December 11, 2009

Should Obese Passengers Pay More?

The Debate Rages On: Should Obese Passengers Pay More?

A photo of an obese airplane passenger has inspired a passionate debate as to whether or not overweight fliers should pay more. Last week we said that they should and we asked you what you thought. We heard from over 2,000 of you and, overwhelmingly, you agree with us. Here, some of the comments from both sides:

The airline's position:

Credit: Flightglobal
The photo in question is believed to have been taken from American Airlines. We spoke with American Airlines media spokesperson Tim Smith to get his take on the situation. Here's what he had to say:

"We are currently in the process of looking into this situation. We do have a policy that tries to be flexible for passengers of size. Certainly no passenger would ever be allowed to fly on American Airlines in any way that obstructs the aisles of the aircraft, and all passengers must be properly seat-belted—part of the FAA rules. It is very obvious in the photo that the aircraft is not inflight at the time the photo was taken—other passengers are still boarding and several overhead bins are still open. We can assure you that all passengers on this flight were safely and comfortably accommodated, and that no FAA rules were broken."

Tim says that they don't "routinely charge for an extra seat unless there are simply no other options. Our people are trained to work with customers to try and accommodate ALL passengers onboard. Often, pending how full the flight is, we can get everyone taken care of." Tim adds that "each situation is handled individually on a case-by-case basis with utmost professionalism and discretion." He also cites FAA rules on the matter, which state that "all passengers must use FAA required restraint devices" and that "no aisle may be blocked by any passenger or bags in case of emergency."

A sampling of how some airlines handle full-figured guests:

Southwest
Passengers who "compromise any portion of adjacent seating" should plan on booking a second seat before getting to the airport. If the flight isn’t packed, the cost of the additional seat will be refunded. For more information, see Southwest’s Guidelines for Customers of Size or refer to their Customer of Size Q&A


United
In March of this year, United changed their policy regarding larger passengers. If unoccupied seats are available on the flight, the passenger will be relocated next to one free of charge. If not, passengers must purchase an upgrade to a cabin with available seats, or transfer their ticket and purchase a second seat on the next available flight. For additional information, see United’s webpage for Passengers Requiring Extra Space.


Continental
Larger passengers will be required to buy two seats. If the second seat is booked in advance, the same rate applies as the original seat. Those waiting for the day of travel will have to buy the second seat at the price applicable to the departure date. Customers also have the choice of upgrading to first class or business. For more information, check out Continental’s webpage for Customers Requiring Extra Seating.


JetBlue
JetBlue reserves the right to charge larger passengers for an additional seat, at the lowest available rate. They will charge larger passengers only if the flight is fully booked.


US Airways
Charging a customer for two seats is a last resort for US Airways. The carrier first tries to accommodate the passenger by relocating them near an empty seat. If no empty seats exsist on the flight, they offer to rebook them on a later flight that has open seats available, free of charge. If none of these are options, only then does the carrier require passengers to buy two tickets.


Larger passengers should pay larger fees:

This man violates FAA standards for safety.
As an airline captain I can tell you that passenger depicted in your article does not meet FAA standards for safety. More important than passenger comfort or even emergency egress issues, in the event of a crash sequence, the overweight passenger could cause death to surrounding passengers as he is not safely secured. At our airline, and I know at Southwest, obese passengers must pay for two seats. It has nothing to do with fair treatment; it has to do with total passenger weight which is limited to 190 per passenger for weight and balance, on average. They certainly would be considered handicapped as they could not exit as normal passengers would. There is absolutely no discrimination here. Weight is weight; if your bag exceeds 50 pounds, prepare to pay extra, same for passengers.

People need to pay their share.
It fits right in with the 100-pound. traveler toting 3-4 pieces of gigantic luggage, it's about time people people pay their share.

They should pay more and board last.
I think oversized passengers should have to pay for two seats and be located where the last person(s) to exit in an emergency so as to enable able-bodied passengers to escape rapidly. An exception would be when empty seats are available after all seat requests (stand-by, etc.) are satisfied. They should also either board early or last so as not to hold up the whole boarding process.

There should be a "demo" seat at the ticket counter—don't fit? Pay more.
Perhaps the airline should put a “demo” seat at the ticket counter—if your posterior luggage does not fit into the space, then you should have to buy a bigger space. Currently the same rules apply to oversized luggage. In looking at the picture, I wonder how the stewardess could fit the beverage cart down the aisle or how any passengers could access the lavatory.

