As a finalist on The Biggest Loser: Season 8, Rudy Pauls went from 442 pounds to 208. And he's still 6'4", so he knows a lot about cramming himself into an airline seat — a situation that caused Kevin Smith to declare a Twitter war on Southwest Airlines over the weekend. "It's insane," the father of two from Connecticut tells In Touch of the skirmish in which Kevin was reportedly thrown off of his flight because he only had one ticket. "I've heard of it happening before. I know, talking with some other contestants who had flown out to California, some of them had gotten two tickets. I never really thought of that. I always thought, 'How could the airline possibly ask that of somebody?'"
Click here to find out Rudy's take on this sensitive issue. For more on Kevin's situation, pick up In Touch, on newsstands Friday.
What was it like for you to fly before you lost the weight?
Being as overweight as I was, you realize how big you are, but I don't think it really hits you until you're in that tight spot on the plane. I remember going to the airport and the first thing I would do was go to the desk and ask for a seat with nobody next to me to give myself that extra room. I'd definitely want an aisle seat because I was going to spill out, so I'd rather spill out into the aisle and not into somebody else's seat. I'd also look for the emergency exit because I'm 6'4", so the extra legroom made a difference, too. But in the emergency exit, the armrests don't move, so it got worse. I remember I'd actually stand at least half the flight in the back of the plane because my legs would go numb.
Did you have negative responses from flight attendants or other passengers?
The worst thing is when you're walking down the aisle and people are looking at you like "Please don't sit here." Nobody says it. I can't even imagine how Kevin felt when he was asked to leave, but I had a flight attendant yell from six rows up, "Sir, I'll bring you a seatbelt extender right away." I didn't even ask for one and a lot of times I would hide it and pretend I was wearing it because it's embarrassing. You'd think they would ask you quietly. Yes, we're in a situation where we've done this to ourselves, but it's another thing to have it pointed out in front of so many people. I have had flight attendants ask me quietly. I've had one "palm" me a seat extender like you'd give someone a tip so it's not overly obvious. It's nice to know that the courtesy is there sometimes. I hated flying because I was physically uncomfortable. Being jammed into that seat hurt. I would end up with red marks when I got out. I used to look for layovers because I would have time to get out of the plane and rest.
What is the solution?
Anybody would love bigger seats on the airplane — even at my current weight I would love that! The airlines can't retrofit every plane, but the courtesy of trying to help out and give that person extra room is nice. A compromise would help. I've been given the opportunity to move to a seat where there was an extra seat next to me. If I were in a regular seat, I would ask the person next to me if I could move the armrest up. Most people don't mind; they want to be comfortable, too. But it's like restaurants can't be forced to have a certain size seat to accommodate a guy who's huge or worried about breaking the seat. You can't accommodate every single person, you've got to accommodate the masses. The unfortunate fact is the masses are now obese. People, Americans especially, have to take it upon themselves to be more healthy and fit. You're going to make yourself more comfortable on a plane and in general. I don't mind flying anymore. I don't feel like I'm getting stared at when I walk on a plane.
How are you doing?
I'm doing okay. I put a little bit of weight on, but I think everybody expects that. I'm planning a lot of events and trying to keep myself active. I'm running the Boston Marathon in April with some past contestants. I'm getting involved in a lot of charity events: different triathlons; I'm climbing 34 flights of stairs in Hartford, Conn., in March; a bike run for diabetes in June; and I'm hoping to get involved with the Iron Man in October. For me, personally, those are the things I need to do to keep myself healthy.