adrian is rad


For discussion: obese people on airplanes

Filed under: — adrian @ 1:50 pm

On my flight from SFO to Las Vegas (where I stopped enroute to Pittsburgh), I was seated next to (well, practically underneath) a bulbously obese woman. Her arms overlapped approximately 1/3 into my 18″ wide seat. I was uncomfortable trying to sit all the way to the opposite side of the seat and trying to keep my arms cocked off-axis. More than once I was awakened by her moving her arms or shifting in her seat. I don’t think this is fair to me. I think I pay for the privilege to sit in a seat with my back firmly in the center of the seat and to be able to move my arms unobstructed within the confines of the seat.

I’m not bringing up this because I’m annoyed (though I am) or I have something against obese people (people can be fat or thin or whatever as long as it doesn’t affect me). It got me thinking though, what’s fair or permissible in regards to charging or seating obese people differently. I’ve made a list of ways that airlines differentiate people:

  • children are charged less for seats
  • unaccompanied minors are charged an extra fee
  • infants may ride for free as an infant-in-arms
  • people in wheel chairs are helped on an off the plane and are given priority storage space, but I didn’t find anything about priority seating, except in exit rows (Here is a set of rules for carriers with regard to disabled passengers)
  • smokers are told to go shove themselves, even on the longest flights
  • first and business class passengers pay more for the service and added space

Now, is there any way to differentiate people who are, say, over 24″ wide in their widest dimension? I see nothing in the disability literature about priority seating (if you are going to consider obesity a disease). I’m sure if you were seated next to a person without the use of his legs, you’d be incovenienced, because it’d be difficult to get passed him to the aisle. But then again, you probably wouldn’t be constantly uncomfortable.

I don’t think charging obese people more for a wider seat would go over well because the airlines would be sued under the American Disabilities Act (ADA) for sure.

On the other hand, effecting does allow differentiation, at least in the case of smokers. There is the added fact that second-hand smoke can be a health risk to those around the smokers, but I don’t know if the law requiring flights to be smoke-free was enacted after the second-hand smoking research was done or not. I’m betting it was enacted because a lot of people complained and it is socially acceptable to make laws against public smoking.

(A thought provoking thing I once heard: A guy was in a bar with some friends/ colleagues and started smoking (apparently not Boston or San Francisco or many other places, or it was a while ago) and they started to tell him that smoking was bad for him, etc etc. And he hypothesized that if he turned to a portly colleagues and started berating him in a similar manner because being fat is a health risk, it wouldn’t be as socially acceptable.)

Children are charged less for seat and they use less of a seat, but I believe that these two facts are not effect and cause (respectively).

Any thoughts on this? I haven’t come up with anything thing that I’m satisfied is fair to all parties involved.

4 Responses to “For discussion: obese people on airplanes”

  1. Hand Coding Says:

    “We Didn’t Start the Fire” in Flash
    I was reading my brother’s blog entry about fat people on airlines and curious about whether this had been discussed…

  2. Milkshake Says:

    It is the policy of most major airlines (if not all of them) to charge an “oversized passenger” for a second seat. I know for a fact this happens because they show it on all of those airport reality shows. It seems somewhat unfair when they have to pay double just to fly somewhere but I feel it’s less fair when a morbidly obese person infiltrates your personal space. One part of the policy I would change would be to not charge the oversized passengers when there are open seats on the plane. Also, if all seats are being used I think it is only fair to allow them to wait for a later flight in which they can use two open seats. Airlines don’t make this an option because they want money.

  3. Jaipur Says:

    This is a sticky, sticky, sticky topic. If I were in charge, I would give obese people all the room they needed.

    I became obese after developing severe depression. To make matters worse, the medication doctors prescribed packed on the pounds twice as fast. Even though I was very ill, I worked hard to keep my job (which involved frequent travel on airlines). Depressed, I hated my fat self, and traveling was far more difficult while obese (and it added to the depression).

    As a frequent traveler, I learned to fly during off-hours (more open seats) and to ask travel agents to book my seat in an empty row so I didn’t inconvenience anyone, but after the September 11 attacks on America, everything changed. Flights were scaled back (no half-full flights anymore) which meant 90% of the time there were NO empty seats. Travel had been difficult before, but after 9/11, travel was Hell.

    In all my obese travels, I have one bright moment. On a return, packed, 6-hour flight, a thin woman raised the arm rest between us. I was EXTREMELY uncomfortable with the armrest down, but I was determined to not invade her (or anyone’s) space. I told her without the armrest holding me in, I’d overflow into her seat. She said, “It’s okay; I used to be about your size. I know how uncomfortable it is, so I don’t mind at all.” I still remember her. In a time when it felt like the world was kicking me while I was down, her kindness touched my soul.

    Comment to Milkshake’s comment – there’s only one “airport reality show” of which I am aware (can’t think of the name), and the show features Southwest Airlines, which is the only airline (so far) to enforce the industry’s widely-adopted two-seat rule for obese people. Even though I’ve lost half of the “depression weight” I gained (and feel much, much better about traveling, about life), I still refuse to fly them.

  4. Milkshake Says:

    Jaipur – the show you are thinking of is called Airline and is shown on the A&E network. It’s a spin-off of an almost identical UK show which was no doubt inspired by the original airport based reality show “Airport” which documents the drama of London Heathrow (and is a popular BBC show). Southwest does seem to enforce the policy more than the others but if memory serves correctly they have shown the same thing on the UK shows.

    I must respectfully disagree with you that airlines should give obese persons “all the room they need”. There is a finite amount of room up there and I think being uncomfortable is part of the flying experience. If they gave the obese wider seats would they also have to give those who are tall more leg room?

    I for one cannot sleep on planes – which can make a long trip very uncomfortable for me. Flying is a tradeoff – we suffer in exchange for the reduced travel time.

    Congratulations on your successful weight loss – hope you have a happy and healthy new year!

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