Overweight passengers put other travelers at risk.
Absolutely. Since airlines treat us (and now our luggage) as nothing more than "packages" and charge us by weight on our luggage, why not charge morbidly obese people based on their additional weight? Think of this scenario: a convention of morbidly obese people is being held in San Francisco and a group of 150 morbidly obese people get together to fly there from Philadelphia. All that additional weight makes the plane unsafe to fly and the average-weight passengers on that flight have their lives put at risk, their comfort compromised by the "overflow" from the obese passenger sitting next to them, and the safety hazard of having a morbidly obese person blocking the aisle for exits in emergencies.

If you take up more than one seat, you should pay for two.
I'm not a lightweight, but I am constantly battling to keep myself healthy at 65 years of age. However, having traveled in coach with people who are “obese”, I really feel that if you take up more than one seat, you should pay for more than one seat. I traveled across the US seated next to a severely overweight young lady. She sat by the window and I sat in the middle. The aisle seat was taken up by a huge person as well. For five hours I was in sheer misery. I could not use either armrest because they could not be put down due to the excess flesh from both sides encroaching on my seat. If there had been a crash, I would have been overwhelmed by both these people trying to get out.

I'm a flight attendant and we frequently end up re-arranging seat patterns to put children next to obese passengers.
As a 20+ year flight attendant with a major carrier, we are not to address the obesity/space issue unless another passenger expresses their concern or displeasure—which they inevitably do not until we are airborne! Our only other company directive is to "attempt to re-seat passengers in order to accommodate the larger individual"! So, in addition to stowing a ridiculous number of bags because no one is willing to "utilize the space beneath their seats" and trying to cram in the tiniest possible articles into the overhead bins, we are now expected to rearrange the entire aircraft to put children beside obese passengers.

It's only fair to charge for two seats.
I'm overweight but not obese. I can comfortably fit into any seat on the plane, but if I were over, say 300 pounds. I think I'd prefer two seats so I'm not embarrassed by squashing the person next to me. I know everyone is scared of discrimination suits and that obesity is a disease, but you are legally fitting into two seats and therefore, I think you should pay for it.

It's discrimination to charge overweight travelers more:

It is discrimination.
It is discrimination. Period. Yes, airplanes have weight limits that must be followed for physical principles of flight; however, one person, no matter how much they weigh, should only have to pay for one ticket.

There's a lot more to worry about than someone's size.
Pay more?! Safety issue?! Screw that!!! The man in the picture wouldn't be any slower to exit than the harried lady with 4 kids, or the drunk businessman who can't figure which way to move, or the diva with her mink and manicure and purse. In other words, there's a lot more to worry about than someone's size.

The concept of "two seats" is deplorable.
That picture is me. I weigh 450 pounds. I fly constantly. My position is that I am one person, and to treat me differently is nothing short of discrimination. I would gladly pay extra for a larger, more comfortable seat—should one be available. What they should do, what no one suggests, is to make a bench seat, to accomodate handicapped individuals, or those who want more comfort, and charge accordingly. But the concept of "two seats" is deplorable.

This is the airlines' fault for being greedy.
I am a large person of approximately 350 pounds and I work in the business aviation field. I can personally testify that the seats used in many commuter jets nowadays are built smaller for fuel savings and payload. Blame the interior design engineers for these sorry passenger jets and the greed that paid for it before you point fingers at larger people. It is a medical fact that all of our population is getting larger and taller. If you believe that forcing larger people to pay for two seats is the answer, good luck paying the bills in the future!

Obese people have the same rights as anyone else.
As far as I'm concerned obese people have the same rights as anyone else and shouldn't be penalized like excess baggage. We all know, except for the privileged few, that airline seats are made as tiny as possible so as to accommodate as many fliers, and thus increase revenue. On the other hand, if you're small, why shouldn't you receive a reduced fare if overweight people are charged extra? Would you, personally, be willing to sit between two NFL linemen each weighing in at 375 pounds if you could get an interview with some famous people?

If heavier people have to pay, so should those with screaming children.
The airlines keep squeezing in more and more seats—when I first started flying, there were two seats on either side of the aisle—not three. Then they added the third seat on both sides and diminished the width of the seats. Why should heavier persons have to pay the difference? It's the greed of the airlines that has caused the problem. If the heavier person has to pay more—then those people with screaming children should have to pay more for the disturbance they cause. The list can go on and on.

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