In The Economist, an essay on the challenges for larger passengers who often face humiliating and stress-causing treatment on commercial air travel. Air Canada has an interesting policy about heavier fliers: it treats obesity as a medical condition, and "provides overweight passengers with a free extra seat as long as they present a doctor's note."

124 Responses to “Airlines and obese fliers: is there a better way to handle seat space conflict?”

  1. Mephy says:

    An interesting idea, although this strategy will force ticket prices up for everyone else to compensate for the lost revenue of the unpaid seat.  A more economically viable solution (since there are so many large people these days) would be to have a row or two of seats specifically designed for obese fliers.  These tickets would be priced somewhere between the cost of 1 and 2 seats, and would be limited to people who provided proof of obesity.  (So you don’t have thin people buying them simply to have a little more room.)

    • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

      If there is a problem with excessive demand for the larger seats, the airlines could also try the novel strategy of cutting cattle class a bit and stocking more larger seats…

    • Marc45 says:

       Isn’t that called First Class?

      • morcheeba says:

        I flew first class once … and met an awesome, kind, and apologetic guy who did not fit in even those seats.

      • elusis says:

        Is there some kind of Fat People Allowance that we’re supposed to be getting in order to afford things like plane tickets that are 3-5 times the cost of cattle class?  Kind of like the yearly payment Alaska residents all get? Because if so I need to make sure the government has my address right because mine never seems to show up.  And with all the studies showing that fat people, particularly fat women, suffer economic discrimination in terms of hiring, promotion, and salary, lord knows most of us aren’t paying for first class on our own.

    • Ryan_T_H says:

      They have a limited number of wider seats available. It’s called business class. And it will be a cold day in hell before the single biggest selling point for business and first class gets added as a cattle class option.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        The question is: Why does a first class ticket, which gives you maybe — maybe — twice as much overall space and an upgrade to what is still airline food, cost ten times as much as economy?

    • TheMudshark says:

      I´d love to see that proof. “Yup, I´m fat.”

  2. gwailo_joe says:

    “Airlines and obese fliers: is there a better way to handle seat space conflict?”

    A guillotine, perhaps?  How about a sumo bout for a aisle seat? (we must be fair…)

    Fight the good fight my fat flying friends: I know I’m supposed to support you in your unfortunate gigantism. I hope any activism from your side produces BIG results in a few more inches in coach… And I don’t hate you particularly: why should I? I’m a BFF myself. Thats Big Fat F#$% to the uninitiated.

    One of the few times I flew in First Class, a giant Elvis sat next to me: 400 pounds, sideburns and an angry scowl crowded all up on my personal space…I had to lean to the left for three hours: my rare and supposedly sumptuous flying experience…wasn’t.

    To Hell with people like me!!!

  3. edgore says:

    As a very tall, very thin person who *definitely* has no control over that, and has experienced actual pain when someone reclines into my knees, I will get excited after I get upgraded. In the mean time, I manage to get along.

    • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

      Don’t you love how the little horizontal metal bar associated with the meal tray is perfectly located to dig into your leg just under the kneecap, avoiding the protective bone and going right for the joint?

      That has to be my favorite part. Unless, of course, I can have Mr. ‘this airplane is my Lay-Z-Boy’ in front of me, who reclines as hard as possible from takeoff to touchdown and the kicking kid behind me…

      • edgore says:

        When Gweek had that mention of the recline preventing device a while ago I was just “‘Yes – this’, and of course I am not going to ask that dick in front of me”. I *never* recline my seat, because I think it’s an imposition on those behind me – I’ve been there.

      • awjt says:

        My favorite is having my laptop screen’s top edge accidentally nudged under the tray crevice in the seat in front of me, and then the person in front of me reclines and I’m trying like a mo-fo to snatch my laptop and save its screen from being crushed.  That’s a fun one.

      • TheMudshark says:

        You would get along great with my wife on a flight. Even though she´s tiny, she freaks out every time the person in front of her reclines, which is every time we fly. One time she actually wedged her whole body between the seats, her feet on the back of the seat in front of her, a furious fire in her eyes, to prevent the guy from reclining. I have to laugh when I think about it now but I´m waiting for the moment when I get punched in the face because of her antics every time we fly.

        • Sandi Carron says:

          I’m 4’11 and while, for me, it really is no imposition for the person in front of me recline.  I never recline my seat on a flight out of courtesy to those who may not be as “travel sized” as I am.  I do think it is only polite to let the person behind you know you are going to recline your seat for just the reasons posted above.  When flying, taking the train or subway why can’t we all just agree to have, and offer, a higher level of courtesy? It’s not all that difficult and makes it better for every one.

      • Bryce Caron says:

         Very tall here, too. I’ve found that shuffling by the exit row while pretending to bang your head on the way to see the flight attendant about switching seats sometimes gets a reaction from those seated in said exit row who immediately volunteer to switch. Especially on those little malibu barbie regional jets.

