’t send out judgemental vibes, but I was highly conscious of the fact that I was contributing very little. I really feel for OP here and agree that making the most of it by being unobtrusive and soaking up as much as possible is your best bet.

    2. Augusta Sugarbean*

      The OP said “brush the entire experience off and try and learn as much as I could.” Is that what you are reading? It sounds to me like the OP tried to put aside the awkwardness not blow off the conference.

    3. MK*

      Yeah, no. Being in the company of people much higher in the hierarchy than you, when it’s supposed to be a meeting of equals and junior people are not expected to be there is not an opportunity, it’s embarrassing, and trying to bluff/google your way into conversations that you don’t belong in would be more likely to annoy these people, who are there specifically to spend time with others on their level, not mentor lower level people.

      Also, it doesn’t sound to me that these were simply slightly higher up employees, in whose position the OP might get promoted within a year. I don’t even think it’s that useful to connect with people whose level you are not likely to reach for another 15 years, unless there is a specific framework of mentoring.

      1. Op*

        Again, this makes me feel a lot better. My biggest worry was that my job wouldn’t understand why I had felt out of place and that the feedback session would be awkward.

        Your comment hits the nail on the head, this is exactly what happened. They were perfectly cordial – but I wasn’t who they had come to see!

        1. Electric sheep*

          Sounds like you did the best you could under the circumstances! An awkward situation to be in.

        2. MK*

          It sounds as if you behaved very graciously; I am sure your company will acknowledge this, if they are at all reasonable.

        3. Frankie*

          I am cringing because I would have felt just as awkward! Sounds like you did the best you could. Good for you for not ducking under the table or hiding in the bathroom the whole day.

    4. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      You would have handled things with perfect confidence, and everyone would have clapped.

      1. Washi*


        OP, when I was fresh out of college my nonprofit sent me to an event related to opportunities for young men of color in our city because the leadership was busy. They very much underestimated the seriousness and swankiness level of the event, because it was a group of the most successful black and Latino businessmen, politicians, and community leaders in our city, and the few white women there were all CEOs or executive directors. And then there was me, the 22 year old white girl looking out of place in every possible way. Did I take advantage of this marvelous opportunity? No, I hid in the corner and sneaked out as soon as I possibly could. I could only dream of handling it as well as you, OP!

    5. Jule*

      Hoo-whee! A junior-level employee sitting quietly in a meeting would make me feel sympathetic to that person, if an honest mistake. Saying something like this, on the other hand? That news would travel fast.

      1. Observer*

        Very fast. I think that trying to bluff your way into conversations with people at this level would be a good way to make yourself a laughing stock.

  9. JR*

    For #5 – I do independent consulting. I have one header (independent consultant when I’d normally have the company name, the geography I consult in, my specialty field where I’d normally have my title, and the dates as normal). Then I cherry pick 4-6 projects that are most relevant to the job in question and describe them so as to highlight my accomplishments.

    1. Story Nurse*

      It all depends on who you’re trying to impress. For people within the industry, a client list often suffices, especially if it’s long and/or there are some impressive names on it. My freelance writing résumé consists entirely of a list of clients, divided by topic:

      Medicine and Health
      – client name
      – client name

      Business and Events
      – client name
      – client name


      Since I’ve been in the business for a long time, I don’t bother giving dates anymore; the list of clients, trimmed to the most prestigious ones and split into two columns, takes up a full page, and that speaks for itself.

      If I were looking for a full-time job in another field and trying to explain how I’d spent the last 23 years, I’d go with a more conventional format:

      Freelance Writing and Editing, 1996–present
      – extensive reporting on health and medicine, including for Client, Client, and Client
      – medical journal editing, Journal and Journal
      – business and event management reporting for numerous clients, including Client and Client
      – compiling and editing volumes of fiction and nonfiction, including Title, Title, and Title

      And I’d swap the order around and emphasize different things depending on whether I was looking for a copywriter job at a pharmaceutical ad firm or an editorial position at a publisher or what have you.

      1. JR*

        Oh yes, I only do dates for the whole section, not individual clients. In my industry, it’s customary not to use client names (unless you get permission, which I do occasionally, if I think that client is especially relevant/impressive), but I usually solve that by saying “Fortune 200 retail company” or whatever makes sense.

  10. MommaCat*

    #5, I also do freelance tech theatre when I’m between full-time gigs; are you getting hired by the same theatres again and again? Because as long as you note that you’re working temporary gigs, you can list some of the gigs by theatre (for example, Lighting Design, various shows, ABC Theatre, 2016-Present, then note in the description that the you were rehired for each show you worked). This has the advantage of showing that these theatres like you enough to rehire you again and again. Any one- or two-offs could pretty easily go under the type of heading Alison suggested. If you don’t have any other jobs besides tech theatre, this can also pad out your resume a bit without it being so overwhelming for non-theatrical types. Hope this helps!

  11. PineappleBun*

    OP #3, as I mentioned elsewhere this has happened to me, so you have my sympathy.

    And seconding Alison’s comment about looking back and finding it funny. In my case it was an invitation to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of my (top) university that he passed to a Director who passed it to me. They should have known better – I didn’t – but in retrospect it is amusing to think of me sat at a table of 15-odd university leaders whilst a senior government person asked us all for our advice on some policy*. I was twenty years younger than anyone else and the only woman. It was sadly fairly obvious that my attendance was an error! Though thankfully I was saved the public comment and one attendee was kind enough to chat with me at the coffee break.

    *To be fair to my bosses, I had expertise in this policy, but this was much bigger picture and not the forum for my more operational level of insight.

    1. OP*

      This sounds eerily similar. I’m aware that this invitation was also passed down a few times and I also happened to be one of a handful of women in the room and painfully younger than even the second youngest person there. I think it’s already reaching the realm of comedy, give me a month or so and I’ll be able to tell the story.

      Thanks for making me feel a little less ridiculous in my response!

    2. Decima Dewey*

      It sounds like someone higher up skimmed an announcement of the conference and decided “The conference will be about X. We’re thinking of going into X. Someone should go.” How that got further twisted into “send OP, it’ll be good experience” is another matter.

    3. SusanIvanova*

      Mine wasn’t embarrassing, but it was a waste of my time: The conference flyer for Big Blue Machines listed 4 sessions for their Orange System/Tiny product, in a week long conference. Normally the flyer shows a sampling of the sessions, so we assumed there were more. Nope! That was it – everything else was for BBM, and there’s really not much overlap between what you do with BBM and what you do with OS/T.

      So halfway through I asked could I please reschedule the flights and come home, and my manager said yes, but then upper management decided that since I’d “wasted” my conference slot for the year, I couldn’t go to a different one that *was* all about OS/T. It took some time but my manager eventually fixed that too.

  12. marni*

    One good analogy for #1 could be that if someone needed to take certain equipment on a trip, like a mobility device or a C-PAP device, the company would presumably pay the extra baggage charges for that.

    1. TL -*

      Do airlines charge for mobility devices? I thought they were gate-checked no charge like strollers.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        We’ve never had to pay a fee for my son’s wheelchair – always gate-checked. I don’t think airlines charge, in general, for medical equipment like that. They eat the cost of carrying it as the cost of doing the business of flying people with certain needs (which is what businesses need to do when they send a person who needs an extra seat or more legroom – eat the extra cost because this is what it costs to fly for that person).

      2. LJay*

        I know specifically that they do not for C-PAP devices. You can carry your CPAP on in addition to your normal carry on/personal item baggage allotment for no extra charge.

        I can’t imagine that they do for wheelchairs either.

    2. Christy*

      It reminds me of how my team (all-remote) has some employees at airline hubs but one employee in Montana. It always costs us more to fly Montana man to training and other work travel. But we just have to shrug and accept it because what else can we do? Some money is saved by the hub people, so it all averages out.

      1. Callietwo...............*

        This is great to know, as I’ll be traveling a lot in the next 4 months and will need to drag that damn thing along. Thanks!

        1. mrs__peel*

          FYI, you can buy smaller, travel-size CPAP machines now. I haven’t tried them myself, but my mother just got one and recommends it.

  13. Mm*

    For #3 I wouldn’t be surprised if they might have been planning to discuss topics they didn’t feel comfortable sharing with the letter writer level (ex. Trends in automation that might lead to lay offs). I think the conference organizers messed up here and should have confirmed job titles if that was important. I suspect if the person in the meeting was snarky it was meant as a jab to the organizers NOT the letter writer. Not that it makes their actions valid, but if they couldn’t get what they wanted out of the meeting because of the letter writers attendance then I could see them being upset.

    Personally I would share the comment with my manager in case the company needs to do any damage repair. If the attendees felt like the company didn’t take the conference/meeting seriously it could look bad to other industry leaders.

    1. OP*

      Thanks for this advice – I’ve already emailed my manager to alert him to the situation but I’ll make sure to be clear about the comment in person. I do think a conciliatory email needs to be sent but I don’t think I’m the one to do it.

      1. Mm*

        I absolutely agree! You were the victim of other people messing up here, not the one who needs to apologize. Someone above you and the conference organizers should be the ones following up. Sorry this happened to you!

    2. Aveline*

      Actually, the only people we know who screwed up are OPs bosses. Whomever it was in their organization who was originally invited should have realized “I was invited because I’m CIO or Director of x” and not passed the invite down. The people above OP in her organization failed her.

      The likely result of this is not damage to OP, but damage to OPs business and her higher up who received the invite originally. They likely won’t be invited back. It could also mean the peers of the original invited now think less of him.

      I saw this exact scenario more than once as a spouse who has tagged along to several global conferences for C-level offices: No one there blamed OP. No one reasonable blamed the conference organization. Plenty of them were thinking her bosses were either not paying attention or didn’t get it.

      Yes, at a certain level, things can get clubby. But it’s also critical to understand what sending higher level employees costs companies. It’s a lot of money in travel, but even more in risk if the high level employee is business critical. It can seriously interrupt the flow of the business in ways that one can’t imagine until one has seen it. It can also mean 20 hour days for attendees who have to spend the after hours and down time doing their actual work. Dear husband never has free time at these events. He’s either in conference, having business meals with vendors or colleagues, or answering emails/putting out fires. He barely sleeps.

      Often, these conferences aren’t fun and games. They are work.grinding, relentless work.

      This is the other side of what can go on. So for those of you who are picturing some big party, that’s not necessarily the case. When I started going with my husband, it was much more frequent that there was free time and fun. Now most companies are too stingy and most employees are too overworked for that to be the case.

