Obese Airline Passengers: The Ensuing Debate
You have probably heard this story before more than once on FlyerTalk: a passenger is seated in his economy class seat — only to be unfortunate enough to have a person purportedly weighing 400 pounds to sit next to him. The armrest — a definitive physical boundary between seats — cannot be lowered due to the girth of the morbidly overweight passenger, which encroaches upon the space of your seat for which you paid.
If you happen to be seated next to the window, you may not have ample egress from your row to use the lavatory and therefore may need to limit your intake of beverages during the flight — and the situation could be exacerbated in a regional jet aircraft.
Your options are as follows:
- Suck it up and endure the entire length of the flight sitting in a fraction of the space in your seat for which you paid — and perhaps demand compensation or sue the airline after the flight has been completed
- Stand for several hours during the flight
- Ask the flight attendant if you can change your seat — assuming that one is available if the aircraft is crowded
- Refuse to accept your seat and request that you switch to a different flight
…and — knowing FlyerTalk members — I would not be surprised to see additional options posted in the Comments section below. In fact, they are welcome.
According to many FlyerTalk members, one solution is for the airline to force the “person of size” — to be politically correct, I suppose — to purchase two economy class seats instead of one.
A woman actually sued Southwest Airlines over their seating policy, claiming that the airline discriminated against her because she was an obese black woman — although I am not sure what the color of her skin had anything to do with anything. The jury apparently agreed, as she reportedly lost the case…
…and then there is the story of Kevin Smith, who was allegedly denied boarding onto an aircraft operated by Southwest Airlines for being a “safety risk” due to his size. Smith reportedly received a $100.00 voucher and apologies from representatives of Southwest Airlines.
Some overweight people do not attribute their physique to abundant calorie intake; rather, they cite medical conditions about which they have no control, such as Prader-Willi syndrome, Cushing’s syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, and other diseases and conditions, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Note: if you are a man who is overweight, I would not advise you to claim polycystic ovary syndrome as the cause of your obesity. Your credibility will evaporate with that one.
Anyway, the point is that just because a person is overweight does not mean that that person is automatically a candidate for being handcuffed to a full refrigerator at all times, as there could be a medical condition that justifies the girth of that person…
…and I do not recall meeting a person who is proud of being obese and would not have it any other way — not that those people do not exist. More likely than not, the obese person is probably embarrassed by having to live in a world that seems to be tailored for smaller people.
I would not know about being overweight, as I have never been obese. In fact, quite the opposite: I have a photograph of myself in a rowboat just before my 18th birthday where I was not wearing a shirt — and you could count the ribs on my chest. People would comment about whether my 140-pound body was eating enough — despite the fact that I downed two super-sized burgers, a large fries or onion rings or both, and a beverage from major fast-food chain restaurants in one sitting with no problem…
…and I can still do that today — not that I indulge myself in fast food very often anymore, as I do not particularly care for it. I only eat fast food once in a while these days just out of convenience, or if I have a coupon worth partaking in a trip to a fast-food restaurant. One thing is for certain: I have never had to watch my calories. Thank goodness my metabolism is still going strong.
The point here is that there is no need to launch inane comments or names at another person with regard to their physique — whether that person appears emaciated or rotund…
…but this issue is about fairness. You have a right to use up to all of the space allotted to you in your seat aboard an airplane — but an overweight passenger should be allowed to fly as a passenger if he or she pays for that privilege.
Airlines are not about to widen the widths of their seats, either. In a limited space such as an airplane, each inch is potential profit. Not considering the results of unhappy passengers, the basic theory is that the more customers you can cram into an airplane, the more revenue will be realized — and, perhaps, more profit.
So — what is the solution?
A new policy was announced by Southwest Airlines in November of last year where “Customers of Size” who prefer not to purchase an additional seat in advance have the option of purchasing just one seat and then discussing their seating needs with the customer service agent at their departure gate. If it is determined that a second — or even third — seat is needed, they will be accommodated with a complimentary additional seat or two.
This sounds like a solution which is worthy of a compromise. Like many passengers, there are overweight customers do not want to — or cannot — spend more money than necessary for an airline ticket. Purchasing a seat theoretically doubles the price of the flight — but then the passenger is practically guaranteed to have two seats available; whereas the policy announced by Southwest Airlines leaves things to chance.
Why not give every passenger the opportunity to purchase more than one seat on a flight, regardless of size? What if a person who is not considered obese wants to have an empty seat next to him or her? Would that not save the airline a few pennies on fuel?
FlyerTalk is littered with dozens of discussions pertaining to this hotly-debated topic — and with no real solution in sight upon which there is universal agreement, so this article is merely the “tip of the iceberg” and not meant to encompass everything associated with this issue. What are your thoughts on obese passengers? Is obesity considered a medical condition or a disability and therefore should be treated as such — or should the airlines charge passengers according to their weight by the pound or kilogram for airfare? Should obese passengers be denied from boarding the aircraft? Do you have any potential solutions which you would like to share? Please let me know, as there will most likely be a follow-up article posted here at The Gate…