    • Wayne Dyer says:

      I’m tall *and* fat.  SWA has not declared me too fat to fly, and I can live with the seat width, but Southwest’s new planes have less leg room, and I know that pain of which you speak.  I did write to advise them that the new planes are worse (the reply was a verbal shrug), and learned that SWA will not allow you to buy two seats for yourself.  They can force you to do that if you’re too fat to fly, but you can’t choose it.

  4. Boundegar says:

    A doctor’s note?  Stating what?  That this obese person is actually obese, and not just smuggling pillows?

  5. MatthewEH says:

    My long-standing call to action on this:

    Have the airline analyze the typical rate at which this flight is completely sold out. Let’s say this happens 20% of the time.

    An obese flyer who needs two adjacent seats should be guaranteed those two seats, but should pay 120% of the base fare for the guarantee.

    It allows airlines to recoup the expected value of that additional seat that they otherwise might have sold to another passenger, but insulates the flyer from having to pay double the fare a smaller person would pay.

    •  ”Have the airline analyze the typical rate at which this flight is completely sold out. Let’s say this happens 20% of the time.” Actually, most flights are oversold. That is, every seat is sold, plus some more to make up for the people who will miss the flight. Airlines already do their level best to fill every seat, down to deep-discounting any last-minute vacancies. So under your scheme, two seats will end up costing double what a single seat costs… like they already do.

      • What a crazy system!  Someone who needs two seats has to pay, for two seats.

        What kind of world do we live in?

      • MatthewEH says:

        Oh, I know about overselling and all that; read my “rate at which this flight is completely sold out” to mean “rate at which the flight actually pushes back from the gate completely full”. Or “rate at which the plane would be full if it weren’t for last minute deep-discount sales, accommodating standbys, etc.” This is getting more complicated, but with some tweaking we could arrive at the right notion.

        And maybe it’s just the routes that I fly — from New York, mind you, not a backwater, though maybe this is neither here nor there — but I don’t typically find every last seat on my plane is occupied all that much of the time. 30-40% of the time, IME.

  6. awjt says:

    I think there should be a range of seats, from front to back going from small, thin seats, to large ones.  When you board, you stand on a scale and get your height measured.  You swipe your credit card, to pay per inch-pound, and then you are assigned a seat that matches your body type.

    • edgore says:

      I know that you are probably kidding…but I agree.

    • benenglish says:

      I’m fat (famously so, actually, but I don’t want to get into that) and I agree.  I know I’d pay a lot more but I DON’T MIND.  I don’t want to impose on those next to me and and the physical contortions I put myself through to accomplish that goal are downright painful and have actually been injurious.

      Right now we have first class or business class and cattle car class.  Up front, the seats are comfortable but the prices can be up to 20 times higher.  In back, not only the amenities but also the room to just sit down and not bother the guy next to me disappear.  There has to be a middle ground and I’d happily pay double or triple the regular economy fare for economy-class service in a seat wide enough to be comfortable.

      Edited to add – Yes, I’ve flown buying two seats. They’re plenty wide but, depending on the design, it’s far too easy to spend the entire time with an armrest protruding just enough between the seats to make any semblance of comfort impossible. And they can leave a big bruise on your back, to boot.

      • awjt says:

        My thing wasn’t serious, but I totally see where you’re coming from.  I’m in a similar boat – slightly overweight, but mostly just tall, beefy and big.  Airplane seats are getting smaller and more uncomfortable as the years go by.  It sucks.  I am always uncomfortable on an airplane now.  I’d gladly pay more for a larger seat too, but 10x or 20x?  Come on, ya jerks, that’s not helping customers.

    • Marc Mielke says:

      It’s neither common nor feasible to make everyone pay at boarding. I buy my tickets months in advance on someone else’s credit card, because I am a cash-only unperson.

    • kmoser says:

      You got the first part right (seats in a variety of widths) but why automatically assign them? If a skinny person wants to buy a (higher priced) wide seat, that should be their prerogative. It should be just like selecting a seat these days: pay more for first class, less for coach. Larger people (or those who just want a wider seat) should take it upon themselves to make sure they buy their wider seat before it sells out, end of story.

    • Lemoutan says:

      Why stop with a fixed range? Simply install seats that adjust their widths to fit in the most efficient manner for that flight’s load. It’s just proportional spacing. And maybe some kerning.

      • awjt says:

        These are good!  I like this one: human aeronautical kerning.  Very nice.

      • pharmavixen says:

        I’m a small thin person and my boss is very big. When we have flown together, I have thought that what we need are armrests that move laterally to give her the extra space that I don’t need.

        • Lemoutan says:

          Brilliant, and eminently engineerable I’d've thought. One might even pick up one’s seat arm as one boards and slot it in when one sits, thus giving passengers a sense of ownership of the problem and participation in its resolution. Sliding headrests could take care of some of the kerning.