      So, OPs presence could have been disruptive and might have been viewed as disrespectful of the other attendees. I’m not saying it was viewed that way, only that it might’ve been. Picture a brain surgeon showing up at a veterinary conference and wanting to sit in just to learn. Might be OK. Might be disruptive depending upon how collaborative the conference is intended to be and whether or not it’s small enough that having one person there who isn’t an expert could throw the balance off

      Nevertheless, it is not OP who would be seen as wrong. She’s got nothing to worry about. Plus, it sounds like she handled it with grace. Truly, OP, you handled this amazingly well.

      I do not know if the man in the planning session was rude or just too blunt. I do know that whomever was originally invited from OP’s organization does need to reach out to the conference organization and apologize for his company sending someone without the experience to fully participate with assurances that it won’t happen again. Otherwise, he won’t likely be invited back and possibly also blacklisted from other conferences. I have seen that happen to a few men who showed up and registered but then skipped out on the conference. Their companies were told what happened and why. And the invites stopped to other conferences as well.

    3. Coverage Associate*

      Oftentimes, it’s important that an organization send someone to an event, even if relatively low level. Obviously, this wasn’t such a situation, but I want to push back on the idea that companies’ choices are always send someone who’s an exact fit or send no one.

      1. Arctic*

        Yes, when I was younger there were several occasions I was sent to be a proxy for someone much higher and it was totally acceptable. This wasn’t that but it’s not insane that her company didn’t realize it.

        1. Blue*

          As it happens, I am currently on my way home from a conference where I was very much not the target audience. My org mostly cared about having representation there, and since my work is tangentially related, I was nominated. Was it ideal? No. But for this particular event, it was fine – my presence certainly wasn’t disruptive and I actually got a ton out of it. It’s all circumstantial.

      2. Lucille2*

        I’ve been sent to some conferences as a backup to someone higher up who couldn’t make the trip. I work for a small startup, so this happens a lot. And since we’re a startup, having a presence at industry conferences is paramount to our growth. It’s not always a good option for a company to send no one. But in OP’s situation, the boss/higher-ups obviously didn’t pay attention to the purpose of the event and who needed to attend.

        FormerJob used to host an invite-only event for our clients and asked that only C-level attend. In reality, those invitations were often passed down to the subject matter experts who, the clients believed, would have more to contribute and more to gain from the event. From FormerJob’s perspective, they wanted to get key clients together to promote the product and have access to budget-holders and key decision makers. In reality, many clients were sending the product users to the event.

  14. Sara(h)*

    OP #1 stated she is “hoping to get an “if you need more space, here’s what to do” policy set and just give that to everyone who travels rather than singling folks out and awkwardly inquiring about whether their body will fit in a single seat.”
    How you handle this would depend on your company’s process for booking travel, but here are some suggestions:
    – It doesn’t have to be a big deal to just ask the employee about their needs. Maybe you could you send an email saying, “We’re booking travel for XYZ conference from May 13-17, 2019. Please reply by March 24 if you require any special considerations or accommodations for your flights and travel plans.”
    – Since you said you have “a feeling” your boss will push back, but this hasn’t happened yet, just go about the normal process and matter-of-factly include the extra seat and the associated expense; don’t even comment on it, and maybe your boss won’t either. Just act as if, “Of course we are covering all business travel expenses,” assuming it’s not even up for discussion, and then if it does come up, use Alison’s script. But maybe it won’t.

    1. Airy*

      Specifying up front that “special considerations or accommodations” can include more seat space and/or leg room would be encouraging for people who may otherwise be thinking “Well, they might do accommodations for people with ‘real’ disabilities, but probably not for me just because of my size,” or “I’m sure they don’t mean me so I’d better not ask, it will just be embarrassing.”

      1. BethDH*

        I agree with this. I don’t have that particular concern, but different organizations consider different costs part of “expenses,” and it can be difficult to know what counts and very embarrassing and expensive to be wrong. Spelling it out is also a kindness if they haven’t traveled for business much before (and it sounds like the people the OP is thinking about haven’t done so since OP became their manager). I remember finding out that I could expense food and being surprised — after all, I would still have been eating if I had been at home!
        If they’re concerned that mentioning “perks” like extra leg room might lead to abuse by those who don’t need them, I hope that would be rare enough that a manager could address that directly with that individual. The same topic comes up with sick leave, and the answer is not to force people into excessive documentation and disclosure; instead, you take it up in a discussion when the absences become a problem.

      2. Risha*

        Yes, this. I would already be deeply panicked about when and how I could bring up getting a second seat (because at almost 6’1″ and over 350, I fit reasonably comfortably in first class but there’s not a chance in hell of successfully fitting into a coach seat). The above wording would give me an opening at least, but it wouldn’t help the panic at all because I wouldn’t for a second think that they were thinking about my size when they said it.

      3. smoke tree*

        It might be a good idea to draft a boilerplate-sounding spiel to use with everyone, which would include a few examples of potential accommodations (extra seat space, leg room, early boarding, etc) so that people feel more comfortable asking about them. I wouldn’t want any employees to feel like they’re being singled out, and I also wouldn’t want to be in the position of trying to judge who might need what accommodation.

      4. LJay*

        Yeah I think this is important.

        If I read special considerations or accommodations I would be thinking along the lines of a wheelchair accessible hotel room, or dietary needs for meals on the plane or at the conference. I wouldn’t be thinking of extra seats or legroom.

      5. I Took A Mint*

        Agreed, I think if you can use language that includes window/aisle requests that might make it clearer that even just preferences will be accommodated… but I still think spelling it out in the policy is best.

  15. Jenny*

    For #1, I am curious how people would address one sticky spot. How do you set a clear definition of who would and would not be permitted to purchase an extra seat? Obviously if the airline requires it, that is obvious, but you don’t want to require it to get to that stage. On the other hand, due to cost you may have to limit to actual need. How to define that?

    1. TL -*

      People who need a second seat generally know and I don’t think many people who didn’t wouldn’t ask. Maybe jf someone was just on the edge of not fitting, they might try to game the system, but I feel like most people who don’t require two seats wouldn’t ask for it – the visual element and the shame element would be strong deterrents.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Agreed. There is a lot of stigma about requiring a second seat; it’s not typically something people will ask for without need.

        1. Elizabeth Proctor*

          And from reading about Roxane Gay’s experiences, it seems as if there are some hoops to jump through when you’re at the airport trying to check-in one name into two seats, etc.

    2. Win*

      I was thinking the same thing. I just got back from a business trip where I traveled with two colleagues that are larger than I am. Neither would qualify for “needing” a second seat, but I can guarantee both would have been more comfortable with a second seat. Once is particularly socially anxious and uncomfortable being close/touching people. I can see a case being made for a combo of being large and anxious touching strangers in a metal tube in the sky for several hours.

      Adding to that, once word is out that so and so got a second seat and the company paid for it, I can see the stigma about requesting that dropping off quickly. Flights are far from comfortable… and an empty seat next to you goes a long way.

      This line could be drawn in type of rental car as well. Compact uncomfortable for larger employees? Does it now cost twice as much to send John to the conference as it would to send Jane? This is one of those subjective policies that I would hate to have to oversee.

      1. LQ*

        I think recalling the breaking chairs letters should help clarify that this isn’t likely to be something that people will gleefully do regardless of size. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s one person out there, but that person is likely pushy about a whole bunch of other things too. But this isn’t something everyone is going to clamor to get. I got a chair that was for Tall Folk, it cost extra, my boss (who is generally pretty good) did not let me forget it, he thought he was doing it in good humor and because he was surprised by the cost. I’m not even embarrassed about being Tall but way more bosses are going to bring it up casually and embarrass the heck out of people than are people who don’t need it going to casually be like I don’t care and am going to say that I need 2 seats.

        1. Win*

          Needing a tall chair at your desk would be a one time expense that I think is easier to justify based on the time you are in it and how long it will last. The extra plane ticket could cost just as much but only last a few hours.

          I imagine there are just as many people right on that line of MAYBE needing a second seat, certainly more comfortable with a second seat, but not wanting to ask or feeling like they NEED a second seat. I just try to avoid these subjective policies as much as possible. Not an easy answer especially if flying is a frequent part of the job.

          1. LQ*

            So…in order to avoid these policies you’d just…not hire anyone who might need an extra seat? Sometimes you have to be subjective. Maybe you aren’t qualified to make those decisions or are uninterested in being the person who enforces it, but again. The letters about broken chairs. People are not going out of their way to be fat at this policy so they can have an extra seat.

            Sometimes you have to manage folks and that means say, “Yes, if someone needs and extra seat we’ll pay for it.” Honestly a lot of being a manager involves subjective things. You can quantify a lot. But you won’t make everything exactly the same because people aren’t exactly the same so pay for the extra seat and if you get a bunch of people who are demanding things they don’t need and costing the company a whole bunch of money then get better hiring practices.

      2. Observer*

        Good heavens. Please lets not start ridiculous catastrophising to justify refusing to pay for reasonable expenses. OMG! If we allow John to get a second seat without putting him through the wringer, by the end of the year all of our travel expenses are going to eat up our entire budget! The Sky is falling!

        If you employ reasonable people they are NOT going to ask for a second seat just because they can.If they aren’t reasonable, why are you sending them?

    3. Observer*

      I don’t understand the question. If your staff is sufficiently trustworthy to fly somewhere to represent your company, they should be sufficiently trustworthy for you to believe them when they say that they NEED a second seat vs just wanting one.

      1. Win*

        I guess I am just jaded.

        Last year about a dozen people in my office desperately needed a stand up desk. Back paid… the number one reason people in the US miss work. Cant say no to a request like that! Bought a bunch of the convertible types. Seen anyone use one? Nope…

        Once day I have a dream of working with more trustworthy people, then maybe all of my problems will be over!

        1. Janie*

          I mean if you feel the need to measure your employee’s asses to see if they’d fit in the seat… you might be in bigger trouble than if you just assumed they were an adult.

        2. RandomU...*

          I’m kind of with you. I think it’s less second seat and more upgrade to business class that has a higher chance of abuse. I’m not going to lie, if I could have a plausible excuse for asking for business class I totally would, and so would most people.

          As it is, I upgrade (on my own dime) to the coach + equivalent.

          Does anyone think that a company policy that allows for business class upgrades for certain body types is going to help the perception of overweight/obese people? I think this can be avoided if a company does purchase the extra seat. But again, as others have said, this could be not great for the person needing the extra seat, as it could mean less opportunity for travel.

