Obese Airline Passengers: The Debate Continues
“S orry if I seem irate but I just spent the last 1.25hrs literally CRUSHED on a USAir flight”, posted FlyerTalk member joshuamillman. “It was one of those small regional death trap lear jet planes with 2 rows on each side of the aisle. If you are only 5′ tall you still need to duck to walk through.
“I have the aisle seat and a man 6’3″ and Id estimate at least 300lbs is next to me in the window. How he even got in the seat without smearing soap all over himself is beyond me. I dont even think the seat belt got around his stomach. He took up his seat and 60% of my seat and was also crushed up against the seat in front of him. I would even go so far as to say that size person should be prohibited on that size airplane. I actually spent the majority of the flight sitting on the toilet as it was more comfortable!
“Im in line now at customer service to see if I can get a refund of sorts. Im sick of these hippos on these airplanes. They know how big they are and should be required to buy 2 seats.”
Although I do not condone the use of the word hippos to describe obese airline passengers, that last line caused me to wonder: you would most likely not allow me as your seat mate to use half of the space in your seat to place my belongings. Why would you tolerate having me take up half the space of the seat for which you paid simply because I was obese?
Looking at this from the other perspective, would you willingly pay full fare knowing you would have the use of only half of your seat? Would you do it if the airfare was only half of what you would typically pay?
With airlines attempting to cram more passengers onto airplanes in order to literally squeeze more revenue from each flight, there is no relief to this issue anytime soon — for either obese people or tall people…
…but tall people usually cannot infringe upon the space of another passenger — unless they recline, of course; and as you most likely by now know from the news last week, seat recline aboard an airplane is also a controversial issue.
An article written by me pertaining to the debate over airline passengers who are obese was originally written on March 22, 2013; and it continues to be a contentious topic. I am not obese; but what exactly are the rights which obese people have? Should they receive special dispensation simply because they are unable to fit in the seats in which they are assigned? Should they purchase a seat in the premium class cabin or two seats in the economy class cabin? Like others, obese people should not have to deal with discrimination — right?
It is not as easy as that, unfortunately. Vilma Soltesz — who was 56 years old, weighed 425 pounds, had only one leg and used a wheelchair — died in October of 2012 from kidney failure after allegedly being denied boarding an aircraft at the airports in Budapest, Prague and Frankfurt while attempting to return to her home in New York, according to her husband Janos.
Holly Ostrov Ronai — an attorney and co-founder of the law firm of Ronai & Ronai, LLP, which was hired by Janos Soltesz seeking 5.7 million dollars in damages from three airlines — stated that what is “quite telling is that Mr. Soltesz had a tiny little Suzuki car and was forced to drive his wife from the Budapest airport to the airport in Prague. He got Vilma into his tiny little car all by himself, yet the airlines couldn’t manage to get Vilma into a huge aircraft.”
The case was reportedly filed on June 2, 2014 with Richard J. Sullivan assigned as the presiding judge of this case at New York Southern District Court in the Bronx. There has been no outcome reported about this case at this time.
Did Delta Air Lines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Lufthansa all discriminate against Vilma Soltesz simply because she was considered too obese? Does her estate have a case?
One solution which had been offered last year was charging passengers by weight using one three possible methods:
- A straightforward price per kilogram or pound
- A fixed low fare with heavier passengers paying a surcharge and lighter passengers being offered a discount
- Divided passengers into three groups — heavy, normal and light — and have them be charged accordingly
Perhaps I am “mixing apples with oranges” here; but if United Airlines and Delta Air Lines are adopting a revenue model where frequent flier loyalty program miles and elite level status will be based on money spent by passengers on airline tickets as well as by distance flown, then would this policy of charging passengers by weight instead of a flat airfare — assuming that passengers paid the same price for the same class of airfare, of course — also make sense?
Even more importantly, could charging passengers by their weight be a way to avoid the experience endured by joshuamillman? A representative of US Airways reportedly advised joshuamillman — who was ultimately given a gift certificate worth $100.00 towards future travel as compensation — to say something before the airplane door is closed; but that could mean humiliating the overweight person, which is something joshuamillman is apparently loathe to do.
Could charging passengers by their weight in and of itself be considered discriminatory? One might believe that it could be an incentive for someone to lose weight prior to a scheduled flight — but that automatically assumes that the person is in control of how much he or she weighs. There are people who are obese for medical reasons and not merely because they consume food with too many calories.
What do you believe is a possible mutually beneficial solution to this debate?