Caribbean Fever - Your ONLY destination to all things Caribbean and more
The check-in girl scowls as I try my best to be tactful. You see, these days, when I fly, I'm very particular about where I sit. But it's not extra legroom or a window I'm after.
I just hate being plonked next to someone who - how shall I put it? - is a little too large for their seat. My request is always met with utter disapproval. Once, I was told not to moan and be grateful I am such a 'beanpole'.
But as a slim person of 8 st, I am sick of finding myself sitting next to someone more than four times my size on flights. It happens so often, I reckon I'm sized up at check-in as a suitable companion for the clinically obese.
Julia Stephenson often finds herself sandwiched between two large people. She tries to drink as little as possible during the flight so she won't be forced to climb over them to use the loo
On a recent flight, I was settling in to my seat when, to my horror, a giant of a man plumped himself down next to me. My heart sank.
Worse are the times when I find myself in the middle, squashed between two much larger people: the wafer-thin filling in a human sandwich. When that happens, I try to drink as little as possible during the flight. I'd rather risk dehydration than try to polevault over them to reach the loo.
I used to live in the U.S., where obesity is off the scale. There, the proportion of the population considered overweight is around 50 per cent more than in the UK, so nearly every flight was a misery. You know you're in for an uncomfortable ride when the arm rests between the seats have to be raised to allow for 'overspill'.
Once, I was sat next to a woman so enormous I was told to move to a seat behind. I was happy to oblige. But it meant she paid for one seat and got two.
And on another awful 18-hour flight my gargantuan neighbour polished off his meal, drank a bottle of wine, then fell asleep like a dead tree on my shoulder.
The stewardess and I managed to prop him up, but he kept falling back on me. I feared I might suffocate.
So it's little wonder that I find myself agreeing with chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies's recent suggestion of charging fatties more to fly.
She argues that, in the age of the supersize traveller, our total weight (passenger and luggage) should be taken into account at check-in. I couldn't agree more.
Tall people have to pay for extar legroom - why shouldn't fat people pay for extra seat room? (stock)
I was livid last year when I was made to pay excess baggage costs because my case was a fraction over the allowance. How could this be fair when the woman behind me - at least 17 st - paid nothing extra because she had a smaller suitcase? What good is travelling light if you're tipping the scales in the wrong direction?
I don't mean to be unkind. I hate it when people are bullied for their size. As a skinny person, I'm often subject to cruel remarks, and I understand that being fat can have a genetic component.
But this is pure economics. More weight on-board means aircraft need to take on more fuel. So airlines shouldn't be criticised for charging by the pound.
Tall people already have to pay for extra legroom. Are they offended? Hardly.
As far as I am concerned, we need to stop being PC and let people take responsibility for themselves.
My friend, Joyce, 49, an air stewardess for an American airline, doesn't mince her words. 'Passengers are getting so fat, we'll soon be able to give up using tray tables and they can just use their stomachs,' she grumbles.
She's all for passengers standing on the scales with their luggage at check-in. 'There should be a weight limit, with charges payable above that. It also means the pilot knows exactly what weight the plane will be carrying, making fuel requirements more accurate.'
In the same way many smokers support the smoking ban, a lot of overweight people support the idea of a flying fat tax. But there is, predictably, much opposition. The trouble is, being obese is now seen as an illness, rather than a condition of our own making.
The world’s heaviest woman, an American, weighed 85 st at her largest
As Mail columnist Dr Max Pemberton puts it: 'We are doing with obesity what we have done with alcoholism and drug addiction, which is to remove the individual's responsibility for the predicament in which he finds himself.'
Another friend, Milly, a size 18, agrees. 'We all need an incentive to lose weight now and then. If I had to pay more for a seat on a flight, I'd eat more healthily. No one is going to lose weight if the rest of us pretend they don't have a problem.
'It would help people to start to take responsibility for their size and make the price of flying so much fairer.'
One airline has already seen sense. In 2013, Samoa Air became the first to introduce a 'fat tax'.
The airline proudly declares on its website: 'A world first: 'The “Samoa Air System” of pay by weight. Pay only for what you weigh! A kilo is a kilo is a kilo!'
Hear, hear! Until other airlines go the same way, I will have to soldier on. But Joyce has a useful tip: 'If you're worried about being smothered, bring a couple of hard A4 folders. Wedge them against the arm rest and you have a magic flab barrier.' I think it's time I took a trip to the stationer's.