          On a macro level, sure the company can eat the cost, but at the department level if someone is trying to stay within a travel budget, this can be problematic. Like it or not it’s to everyone’s advantage to stay within budget (as that is one of the goals everyone has at my company).

          But if it makes you feel any better my company did the whole standing/convertible desk thing and a higher percentage use them than I thought would. So maybe there is hope ;)

          1. Win*

            I like to think there is hope!
            And unlike the other comments imply, I am not suggesting measuring asses or only hiring skinny people.

            Our current policy is if anyone wants to upgrade their seat they are free to do so at their own expense. We have one employee who routinely upgrades to first class. He does not have to do this, but it makes a few hours of his life more comfortable. Which I tend to think is fair. Flight times differ, and upgrades can vary wildly, but wholesale upgrading just a certain size employee is unfair to me, and upgrading everyone may be out of the cards or unnecessary.

            However, flying in my industry is rare, so this issue does not come up much at all around my office.

        3. Observer*

          Well, maybe you do have a bunch of untrustworthy liars in your office. Perhaps you should rethink your hiring practices in that case. On the other hand, there may be another reason why the desks aren’t being used. Did you bother to ask? Or did you just assume it’s because your staff are lying liars who just want whatever they can get even if they don’t really want it?

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        Yeah, it makes me wonder, if someone worries their staff will be trying to cheat the system flying out to a conference, or to 2 days of meetings, why don’t they worry that the staff will be skipping workshops/putting fake meetings into their calendar that never happens, so they can have fun in a different city etc etc/faking their expenses etc etc

  16. Tom*

    As remark to OP #2 – i don`t understand the concept of ‘sick days’.
    But then, i`m not based in the US.

    If you are sick, the employer says ‘get well soon’ – no matter if it is 1, 3 or 10 days.
    Last year i have been down with flu 2 weeks. So then what? I`m not allowed to get sick anymore?

    But then, it would seem to an outsider, that working in the US resembles a lottery. Luck and chance play a larger role than they should.

    1. Airy*

      Sick days means paid sick leave, as opposed to just losing a day’s pay. This is not just a problem in the US – although the US is one of the worst developed countries in the world for workers’ rights, here in New Zealand employers can also be stingy about sick leave or demanding about doctors’ notes for absences. Not to mention warning you your job will be in danger if you keep getting sick so much, as if that warning meant you could pull your socks up and become immune to infection. You may detect mild bitterness from a person who easily gets sick in winter and doesn’t recover quickly.

      1. Kate H*

        I almost envy LW #2. I have 5 days PTO (that I earned after working for the company for a year) and those can’t be used for sick leave. We get 4 call-in sick days a year–all unpaid–with the added kicker that if you go over, you start to lose PTO. These can be waived, but only if you get a doctor’s note that must be turned in the day you return to work or it doesn’t count.

        Down with the flu for 2 weeks? Tough luck, you’d better get to work or have a doctor’s note for every extra day that you stayed home.

        1. EPLawyer*

          My husband’s company just started paid sick days. The state law changed so they HAD to do it. Before, not only did you not get paid if you called out, you got a point. Too many points in a quarter/year and you could be fired. So you got penalized for being sick.

          Oh and its a factory so going in sick when you aren’t paying attention 100% could endanger yourself or others.

          Yes there is a union. Notice it took a state law change to get sick days.

          1. Arjay*

            I’m curious, did the state law affect the points system at all? I have a decent PTO allotment and my husband has sick time, but any “unplanned absence” still results in attendance points.

        2. Tom*

          It kind of fits in with the image we have of the US.
          Getting seriously ill will bankrupt you.
          Crazy medical cost, hardly any serious insurance…

          I live in The Netherlands – working for an American company though – but they have to follow local law.
          If you get sick here – insurance takes over if it takes too long, but you will not lose time off due to something you cannot help (like getting flu).
          All things considered, i`m not contemplating moving there anymore to work (i could though) – as the situation there seems against ‘normal working people’.
          Pity, as there is so much nice things to see, and a lot of nice people.. but going there just to get either fired because it`s monday, or going bankrupt due to the flu.. no.

          (and i realize it`s not the same in every state – but that just adds to our confusion – isn`t it ‘one country’ then)

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            The country name “United States of America” really does describe it — we’re a federated republic of individual states.
            The debate is endless about what’s the correct role for federal government vs state governments. Some is nicely in the US Constitution — but so much isn’t. There was a whole war about whether or not states are allowed to break away. (Maybe that view of the US Civil War will put Brexit into a different light for some readers…at least they’re not shooting!)
            The thing that drives me most nuts is driving rules. In my life I’ve moved states 4 times. I hate to think how many hours that meant I wasted at various DMV buildings (Department of Motor Vehicles) –retesting for my driver’s license, reregistering my car, updating the property tax paperwork for the car) and how much money others waste when they don’t know that a particular state has a different driving rule when they drive through it. If I ran the zoo, we’d have a Bureau of Motor Vehicles* and sure all the states could tax at different rates, but at least the basic rules would be the same.
            *Although I could be talked into organizing it with the National Transportation Safety Board.

          2. wittyrepartee*

            It’s essentially 50 countries with a blunt instrument of a federal system that occasionally whacks messed up policies back into place. Additionally, the US has weird little alliances between regions- so states in the Northeast have a tendency to do what other Northeast states do, and they have a looser but still existent relationship with California.

            Anyway, we’re working on it (I’m in public health in NYC)- but the states are very unforgiving with anyone who gets sick. There’s also a lot of cultural pressure to just work through sickness.

          3. Win*

            In the US, we have insurance too. We have insurance for just about everything… but not everyone buys it. You are not required to buy insurance you do not want here which may be the difference.

            I do not believe your perception of the US being anti worker is accurate, though there are plenty of companies I would not want to work for. The main difference is the US does not REQUIRE all companies to offer x very generous benefit. Businesses must sell themselves to a qualified worker to gain their employment, and offering good benefits helps.

            1. Teapot marketer*

              The difference between insurance systems is that Tom’s employer likely pays the insurance premiums for sick leave, like a Short Term Disability plan which is employer-funded and mandatory. Anyone can always get insurance for anything, but in the US it would likely be employee-funded and expensive, so a very different concept.

              Some employers in non-US countries are working toward a system similar to this employer-funded sick leave system with few constraints (would require a doctor’s note after maybe 10 days, and not indefinite as it becomes Long Term Disability at some point)

        3. RoadsLady*

          I was like “10? Sounds good”.
          Then again, I’m a teacher and the public doesn’t always like us having days off.

    2. Jennifer Juniper*

      In the US, it’s common in some circles to blame people for getting sick because they didn’t eat enough veggies/eat meat/are “ungrateful” or “negative”/didn’t pray enough/don’t meditate/don’t do yoga/don’t use alternative medicine.

      1. Oxford Comma*

        In my experience, people who have very good constitutions and seldom get ill seem to think this is the norm. that may be because you didn’t do the above, but I’ve seen it phrased simply as “if you need more than 24 hours to recover from a cold, there’s something wrong with you.”

        It pops up in the comments here all the time.

          1. Lissa*

            Might not help! I have a weirdly robust immune system and me getting sneezed on by a germy baby would probably result in nothing more than me being kinda grossed out, lol. But, I also realize that I am the lucky one!

        1. Traffic_Spiral*

          Psh, that’s all just new-age claptrap. Now, rub an onion on the afflicted part and bury the onion in the back yard, and you’ll be fine.

            1. Traffic_Spiral*

              No wonder you’re sick. Where are you supposed to bury the jar full of broken glass that traps the evil spirits?

        1. Win*

          It is acknowledging that we have some amount of control over our lives and that good decisions have good outcomes.

          People have become very quick to write off any situation or decision as being put on them, as if nothing is within their control. I do not think this mentality is good for people. And I get tired of hearing the grumblings of pain and tired over the sounds of another candy wrapper hitting the trashcan. That is all.

        2. Win*

          You are right. I would delete it if I could… I believe I have succumbed to the “toxicworkplace”

          My apologies.

      2. whingedrinking*

        I remember reading a while back about an American politician who thought that menstruation could be turned off at will, so people who think sickness is a consequence of “being negative” shouldn’t shock me. And yet, here we are.

        1. Kat in VA*

          Well, technically it can, if you choose to take hormonal birth control pills continuously*, but it can come with a whole host of unpleasant (and even deadly) side effects that some women are not willing to risk. But the stupidity of WHY DO THE LAYDEEZ CHOOSE TO GO THROUGH THEIR PERIODS EVERY MONTH IF THEY DON’T HAVE TO is just…baffling.

          *I do just this. However, I’m well aware that this method would not work for many women.

    3. I coulda been a lawyer*

      It’s a little worse than you think. Unpaid sick time usually isn’t a thing. So if you get 10 paid days off per year, but you miss 15 days because you’re sick, you can get fired for missing the extra 5 days. And “luck” generally means lucky enough to work for a large company that knows how to follow the law.

      1. veggiewolf*

        Or, as just happened to a colleague of mine, have a negative performance review and then not qualify for a bonus because your illness was “inconvenient” for your manager.

          1. Airy*

            And that starts at school with certificates given out for “perfect attendance” as if it were an achievement rather than just good luck not to have been sick or hurt all term/year.

            1. Lissa*

              Darnit, don’t take away the one thing I was actually good at in school – showing up!! /joking mostly.

      2. Win*

        Above 50 employees and after 12 months employment, FMLA should protect employees for the example above.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          But you have to invoke FMLA and jump through a parade of hoops. It isn’t automatic.

          1. Win*

            Yes that is true. As I have learned more about FMLA all I really feel like I have learned is that it is designed to be difficult and more confusing than necessary.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              Yep, the paranoia of “but what if somewhere, somehow, someone figures out how to game the system? We better make it as terrible as possible for everyone who is legitimately going through a sh*tty time of it” is strong with FMLA.

              1. fposte*

                I remember when the legislation was in the process of being passed that the conversation was rich with whataboutism, some of which ended up in the legislation. (The shared leave between parents being the big example for me. Really? With 50 employees they can’t cope with both parents being on leave for 12 weeks?)

