When Size Matters
Most of us feel claustrophobic in an airplane restroom, but consider the problem of a typical sumo wrestler. At weights up to 600 pounds, these VIPs can’t fit into airplane restrooms at all. To cope, they don’t eat or drink for half a day before flying to enable them to withstand a 10- or 11-hour flight with no restroom breaks.
It’s not only airlines that are faced with a growing problem. Hotels and other facilities are ordering larger beds and stronger chairs among other upgrades to accommodate the population’s weight gain.
Andrew Freund, founder of the California Sumo, has planned hundreds of events for sumos during the last 15 years and works to accommodate the needs of his larger-size clientele. Freund organizes the U.S. Sumo Open, an international sumo tournament involving 50 sumo competitors from 15 countries. One of Freund’s key objectives is to make travel as easy and comfortable as possible for sumos, especially during a long airplane ride, and to minimize travel time. Depending on the size of the sumo, ground transportation might include a taxi or a large-size van. Yamamotoyama, a 6-foot-4-inch, 600-pound Japanese sumo, recently came to the United States for several appearances. When traveling around, he sat flat on cushions on the floor of a Dodge Caravan, from which the middle seat had been removed.
Sumos certainly represent an extreme, but current trends suggest meeting planners will increasingly have to accommodate attendees of more diverse sizes in coming years. The size of the average American has increased substantially in the past two decades, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Proper medical care and adequate nutrition contribute to people getting taller, too, which presents its own challenges in travel and housing.
Luxury accommodations can often offset travel challenges for tall people, says Quartknee Kwatek, who manages heightsite.com, a website for tall people and the people who shop for them. Extra limousine legroom and luxury vans might seem opulent for standard-sized individuals, but for taller people, this additional space is a necessity. At 6-foot-4-inches, Kwatek has experienced challenges such as insufficient legroom on airplanes. His thighbone simply doesn’t fit in the allotted space. The only possible relief is an exit-row seat behind another seat that doesn’t recline, but these seats are now being sold as premium seats that are first-come, first-serve for any traveler willing to shell out the extra cash.
In most hotel rooms, the furniture and other features are not built for tall people. Only a few hotels, such as several Hotel Monaco locations operated by Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group, offer “tall rooms” with features such as high ceilings and raised showerheads. Meetings can be particularly uncomfortable for tall people, Kwatek says. Chairs in a seminar environment are not designed for tall people. Long education sessions, such as a seminar that begins at 8 a.m. and doesn’t break until 12:30 p.m., can be a nightmare and put excess strain on a tall person’s legs. And at teambuilding activities, Kwatek is always prepared to feel “weird and uncomfortable. You just try to make the best of it; there’s not much you can do as an option.
“Tall people have been tall for a while, so they accommodate the environments,” Kwatek adds. It’s nice for planners to consider a tall person’s needs, but it’s unnecessary to point out his or her special requirements in front of a large group. “As the tall person or the big person, you don’t want to always be the issue,” he adds.