      3. Zephy*

        Unpaid sick time is a thing if you don’t get PTO to begin with, which part-time employees (working 30 or fewer hours per week) generally don’t. OldJob was part-time, so I got precisely zero benefits. I worked 4 days a week, so calling in sick meant taking a 25% pay cut for that week. Unless I could make it up later, which wasn’t always the case. We were paid weekly and the week ran Monday to Sunday, and I was scheduled Monday/Thursday/Friday/Saturday – I wasn’t available to work Sundays, so if I got sick at the end of the week, I had no choice but to take that pay cut.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Part-time and a huge group of lower income service jobs. Our state changed the law so they have to provide 6.5 paid sick days a year for full time work (1 hour for every 40 hours worked). But I know people who get that, and nothing more. No paid holidays, no vacation. If you don’t want to work on Thanksgiving, then you won’t be paid. Before the state law changed, some places offered no paid leave at all. (That included most restaurant workers.)

          Unpaid sick time is totally a thing.

    4. fnom*

      Paid sick time. Which means that if you don’t receive it as a benefit (normally, x hours of paid sick time for every y hours worked), every day you’re out sick, you are not earning money. This usually leads to people for whom budgeting is very tight still going to work while sick, even when they’re contagious, because they cannot afford not to. This is especially prevalent in retail, food service, and other low-paying industries.

      I worked in a well-known US chain retail store, part time, averaging 30 hours/week, for three years. Part time employees at this particular chain did not earn sick time, although full time employees did. Corporate instituted a policy that if someone called out sick, they had to use paid sick time, no exceptions. I called out sick twice in my last year–the first time I was unable to leave the bathroom, and the second time I was in the ER due to a miscarriage. Remember that policy about having to use sick time, and also that I didn’t earn any as a part-time worker? Yeah. I got written up both times. If I’d been sick enough to call out a third time, I would have been fired for attendance reasons. And it would be perfectly legal for them to do so! I managed to find a new job before that happened, and my situation is much more stable now, but I do not shop at the blue-and-yellow electronics chain at all because I know how badly they treat their employees.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        I worked at a private extracurricular school that had a policy, 2 absences every 4 months. But because it was an extracurricular school and most of the students were 3-8 years old, everyone was constantly sick with kid-germs. And because you weren’t allowed to take time off when sick, everyone came to work sick.

        I started making alternative plans about a month in, when I’d been sick 20 out of the 30 days and missed my entire second week of work. I left around the 90 day mark, when I’d racked up over 60 days of illness. They thought I was a problem employee: it took me another 6 months for my immune system to recover.

    5. Beatrice*

      You don’t have any kind of limit on paid sick leave, in your country? How do you get anything done?

      The US has a long way to go on minimum protections for workers, for certain. My company offers much better than the minimum, but around 5% of the workers in my division abuse it expertly. If we had unlimited paid sick leave, they’d simply never come to work.

      1. Bagpuss*

        I can’t speakfor the Netherlands. I am in the UK. Here, most jobs have a certain number of paid sick days per year, when you are paid your normal rate.
        Then there is ‘Stattory Sick Pay’ which pays a flat rate for periods when you have been sick for more than 3 consecutive days – it’s funded by the employer and for most people is higher than unemployment benefkits but lower than their normal pay.
        If you are off sick for long enough your employer may dismiss you for capcity (being unable to carry out your job)
        Public service jobs often have much more generous siock leave policies than private secort. I belive that my sister would be paid her full wage for 6 months and then half pay for a further 6 if she were off lomg term, for instamce.
        Stuff gats done becuase most people only take time off if they are actually sick.

        Businesses can request a fit note from a doctor – most will have periods for which you can ‘self certifiy’ and then require a docotors note if you are off for longer.

      2. Arctic*

        I’m in the US but work for a state government with a LOT of sick leave. That kind of abuse is not common at all here.

        1. Emily K*

          Yeah, I have found that companies which:

          1) offer a reasonable amount of leave
          2) treat employees like trustworthy adults (not requiring doctor’s notes for short absences, allowing some time flexing where possible in the job, letting sick employees work from home)

          don’t have much trouble with leave abuse. It’s the companies who are giving insufficient leave and assuming every employee is out to scam them, where employees are more prone to abuse. In the case of #1, necessity drives people to scheme for more sick days if they just don’t have enough. In the case of #2, people tend to live up or down to the expectations you set for them. When you show people you trust them, the great majority of people will be motivated to show they’re worthy of that trust and will self-police. When you treat people like they can’t be trusted, they have no incentive to self-police because you’ve already put so many infantalizing rules in place, and you’re also sending the message that cheating the system must be relatively normal/common if all these rules had to be developed to prevent it, and if it’s that common why should I be the one goody-goody who isn’t gaming the system?

        2. Going anon*

          Same. Most people maybe average 3-5 days a year. You have outliers like people with chronic or severe illnesses, but most people don’t abuse it.

      3. Win*

        Yes I see it all the time too. Generally we have a class of employees that will magically be out sick the day after they accumulate their 8th hour.

        Then get very upset when they are actually sick, have no paid time off, and wonder how everyone else can afford to be sick.

        Same that will make sure they schedule in to the minute their balance of leave at the end of the year. I mean to the damn minute. That is not what these benefits are designed for.

        1. Yorick*

          If by “leave” you mean vacation or personal time, then that is actually what the benefit is designed for.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          I know what you mean. I’ve watched two highly-paid professionals fuss and go over my boss’ head because they felt they should be getting full-time PTO for part-time work. They’re making more than most of us will ever see, they work part-time, they had PTO – and it wasn’t enough. One of them scheduled her PTO to the minute, too.

          1. Win*

            These kinds of employees are the death of common sense policy. Our handbook would be 3 pages long instead of 30 if it weren’t for these people.

            Same kind of person that would pitch a fit if they heard of someone getting an upgrade and they flew in the back of the plane that one time. So and So got extra peanuts!

            Behind every rule is a story.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              Yes, and this is the reason we have laws too. If everyone was reasonable and decent, most laws wouldn’t be needed.

  17. cncx*

    As someone who used to be big enough to need a second seat but has since lost the weight, i am glad i work for a company that has a pretty generous Business Class rule for business travel. Simply having people fly business for business trips eliminates the discussion of a second seat completely, even in Europe (where business on short haul is usually the same seat in a row of three with the middle free). We are given the option on short haul to fly economy under four hours if the ticket is significantly cheaper, but that has to come from us. Another company i know, to save money, lets people fly economy and take an extra PTO day for long-haul- so there are always options to save money that don’t involve fat shaming.

    Coincidentally, i just injured my knee, and i wouldn’t be able to fly economy in the medium term for that as well. It doesn’t have to be difficult, and weight doesn’t even need to come into it. Taking care of employees is a thing and there’s a reason business class is called “business” class.

    1. Lucy*

      Exactly. Business class “luxury” is actually simply what you need to be able to hit the ground running when you arrive at your destination.

  18. Jennifer Juniper*

    Given the way airlines are shrinking the seat width, pretty soon normal-weight people will have to buy two seats just to travel as well. *glares at airline bean-counters*

      1. Win*

        I am not sure you understand what the word normal means here.

        a 500 lb person is not normal and an airline shouldn’t have to design every seat on the plane to accommodate that. If they did you would pay 2x what you pay now to fly.

          1. Kj*

            Maybe “more typical” or “towards the median weight” would be better phrasing? But I don’t think it is wrong to say most furniture, seats, etc, assume most people are within a certain range of size. 500lbs is an outlier weight, as is 75lb (for an adult). We are somewhat better setup to accommodate smaller bodies as many places are set up to accommodate kids who are smaller than adults (usually).

          2. Teapot marketer*

            Depends how you define it. Human weight / mass is easily approximated to a normal curve, with a mean and standard deviation. ‘Normal’ can be described as within one standard deviation. 500lbs is not one standard deviation.

            1. fposte*

              In general the term “average” is preferred over “normal” when discussing human characteristics. You can have skin colors outside of a standard deviation too, but that hardly makes them abnormal.

              1. Teapot marketer*

                I don’t think ‘normal’ is a good term, because there isn’t a standard definition or understanding, which was kind of the point I was trying to make (although admittedly not well).

                Average isn’t much better, and I wouldn’t use ‘normal’ for skin colour as they can’t be described with a normal curve (I don’t know how one would start quantifying skin colour, although there are likely ways, but it is likely much more complex than a body’s width which is a single value).

                The talk of stats definitions is likely way beyond AAM’s scope, but to bring it back to the topic – I think that any values (height, weight, width, etc) which are outside an airline’s typical scope are good reason to request accommodation. The fact that the airlines are building planes to accommodate 60%* of the population, rather than 95%*, means that seats are cheaper than they would be otherwise, so companies should be willing to pay extra for those who require it. Think of it this way – if airlines can fit an extra 20% more people, based on shrinking the available space, and therefore reduce the fares by 25%, then companies should be more than willing to spend an extra 25% on extra seats, more leg room, etc in order to fly their employees (I don’t think the 25% should be a cap, especially since I made up the numbers, but hopefully my point makes sense – there is a reason that airlines are charging more for ‘extras’)

                * I made up the numbers, but my point is still valid

              2. Win*

                If I heard someone say average skin color I would picture a mixture if typical skin colors. Who has an average skin color?

                If I heard normal skin color I would picture skin colors within expected norms… you know, like people you see throughout the day. Abnormal skin color might be purple or actual white skin. I would have said someone with albinism is abnormal… that inst meant to be harmful, but by definition their skin color is not normal.

                1. Oryx*

                  Intent doesn’t really matter here. If you are thinking of any one in terms of “normal” vs. “abnormal” — whether it is body size or skin color — it’s harmful. Words matter.

                2. Win*

                  I guess we can agree to disagree here.

                  Someone with a third arm would be abnormal. That is not negative, it is just the way it is. I guess you could also say they had an above average number of arms if you prefer average vs normal.

      2. Glutton*

        A healthy BMI person (currently the minority)*

        A normal weight person*

        What about these?

  19. Ajana*

    #1: I don’t know why companies will figure this out when airlines can’t. Many airlines won’t come out and flatly deny only one seat for “passengers of size”. The risk of offence is too high, and many airlines would rather inconvenient other passengers who end up having to “share” part of their seat with the passenger of size.

    Air France gives very clear dimensions for its seats but still doesn’t say “if your body mass doesn’t fit in the seat, you must buy a second one”; it sticks to suggestions.

    As for people knowing they will need an additional seat, this is not the case.

    Should companies pay the extra? Yes. But in a world (well certain countries) where anyone who many cost the company more (e.g. illness, smoker) might be denied a job, I understand the reluctance of people to dare suggest it.

  20. Harper the Other One*

    #2 – I live in Canada and I get annoyed EVERY YEAR when flu season rolls around and they issue the official recommendation to stay home at least a week if you get sick with flu. Because that may be the official national health recommendation but nobody in retail, food service, etc. has that kind of sick time.

    #3 – would it help to reframe that comment as directed at your company, not you? After all, you had no control over whether you were sent, and the comment was about COMPANIES sending employees of true appropriate level. It was still rude, and I’m sure it stung to hear it, but I don’t think the commenter thought ill of you personally.

  21. Four lights*

    As a note, airline seats are so small now. The width of my husband’s shoulders is wider than the seat.

    1. Kat in VA*

      I’m 5’8″ and a size four*. I fit into an airline seat, barely. I am objectively not a larger sized person, and airline seats are uncomfortable for me.

      *which could mean a size 2 or a size 10 depending on the clothes. But that’s a rant for a different day.

  22. Jessica*

    So, it was somewhat awkward to bring up, but my company couldn’t figure out how to book 2 seats, so now when I travel for work they book me in first class.

    1. Hannah*

      Not a bad result (unless it’s a small plane where the first class doesn’t make any difference)! I don’t know why they couldn’t figure out how to buy 2 seats – you just buy two seats and make sure to pick seats that are adjacent to each other. Put “ExtraSeat” as the first name and your last name as the last name.

  23. Marion Ravenwood*

    OP #2: I’m guessing where you work doesn’t have WFH options? If I’m wrong and you do, could this be what the note means (i.e. ‘don’t come into the office’ rather than ‘don’t work full stop’)? Or is that something you could potentially negotiate for with your boss as an option for when you’re sick and/or have appointments?

  24. FinallyFriday*

    OP1 I absolutely think that the business should be covering the cost of a second seat, and I think your idea of a quiet blanket policy going out to all is the right way to go. However I will add that I think one of the thoughts you had is not great, and that’s upgrading certain employees to business or first class. I know if my company had a policy that you had to fly coach unless the airline required you to buy two seats And some employees got to take business I would be livid. Especially the first time I was on a flight with one of those employees. It’s not fair to ask those employees to pay extra, but it’s also not fair to offer that perk to only some employees.

    1. A.*

      I agree! I have back issues and I would be very annoyed if I was struggling in economy while my coworker got to fly business class. The seats in economy often times aggravate my back. Especially during long flights.
      I don’t have an issue with booking two seats in economy for one person. But if they are going to book business class for some employees, then they should book it for all.

      1. ChimericalOne*

        If you also need an accommodation, you should ask for one. Not resent those who got an accommodation because they asked.

        For those who don’t need the accommodation, I can see why you’d be annoyed, but it’s short-sighted. You *wouldn’t* rather be them most of the time, so don’t resent them the one time that you would. It’s like resenting someone in a motorized wheelchair because you’ve been on your feet all day. They don’t have that “advantage” because they’re lucky. They have it because they’re not.

        1. A.*

          My opinion is the more fair accommodation is to book two economy seats rather than a business class seat. There is a world of difference between a business class seat and an economy seat, especially on international flights. And many companies do require international travel and they do not always book business class seats.

          Also, I do not understand your comparison. Are you saying it is better to have a bad back than to be overweight?

          If a company is going to start making accommodations, then they should make it clear that they are offered across board. That includes tall people, people with bad knees. It should be a policy in place that everyone can benefit from.

          1. Someone Else*

            Even if two economy seats = $1400 but one business class seat is $900? Yes, it’s a business expense and the business should cover whatever that is, but I don’t see how chucking out the window a substantial price difference between two potential means of accommodation makes any sense.

        2. Lissa*

          The problem I see with this specific issue is that I’d argue many/most people experience at least *some* discomfort in economy class, and would be much more comfortable in business. It just wouldn’t occur to most people to ask for an accommodation as they probably don’t “need” it – but dang it would be really really nice to not have any pain/discomfort when flying.

      2. Emily K*

        What if the business class seat costs less than two coach seats? That wouldn’t be uncommon. Are you saying the company should spend more just to make sure the employee doesn’t get more luxury than they’re entitled to?

        1. A.*

          I’m saying if they are going to offer business class tickets based on certain accommodations, then they should adopt a policy to offer business class tickets for ALL accommodations.

          1. Thor*

            Your frustration is misplaced though. If you’re not getting accommodation for you back you should be directing ire at the company who is not providing accommodation and that ire should be equal if someone else is or is not getting it for something else.

        2. FinallyFriday*

          I’m saying that you need to be careful with it. If you’re not going to allow everyone to fly business class, then it’s unfair. I think there’s a fine line between accommodation and perk here since those two classes of seats are so dramatically different. If the company allows all employees to fly business class then I’m good with it.

  25. Lucy*

    OP#1 – my spouse is Very Tall, to the extent that some airlines won’t fly him in Economy seats for safety reasons. In his OldJob his company was always having to pay the extra to book him an extra legroom seat or Economy Plus / Premium Economy etc, even sometimes Business class if there were no other suitable seats at short notice.

    In the general scheme of business costs it is really a tiny, tiny factor and you absolutely should give a second thought to meeting your employees’ needs in this way, but if you think there will be pushback from the higher ups then height might be a useful comparison. That’s a whole step before you get into how medical conditions can cause weight gain and you absolutely wouldn’t want to get into assessing the reasons for an individual’s size (welp) compared to the completely fair blanket policy of “get everyone a seat they can use”.

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      It’s nobody’s business why someone is the size they are. Anybody who asks that kind of thing deserves whatever reply they get – including rudeness.

      1. Lucy*

        Exactly. Nobody would ask my spouse why he is Very Tall, they’d just book him a seat he can use. The same should apply for people whose width precludes the standard/cheapest seats.

  26. Perpal*

    NGL I find it strange that the airplanes themselves don’t have to accommodate; they’re the ones shrinking the seats :P Next thing you know over half of people will have to buy two seats :P

    1. Perpal*

      Srsly, my husband is tall, 6″8′, and if we don’t buy the right seat he gets his knees crushed if the person in front chooses to recline. I kind of hate shelling out the extra $40 or whatever (and usually giving up underseat stow in the process because it’s usually for a bulkhead seat) but we don’t have any alternatives right now.

      1. Loux in Canada*

        I’m a small person (5’7″ and basically a stick figure), but I have really long legs and I have this problem on buses and stuff ALLLL the time. Also at my work, we desk share, and I constantly come to a desk and am trying to figure out what kind of mutants were sitting in it because the seat is all the way down and the screens are like all the way up. Who are these people with super long torsos?! But I guess that’s closer to the norm… I’m taking my first flight in years (and first ever solo flight!) in two weeks and I paid for economy basic, because I’m poor lol… so I am worried about seat room. But the flights are only like an hour and a half long each so I’m sure I’ll survive.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          I’m 5’3″, and my question is- does everyone who is taller than me really enjoy those neck rests? I hope they’re awesome, because for me they’re just the thing that makes me sit with my head tilted forward for a few hours.

          1. emmelemm*

            Yeah, as a really short person with neck problems, the headrests are the worst part of flying.

  27. Loux in Canada*

    I have no idea what the price difference is between coach and business/first class seats, but I feel like it would just be easier on all fronts for the company to buy them a not-coach seat, if possible? As far as I know, sometimes in first class you have rows of single seats, so you don’t have to sit next to anyone. Then you wouldn’t be dealing with lots of people judging and being like “why does that person have two seats!!” I dunno, though. I know nothing about air travel (spooky, considering I take my first solo flight in two weeks!). The company should definitely foot the bill either way.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      Like a lot of stuff with air travel, it varies a lot and depends on some mysterious behind-the-scenes algorithm or possibly someone throwing darts at a big chart somewhere. Most airlines that I’ve dealt with will update their prices constantly to reflect demand, so I have seen some flights where for whatever reason a Business ticket ends up costing nearly the same as a Premium Economy. That’s quite rare, though – usually Business is substantially more expensive than any variety of Economy, and I’ve never even booked a First. (I’ve seen ones where the quoted prices are well into five figures.) So although absolutely the company should be making whatever accommodations necessary if they want people to travel, a lot of businesses probably might not want a blanket Business/First-only policy for all travellers as the costs could rack up REALLY fast. I only deal with international travel, though, so this might differ for internal US flights.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Consider asking about bulkhead seats — the ones next to a wall. Not great if you’re claustrophbobic, and the ones next to emergency exits are restricted to people who can assist in emergencies, but if you’re OK with those… tell the person booking your seats your legs are longer than average and ask for one of these.

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      Eh, it depends. I’ve seen first class/business cost more than twice as much as economy, and I’ve seen it cost only 30% more.

      Seat size depends too. “First class” seats on some smaller planes aren’t much wider than economy seats! You get more legroom, but the width may be below 20″. It’s worth checking out a site like to make sure the seat width would be adequate.

  28. Dave from the Bronx*

    #1 – I’m a big guy and I wouldn’t be comfortable sitting in one seat. We already have a lot to deal with the stigma of traveling while big – people looking at you hoping that they’re not sitting next to you and the general anxiety of hoping no one makes a scene while boarding or on the plane.

    I spoke with a person coordinating the logistics for attending a conference that required air travel. I brought this up and proposed that I pay the difference between the current seat and upgrading to first class – it was the most affordable solution instead of paying for 2 extra seats round trip. In the future, I’ll ask them to cover 100% of the cost but still working with them to help find ways to manage that increase in cost.

    1. Kitryan*

      I did the same thing when traveling for a work retreat- I paid for the difference between 1st and economy. While my company is pretty good in a lot of ways I didn’t feel comfortable asking for 2 seats or for a 1st class seat to be covered 100% by them. This probably was partly because the event wasn’t a working trip but rather a ‘treat’, which only certain staff are permitted to attend.

    2. Earthwalker*

      Yes! “People of size” are not limited to overweight people (who don’t deserve to be shamed) or even tall people. As a person who actually fits in a regular seat, I was seated between two fit, broad-shouldered guys and felt quite squeezed, since shoulders on both sides overlapped my center seat space. I don’t imagine the fellows were much more comfortable with that than I was. It would be helpful if businesses would make some sort of arrangement for seating their travelers in adequate space, whether first class or double seat. If they object to the cost they should put the pressure on the airline providers who do not provide adequate seat space for average people.

  29. Still_searching*

    #1 -With the Business frequent flyer programs (seperate from the personal programs), business’ can accommodate the need for two seats, along with clever, efficient use of travel the company can stay within budget. When second seat accommodation is required, I believe some airlines even offer a discount on the second seat needed. This should not be an issue.

    1. Hannah*

      I wish they offered a discount on the second seat! I haven’t found one yet that does. But there are 2 that I know of that will refund the cost of the second seat if the plane wasn’t full.

  30. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    Could I ask a practical question? How does booking a second coach seat work? Do you have to call the airline to make the reservation? Are there airlines that don’t offer this or airlines that do this better?

    I often book travel for other people – job candidates, consultants, or employees. I have not had this come up yet, but I would like to be prepared when it does. Are there good travel tip websites anyone could recommend?

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I don’t know about other airlines, but for Southwest, you enter your same name for two seat reservations, and in the second one put “XS” (extra seat) as a middle initial, so that the airline knows it’s an extra seat booking and won’t look for a second ticket.

    2. noahwynn*

      Every airline I’ve ever worked for had a method to accomplish this. Generally, the easiest way is to book two tickets at the cheapest price and use the same name/DOB for both. Then call reservations with your confirmation number and they can add the IATA standard EXST (which stands for Extra Seat) special service request and accomplish everything to make sure the two seats follow each other even if there is an aircraft change and your seat assignments need to change.

      Some airlines limit you from booking Basic Economy style fares because those don’t allow you to have a seat assignment until check-in.

      I’ve had some passengers who are claustrophobic book an extra seat just so they had more space on a flight, so it isn’t always passengers of size.

    3. Hannah*

      I’ve almost always done it by buying two seats online and I put “ExtraSeat” as the first name and my last name as the last name. I use my own date of birth. It hasn’t caused any problems, only a couple gate agents who didn’t know why I was giving them two boarding passes to scan at first.
      The only time I called an airline, it took so long because the ticketing agent didn’t know how to indicate extra seat.
      Anyway, someone else mentioned it above but is a great resource for seeing the seat width and pitch on specific airlines/planes.

  31. boop the first*

    3. Yikes, how uncomfortable enough without the snobby comment. Though when they said that, suddenly you had something to contribute! Such as, a brief explanation as to why you were sent (you were misled). And maybe a tip about how saying “no offense” doesn’t free up a person to be offensive with impunity. Or maybe for a meeting this intimate, that person’s employer should have sent someone with decent interpersonal skills (no offense! heh).

    1. Naomi*

      You’re not wrong that the comment was tactless, but given that OP was by far the lowest-ranking person in the room, the power dynamics weren’t favorable for them to call it out in the moment.

    2. Lucy*

      “No offence” means “I am about to say something offensive” in the same way that “I’m not racist/sexist but” means “I am about to say something racist/sexist.” Venn diagram is a circle, etc.

  32. RPCV*

    If I were LW#2 I would be sorely tempted to reply all with “Then give us sick time.

    I mean, seriously, your HR sucks. To send such an abrupt email, in light of the fact that your company doesn’t really offer sick time is egregiously tone deaf and rude and I’d be tempted to respond in kind.

    But Alison’s advice is way better.

    1. Bostonian*

      Ugh. I’m with you. Rude emails like that really push my buttons. The fact that people actually CAN’T stay home when they’re sick makes it even worse.

      I’m sure there are many other people besides OP who found this email off-putting. Now is definitely a good time to push for some sick day benefits!

  33. BN*

    #3 – This happened to me too and Allison is right – one day you will look back on it as a funny story. In my case, I was an intern at a DC progressive advocacy non-profit. About a year after September 11, all of the major national civil rights and civil liberties orgs held a two-day retreat to discuss strategy in responding to policies like the Patriot Act, increased surveillance, crackdowns on immigrant communities, etc. My boss wasn’t available so my office sent me. I was completely out of place and I’m sure it was painfully obvious. I took a lot of notes, mostly learned how much I didn’t know, and did my best not to say anything completely stupid. And I survived and lived to laugh about it. No one said anything but I’m sure they were thinking it.

  34. W*

    An entire trip was cancelled for my department when our boss’s boss realized one colleague would not be able to fit into one airplane seat, or the seat belt extender. They did not want to embarrass them, and sending everyone but that person would have singled them out. I appreciated the sensitivity, but overall it held us all back because we were to meet several people we dealt with daily at another location.

      1. W*

        The other issue was we were visiting our distribution center for a tour, which would mean a lot of walking and being on our feet for several hours. My colleague could not walk more than a few feet and had to be dropped off by her husband each morning right at our front door. I’m not sure how that would have played out, and I’m sure it would have been embarrassing for her to use a cart for the tour while we all walked.

        1. ChimericalOne*

          It would’ve been much, much better for them to have spoken to her about accommodations than to have just made some assumptions & canceled for everyone. I very much doubt that that’s the option she would’ve chosen. Maybe she would’ve bowed out. But maybe she would’ve decided she could get over the embarrassment and embrace the opportunity with accommodation. (But again, I doubt she would’ve picked “no one should go.”)

          1. ChimericalOne*

            I mean, good intentions & everything, but that’s not actually very sensitive. Sensitivity looks like *checking in with the affected person,* not making decisions on their behalf.

          2. fposte*

            And she might not be embarrassed about using a mobility device. They’re things lots of people use. This really does seem like a well-meaning impulse that went in a weird direction.

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            Yeah, they sure made a lot of assumptions about what she’d be willing to do. And if they were concerned about her being embarrassed, letting at least one coworker know that the entire trip was cancelled due to her weight issues was… not a good move.

        2. Janie*

          …so the prescence of a disabled employee would cause your company to cancel an entire trip. That’s… something.

          1. Greg NY*

            That actually happens, often enough, in schools, where a field trip is canceled entirely rather than leaving a disabled student back if the nurse isn’t available to accompany the class on the trip. Unlike in this situation, it’s the law that such a student can’t be deprived of opportunities that the rest of the class gets, but the effect is much the same.

  35. Justin*

    I am glad I can still fit in the seats because I’m 5’5″, but it’s a no brainer that companies should have to make their employees comfortable. And if they don’t want to pay for such a thing, then they can just not have (far off) business trips (for anyone).

  36. Jo*

    Hey OP 3, it sounds like the mistake wasn’t on your end, although I understand it must have been awkward. Your letter reminded me of the entry level LW who made an error of judgement and signed themselves up for a conference that they didn’t realise was for director level employees , and unfortunately ended up getting fired. In your case it obviously wasn’t you that made the error of judgement, but if it makes you feel any better at least you weren’t in this situation! It sounds like you made the best use of time and hopefully it will prompt your company to look more carefully at this in the future!

  37. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    I have anxiety and sensory issues around being touched/crowded in, and I have to travel a lot this year.

    I have many thoughts about this letter, but to stick to rules, (I have had terrible experiences flying next to people who didn’t fit, so I panicked- the unwanted touch can send me into an anxiety spiral), I’ll just say that regardless of who pays, the people should absolutely get two seats! If cost is a concern, some airlines refund the second seat if the flight isn’t full.

    1. W*

      I totally get this, I do not like being touched by anyone-doctors, hair stylists, you name it. When I have flown and had a stranger spilling into my seat it made me extremely uncomfortable. I doesn’t matter if the person is extra tall or overweight, if you invade my personal space that I paid for it will be very upsetting and nerve wracking for me.

    2. Yorick*

      On the other hand, some airlines will oversell the seats on the plane and then fill the extra seat a fat person bought and not issue a refund.

  38. Annie*

    OP #5: I too worked as a freelancer in theater for several years, before transitioning to an office job. Since I was doing it full-time for about five years, I keep it listed on my resume in an “other experience” section. I’ve listed my experience as “Freelance xyz, 2009-2013. XYZ for various productions at theaters such as the Super Great Theater Co, the Fancypants Stage, and DoubleAwesome University.” I also temped in various offices while I was working as a full-time freelancer, so I was able to include those gigs as well when looking to get into a full-time professional role.

  39. I'm A Little Teapot*

    #1 – Given the shrinking of the airplane seating, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that people who are simply larger but not necessarily overweight will want 2 seats. I think it says more about the greed of the airlines honestly, but still. The problem isn’t confined to those who are clinically obese.

  40. Observer*

    #1 – It might help to re-frame the question to “Is it ever ok to refuse to pay travel expenses for a staff person?” You are not asking for extras for your staff – you are simply EXPECTING that OF COURSE the company will pay the basic cost of business travel.

  41. Goya de la Mancha*

    #2 – “because it would call attention to the inequality across the company.”

    Based on the facts from the letter – If someone is given more days/year based on years of service or if someone gives up other benefits to gain more days, is it really an “inequality” that needs to be addressed? As long as anyone who works there for X years is given Y days or has the opportunity to negotiate their PTO before hire. I agree that 10 days total for sick and vacation is no where near competitive or realistic, but I don’t know if I would qualify this as an inequity that needs to be fixed.

    1. pugs for all*

      what is considered competitive? My job gives 15 days (lump PTO, including sick days) and I feel this is low. I had to take time off without pay when I got sick last year which of course I was not happy about. This year I am trying to reserve a couple of days “just in case” but it is hard! I miss having dedicated sick days.

      1. Goya de la Mancha*

        YMMV – I’m guessing I’m in the lucky minority and that it will be very industry/location dependent.

        In my “professional” jobs/interviews, I’ve never come across less then 10 days vacation plus 10 sick days per year (prorated). Some have allowed rollover, some not. More so now that I’m getting up there in experience, rarely have I had a job offer that wouldn’t match my current sick time at least, most have matched sick and vacation. When I worked part time at a world wide bank in college, we were given 7 days PTO – I’m not sure if a full-timer would have gotten the same or more.

    2. Thor*

      It’s the same issue as unequal pay. Yes, some people may deserve more perks but some people may have an unearned worse situation. Just because everyone had the opportunity to negotiate upon hiring doesn’t mean the playing field was level then or the situation is the same.

  42. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    NGL, I wish I could have the option that some airlines do of being refunded the cost of a second seat where possible! Then I would get two seats for myself. I fit well in one, since I am 5’1”, but it would be great for my anxiety to have a buffer so no strangers touch me, especially when they end up doing so for the whole flight.

    1. Alldogsarepuppies*

      Are you saying you wish you could buy a second seat you don’t need so no one would sit next to you and then get refunded when you don’t need it, since you bought it to game the system?
      Likely if that were to happen they would let someone on standby on to the flight so you wouldn’t’ be alone, so even in a refund world you wouldn’t have your ideal outcome unless you refused the refund to keep the extra seat. .

    2. JKL*

      Nobody likes being squeezed in next to strangers for several hours. That’s a normal human reaction, not anxiety.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        Okay, but panic isn’t. It’s clear neither of you have experienced this level of anxiety.

          1. Me*

            Pretty flippant to suggest to someone because a solution works for you that it’s the solution for everyone.

            1. fposte*

              Sure; it was a flip comment in general. But in general the workplace-acceptable solution to phobias and psychological anathemas is always going to be within ourselves and not in rearranging or changing the behavior of other people. This is true whether we’re talking claustrophobia when flying or misophonia.

            2. Yorick*

              That’s why there’s Xanax and a range of other effective treatments for anxiety, is that better?

              1. Me*

                In the scheme of the original comment no not really. Poster expressed it would be nice if something was an option, not for advice on how to handle something.

                I too would love that option. I’m fully versed in what I can actually do for my anxiety.

          2. Dankar*

            Seriously? I’m usually a big fan of your comments, but suggesting prescription remedies to a stranger on the internet with no idea of the severity of their condition or financial situation is incredibly rude. There are a whole suite of reasons why someone might not pursue Xanax as a solution for their anxiety.

            I’m glad it worked for you, but it doesn’t for everyone. It always amazes me that commenters on this site are SO sensitive to like 95% of what we see in letters, but there are many who don’t even think twice about suggesting therapy/medication/exposure treatments to people with anxiety disorders.

            1. fposte*

              It was flip, as I said. Mostly I get irked when somebody opines that people disagree with them only because they don’t experience the same problem. That is almost always incorrect.

              But yes, I’m always going to recommend medical help to somebody with a medical problem. That one you and I may never agree on.

              1. Dankar*

                I don’t think it’s all that different from suggesting that an overweight LW should look into diet/exercise or whatever else. Which would be inappropriate because you’re not their doctor.

                People with anxiety or similar mental health disorders generally know they have a condition that needs to be addressed and are apprised of their options. And maybe you’re not the “best” person to make this point to, but it’s a trend I’ve been seeing more and more on this site.

            2. JKL*

              Therapy, medication and exposure treatment work really well for most people with anxiety disorders. Those are perfectly reasonable suggestions.

              1. Dankar*

                Yes, they do, which is why I’m aware of them. But I wouldn’t be throwing those ideas out to total strangers on the internet with no concrete knowledge about what they’re experiencing.

  43. Polymer Phil*

    OP 3 – I’m really surprised that some industries seem to have these semi-private conferences. In my industry, we’re a lot more paranoid about anti-trust regulations at conferences, and avoiding the perception of collusion. The event described here could be perceived as a bunch of top executives getting together and fixing prices, dividing up sales territories, etc, and probably wouldn’t fly in some industries even if it’s completely innocent.

  44. Cg1254*

    I just want to say that it does not matter why an employee is at one weight or another. Unless their weight directly affects job performance (hard labor, where being too small can hurt too), it is not relevant to the employer/coworkers. Even if they are fat because they eat 5000 twinkies a day, it does not matter unless it impacts their job performance — people deserve basic respect and acknowledgment of their skills at any size. My mom has a saying that nobody likes to be judged based on one characteristic (which I think applies to this).

  45. Allison*

    #1 Bigger people can’t win when they travel. You fly with one seat and people say it’s selfish, that you knew you’d be taking up half the other seat and bought it so someone else wouldn’t have to sit there. If you do get two seats, people think it’s greedy, like you’re “hogging” up all that extra room (yeah, all the extra room in that one seat in coach), and oh it must be nice to have all that extra space while everyone else is cramped next to some stranger. The unfortunate fact is that some people who need the extra seat for personal travel can barely afford one seat, let alone two, and that can make going to see friends and family extra tough, but if you’re a company paying for an employee to fly for business reasons, you should comp that extra seat, or bigger seat, for anyone who needs it.

  46. Random Obsessions*

    #1 Also remind the director that only choosing to let the ‘thinner’ people travel for business would make for 1) bad optics and 2) discrimination cases (not sure which grounds) because travelling for the company usually allows the employee to negotiate better for advancement because it proves they were given responsibility.

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Well, fat isn’t a discrimination-protected class, and I don’t think the optics would be affected – people are probably not going to notice “gee, isn’t it weird that I’ve never seen X company send any obese people to this conference?” I mean, it’s a sorta-shitty thing to do to your extra-fat employees, but it’s not going to get noticed outside the company or cause any liability.

      1. Me*

        It’s not a sorta-shitty thing to do. It’s an absolutely shitty terrible thing to do. As for optics, if I knew a company placed more importance on appearance than ability to do a job, I would not want to work for them or give them my business. It shows bad judgement.

        1. fposte*

          Sure, but how are you going to find out? And how often is the occasion where you find out going to tie neatly to a situation where you have several good choices and can afford to reject this one?

          Put it another way: companies have discriminated like this for decades, and I don’t see any sign that it’s hurt them.

        2. Traffic_Spiral*

          Well, they’re not placing importance on appearance here, they’re placing importance on not buying the extra airplane seat – which is probably not something you’re ever going to know about.

          1. Me*

            It is about appearance, the ticket is merely symptom.

            There are industries who have gotten busted for discriminating against larger people. Currently a very famous lingerie company isn’t doing so hot. Retailers are especially prone to these optics such as a certain company that is barely relevant after it came to light they stuck the unattractive people in the stock room. Further employees do tend to pick up on the fact that the obese person is never allowed to travel. This is such gross behavior that chances are really good that if a company is okay with treating a heavier employee differently, they have lots of other problems with not treating their employees with value. An extra seat just isn’t that much money.

            Yes, it’s easier to get away with, but that doesn’t make it right nor justifiable. A response should never be well they’re gonna get away with it so *shrug*.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        I wouldn’t assume it won’t be noticed outside the company. And even if it does go unnoticed, people are going to leave that organization to work for others, and are going to talk about how they or their coworker were the most qualified person to go to a conference, but weren’t allowed because they were too overweight.

      3. Lucille2*

        It could be an optics issue inside the company. If there is someone in the company who is the subject matter expert in all things teapot design, and the company is consistently sending someone less experienced to conferences, people might take notice. And it absolutely will limit career opportunities if people are discouraged from company travel where there are career-building benefits.

      4. Holly*

        I just want to point out that litigation is a serious expense, especially if it gets to the point of a trial. You don’t *want* to be in the situation where you’re found “not liable.” You don’t want to get there at all.

      5. Oryx*

        Fat people will notice a lack of other fat people. Hell, more than once I’ve gone to job interviews and breathed a sigh of relief at seeing other fat people at the office or business. It means that’s one less hurtle I have to jump.

  47. Nancy*

    OP 1:
    I agree with Allison’s advice, but I wanted to offer some practical money saving advice should it apply. I’m overweight and I use Southwest Airlines. I have to drive two hours to the closes airport that has SW, but to me it is worth it (Also the local airport is small and very pricey so it tends to be the same cost). SW has a “customer of size” policy. Basically, you can get an extra seat for free. You can book at extra ticket and pay for it, request the policy at the counter and then request a refund for the extra seat at the end of your trip. This will guarantee you get on the flight you need. If you can, you can also not purchase an extra ticket and just request the policy at the check in. However, if the flight is full and they can’t get someone else to bump to another flight, they can bump you to the next flight.

    I had to fly for a conference last year and since I was still new I didn’t push the issue. I did talk to our Office Manager about letting me book SW, but she said that the 2 hour drive was too far, they would need to pay me mileage. So, I ended up in regular seating, but lucky for most of the trip I had an empty seat next to me. I did passive aggressively have a conversation with a co-worker about SW and their policy and why I fly them within in earshot of our Office Manager. So, I’m hoping if I have to fly again, that it will be easier to have the conversation with her about why I want to use SW.

  48. Airlines Suck*

    What would be awesome would be if Congress would pass a law requiring the seat size and pitch of airplanes to revert to the early-90s seat sizing where an actual human could fit in the seats. But, since the airline lobby is firmly in their pockets, that will never happen.

    Your Congressmen (Rep and Dem alike) get very special privileges when they fly that mere mortals do not. That is part of the problem.

    1. fposte*

      Nice as that would be, that still wouldn’t solve the problem–people are bigger than they were in the 1990s, and employers would still be facing the question about buying some of them two seats.

      1. Janie*

        On average, it’s about a 15 pound increase since 1990. We’ve also gotten taller and many of us have stopped smoking.

        However in the 90s, the guidelines about what BMI (the measurement invented by an 18th century mathematician to measure populations of rich white men, remember) was what changed, and millions of people went from the “normal” category to the “overweight” category overnight.

        1. fposte*

          No argument on BMI, but the categorization doesn’t have any effect on how well you fit into an airline seat. I’m also seeing a 30-pound average gain that’s not at all evenly distributed, so the mean is a tad misleading. Whereas height is actually only an incremental gain of less than an inch, and it’s disproportionate–it’s mostly from people in lower SES getting health gains that bring them closer to the median, rather than tall people getting taller.

          Some people who currently need two seats could fit in one larger seat; sure. That’s why business class is a discussable option. But even putting back the two inches of seat width we’ve lost wouldn’t obviate the need for employers to have a policy on people who don’t fit into seats that are 19″ wide either.

    2. ...*

      People who fit into airplane seats are actual humans. I understand the point you are trying to make but I’m SO SICK of being told that thin or smaller people are “Not real” or “not real women”. Everyone people is REAL.

      1. ...*

        I think I meant “all people” or “everyone” not both. Sorry but my jimmies got rustled. People who aren’t large are still very real and actual humans.

    3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      There was a lawsuit asking the FAA to handle this, on the grounds that it affected the ability to evacuate the plane under real conditions (ex: average size customers, of average health, who are unfamiliar with the evacuation plan) because the FAA does plane evacuation tests to certify planes as compliant by hiring ideal-sized people who have practiced the evacuation plan.

      I think the plaintiffs lost, though.

      1. AJ*

        I thought the plane evacuation tests are for aeroplane manufacturers mainly, to ensure the entire aeroplane can be evacuated in something like 90 seconds. It’s a standardized test.

        It’s not about whether a typical flight with 30% of obese passengers can evacuate in that time.It’s generally known that those who have difficult in boarding will have difficulty in exiting in an emergency. It could be size, age, disability, or someone who insists on taking cabin baggage and blocks the aisle… anything.

        I don’t know how planes can be tested in real conditions (obviously lessons are learnt after real evacuations but thankfully they are not too common). As it’s not feasible to have x% of obese passengers, y% of disabled passengers, z% of young/old passengers and j% of jerks taking baggage off – plus the added realism of fire burning through the cabin (which would get some people moving faster or slower), the standardized test is currently the only option.

        1. Lucy*

          IIRC they model the urgency of a fire by offering participants different $$ rewards based on when they exit the aircraft – e.g. $100 each for the first ten people off the plane, or an extra $20 for being in the first n%.

  49. Mk2*

    My org has a policy for everyone. They are clear during interviews for the job and are clear that the policy is the same for everyone. After a certain number of flight hours you can go business but if you are less than that amount everyone goes economy (never basic economy though). It actually isn’t that many hours which is nice for people like me who travel a lot. It turns out that one particular international flight on the way there you have to fly economy and the way back business class- ha. The organization buys two seats (or you buy it with your company card or your own cc and get repaid) but you don’t automatically go to business. Someone tried to do that once with a doctor’s note saying they must fly first class (not even business which in itself raised red flags) but the policy is the policy so the person didn’t attend the business trip because they didn’t want the two economy seats. Organizations should just set policies, be transparent and stick to them.

    1. Observer*

      Organizations should just set policies, be transparent and stick to them.

      That kind of consistency can be illegal. It’s often also stupid. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”

      Yes, consistently followed policies are a generally good idea. But the minute you get into “No exceptions, ever” you are running into dangerous territory.

      1. Lucy*

        I agree if the blanket policy is “Economy, no exceptions. But how about if the policy is “everyone gets the cheapest seat they can comfortably sit in”?

  50. Admin Amber*

    For #1. I have booked travel for people of all shapes and sizes. Usually they ask me for an extra seat or I ask them if they need one. I don’t like for anyone to feel embarrassed because they are larger or super-tall. My convo usually is as simple as would you like more leg room or an extra seat. It’s simple and I hope shows concern for their travel arrangements. We didn’t do a written policy specifically for this issue but it does discuss physical accommodation needs would be met.

    1. Admin Amber*

      Adding: Yes, the employer should pay if they are asking the employee to travel and take time away from the employee’s personal life and home comforts.

    2. General Ginger*

      Yeah, I think if you set the precedent of matter of factly asking folks, “hey, do you need any accommodations for your flight — extra leg room, early boarding, extra seat”, they’ll be more forthcoming in the future, rather than uncomfortable/afraid of asking. Treating it like it’s the perfectly standard occasion that it is goes a long way.

  51. Lucille2*

    #1 – It’s worth pointing out to your boss and HR that many airlines now require people who need an extra seat to purchase one. If the company is unwilling to cover the costs of the extra seat, then the company is also requiring only certain people to cover a large cost of travel on their own, or discouraging them from business travel which may limit their career opportunities.

    I have worked for companies that covered the cost of an extra seat if one was required, but many people don’t realize that and were afraid to ask. And like the OP says, it’s awkward as a manager to proactively ask if someone has that need.

  52. Noah*

    OP#2: when you go talk to your boss, whatever else you do, don’t complain that different people in the company have different amounts of PTO. That is Completely Normal and you will lose credibility regarding your valid complaint.

    1. Greg NY*

      Different amounts is normal, but within the realm of reasonability. If you give one person 3 weeks, one person 4 weeks, another gets 5 weeks, that’s reasonable. But no one should get just 2 weeks, except MAYBE in their FIRST year of employment (even then, I’d make the minimum 3 weeks). 2 weeks isn’t reasonable for anybody.

      US employers are, by and large, not reasonable. Reasonable is what European employers do. They get by, they get things done, they don’t have the attendance issues that US employers are worried about.

  53. Adminx2*

    OP3 kudos for sticking it out and just accepting your fate with grace. I’ll bet you did get some good exposure and experience, if only in travel! I was at an admin thing where one of the people there was obviously more a non admin/processor type and she took half the time we had to talk about how much she really didn’t need to be there and how much other work she did while making it sure we knew she felt admin stuff was beneath her. THAT was memorable. Someone just hanging back and not being active- super cool way to go.

  54. AKchic*

    OP3 – I have a take on your situation, and I know people are going to think I’m reading a lot into it. So, let me explain why I’m reading so much into it. I used to work with a boss who insisted I was his personal assistant. I wasn’t. I was a program assistant. He just liked feeling important and had the typical feigned helplessness and ridiculous “absentminded professor” schtick down that made everyone say “well, you’re his direct report, so – tag, you’re it!” and combined with non-profits in a small-town mentality plus an aversion to firing people, we put up with him for way too long.
    I would be dragged to way too many meetings to take notes for him. Because how dare we ask him to take his own notes, or remember his own paperwork. He was too important. However, it was clear that I was in meetings that I should never have been in. And it had been commented on quite a few times. Much like your scenario. A few times I’d been sent on my own to take notes and report back. All I could offer up was “I apologize if my presence is unwanted or inappropriate. I will let my supervisor know of your disapproval.”

    To me, I think the person who made the comment did so on purpose in order to send a message. They want you to relay the message back to your bosses that you were out of place and not to do it again. They also want all of the managers in attendance to know that if they attempt some “stunt” like that, they will be judged similarly, or even worse because now they should know better. This is a thinly veiled warning that the rank and file should Know Their Place (yes, capitalized) and not mix with the c-suites at their special conferences. This is a very classist attitude. You could have been welcomed with open arms. They had no idea if you are about to be promoted to a position that will have you working with many of them, yet they chose to treat you like the housekeeper who’d stumbled into their discussions of great import that need not be interrupted.

    There’s also not much you can do about it, either. Yes, report the information to your higher-ups, and file the slight(s) in the back of your mind. Perhaps you will one day be successful enough to go back to that conference, or a similar one in the future, and be in a higher position than the judgy person and enjoy being able to smile and reintroduce yourself.

  55. Workfromhome*

    #1 Can become very tricky though. (I am in no way saying that people should have to pay for a portion of their travel if its required for business)
    It was mentioned that “should the company foot the bill for the extra seat (or, if it’s comparable fare, an upgrade to larger seats in first class”

    Well if I’m travelling and I get stuck in coach and employee A is sitting in business or first class because I’m average sized and they are larger than average I’m gonna be ticked off.

    The optics are certainly much better if you book 2 coach seats even if the cost is higher.

    1. A. Skel*

      I once coincidentally booked myself on the same flights as a company owner when we were going to a client meeting. He’s a frequent (at least once a week) flyer, and he got upgraded to first class. He looked so embarrassed when I walked by heading for coach, and on our layover was very apologetic that I hadn’t also been upgraded. The hilarious part to me, though, was that not many people wanted to be on that flight at o’dark thirty, so they had upgraded and filled first and business classes and those flyers were shoulder-to-shoulder, while I had an entire row to myself back in the “cheap seats.”

  56. Observer*

    On the conference thing, does anyone remember the letter by an employee who went to a conference that they were not supposed to be at? That one was a situation where the employer did everything right, but the employee decided to exercise some “gumption” and it blew up on them.

    1. fposte*

      Oh, yes–pretty much the opposite of this one! Link in followup–it’s “I got fired for attending a conference that I wasn’t invited to.”

  57. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    I live in New York and at a previous job, I frequently had to fly to California. The company’s policy was that if your travel (including layovers, not just flight time) was over a certain number of hours, you could fly business class. On many types of equipment, there are only two flight classes, so I would end up in first class. We had an in-house travel agency, so I would always go to my favorite in-house travel agent, who would always book me into the smaller airports in California (e.g., John Wayne rather than LAX). That way I couldn’t fly direct and, with the layover, always qualified for the upgrade.

    1. Glutton*

      Obese is a medical term, meaning a BMI over 30. The same underweight is a medical term (bmi under 18.5). You can’t change medical terms because you don’t like them. The categories have been well studied and there are mountains of evidence of why they should exist.

      1. Grapey*

        I think their point was that you can’t look at someone and assume they’re obese, since it IS a medical term that requires you measure their weight and height. Just call people fat if you have to reference their appearance at all.

    2. Jen RO*

      The photos look accurate. That’s how underweight, overweight etc people look like. Even when they have different body types it’s easy to spot which ones are under or over the average weight. (Or at least the average weight of an European, I haven’t been to other continents.)

    3. Lissa*

      This is really subjective though. Some people hate “fat people” too even though it’s becoming more common in progressive internet spaces to use it neutrally, and might see “obese” as more of a scientific category. So I don’t think calling for a moratorium on the one you personally dislike is going to be useful. Some people like “fluffy”, others cringe, I’ve had a friend who hates the term “overweight” because “over what weight”, etc.

    4. roger 1*

      Those pictures look pretty realistic to me. We have a very skewed idea of healthy body types in the USA since so many people are overweight or obese. I think the point you are making is that its shocking that someone who’s “not that big” is overweight or obese but those are accurate looking pics. Even 15 years ago we would have had a different perspective. Just because something is average or common does mean it will automatically fall into one BMI category.

      1. Glutton*

        Yep! I tried guessing and all the healthy looking people turned out to have a healthy BMI.

        The obesity epidemics makes it harder to recognize overweight and obesity and the unrealistic images in the media make it harder to recognize underweight. That collection of images is actually great for educating people.

  58. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    I have a Center for the Arts?!? Way cool!
    Or is it named after my father Agamemnon?

  59. Kisses*

    OP 5..
    I have some experience in the theatre business and on my resume I’ve listed the particularly higher up ones. For instance, stage management gets its own spot, while set technician and costuming go under a generalized one.
    But it would depend on the job I’m applying g to. Allison always offers great advice, so please don’t just take mine, it’s just what I’ve done before.

  60. My2Cents My2Seats*

    I work for a state agency and so far they’ve been very good about me needing two seats, the two times I’ve travelled. Southwest will refund the additional seat if the flight isn’t full. Both flights the staff were pretty sensitive about my needs and situation. The other passengers, however, are another story. Basically, Southwest gives me a “reserved” ticket to sit on the extra seat (I fit in one but it is tight and wouldn’t be comfortable for whomever had to sit next to me. Both times, people got frustrated that they couldn’t sit in that seat, which makes me think I can’t win. Either they complain that they are squeezed into a seat next to an obese person and that the person should have bought two seats, or they complain that they can’t sit into an “available” seat because it is reserved. *shrug*

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