  7. mcgillican says:

    For the record – Air Canada’s policy is the result of a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada forcing the airline to accomodate a medical disability (including obesity). If you are just plain fat, no extra seat (hence the dr’s note).

    http://www.ctvnews.ca/ruling-means-airlines-must-make-room-for-disabled-1.344603

  8. babVU98i says:

    I fly 70 to 80 times a year and maybe a third of the time have a large person next to me.  It’s uncomfortable, for both of us, as there is a lot of unwanted body contact and it actually gets tiring and painful contorting to avoid this contact on a long flight. I would welcome the extra space so I don’t have to have my personal space infringed by someone I don’t know.  But I don’t think I should have my fare go up, as it will, so someone else can have two seats instead of one.

    • tavie says:

       Just for the record – as you acknowledge – it’s also very uncomfortable for the obese person to contort their bodies for so long. I’ve spent 14-hour flights with my arms hugged as tightly as possible around my front and leaning all the way to the side. Part of me hanging out into the aisle, getting whacked by passing flight attendants. For 14 hours. Trying desperately not to infringe on the space of the person next to me. It’s both physically painful and exhausting, and the fat person has an extra tang of social humiliation.

    • elusis says:

      You know where else you have to accommodate other people’s bodies?  All other forms of public transportation. 

  9. Doppel Frog says:

    Eat less?

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Given that leg room has gotten smaller over the last few decades as average height has gotten larger, it’s a mistake to see that as the core problem.

      • ocker3 says:

         I’m tall and sometimes get put in the emergency row (which scores me an extra safety briefing), but not as often as I’d like :(

        • stovedoor says:

          I’m 6’7″, and I have good news: you can ask to be put in the exit rows. Turn up early, check in at the airline counter and ask nicely and you’ll get one 90% of the time.

          Around here you can book an exit row seat ahead of time, but they charge an extra $30-$50 for the leg room (airlines like gouging money from anybody who doesn’t fit the standard human dimensions, not just the overweight). Getting one on the day of the flight is free, but isn’t guaranteed.

      • Well it’s the core problem when the discussion is about obese flyers.

        • Funk Daddy says:

          The core problem would be the airline demanding that passengers who don’t conform to 5’7″ 165 lbs are the problem, by choosing to ignore BMI trends in order to gouge. Americans & others are getting fatter yet they remain the market.

          I think the only real solution is passenger reduction, seat enlargement including legroom and realistic pricing.

          People who say it is too expensive have the option of re-prioritizing instead of depending on government subsidy and bad business practices to make airline fares unrealistically cheap.

          • Or people who choose to live unhealthy lifestyles could eat less food and stop complaining that seats are too small for them and have some consideration for those they travel with.

            Passenger reduction and seat enlargement also have an unfortunate side effect: more planes in the sky.

            Given the impact over-consuming Americans already have on our environment I’d personally not encourage an extra factor. Sure, the trend indicates that the average BMI in the US is high, but that’s a problem to tackle, not a situation to accommodate.

            I don’t think that obese people deserve to be attacked or ridiculed, but I also don’t think they should be pandered to. They need help.

          • LaylaSV says:

            Lets just hope they don’t have to fly anywhere to get that help.

          • If I break my knee I don’t jump on the bus and expect extended leg-room.

            I call an ambulance. And I would expect that ambulance to have the appropriate facilities to cater for people of varying disabilities, conditions and sizes.

            But a commercial passenger craft shouldn’t have to legally conform to a self-inflicted state of ill-health. It’s literally no different to demanding a smoking section on the plane.

            However… there are of course those who are obese through no fault of there own, there are medical conditions that can lead to obesity – and this is where it gets more complicated (and odd that I’m the first to bring it up).

          • wysinwyg says:

            It’s literally no different to demanding a smoking section on the plane.

            Actually, it’s much, much different.

            You see, smoking isn’t required to survive.  Eating, perhaps unsurprisingly, is.  Some people have poor eating and exercise habits.  Unless you’ve been obese you probably have no idea how difficult it is to change bad habits like these.  Not to mention the fact that a great deal of business in the USA is devoted to undermining such people in every attempt they make to become healthier.

            More importantly, little time is required to prepare for not smoking a cigarette for a few hours.  Smoking a cigarette shortly before the flight will usually be sufficient.  For heavier smokers, a shot of nyquil or a couple tylenol PM might be a better solution.  Compare to the amount of preparation required by an obese person to become thin before a flight.  Depending on the weight and physiology of the person, other health factors (knee problems might make exercise more difficult, for example), and diet, becoming thin in time for a flight might take months or years of incredible discipline and effort.

            So it’s literally much different from smoking on airplanes and for fairly obvious reasons.  You’re essentially arguing that unhealthy people should have fewer rights and privileges than anyone else.  While it’s not exactly a rare sentiment, it’s not exactly a humanistic one either.

          • “…little time is required to prepare for not smoking a cigarette for a few hours … Compare to the amount of preparation required by an obese person to become thin before a flight. ”

            Good point.

            By the way I’m not arguing that unhealthy people should have fewer rights, per se, I’m just arguing that the transportation industry shouldn’t have to revolve around unhealthy habits, habits we should be working hard to change, not accommodate. Being fat is a self-inflicted disability and the need for massive seats shouldn’t be treated the same as wheelchair access.

            I could augment my body in all sorts of ways that would make travelling in an aircraft uncomfortable and inconvenient.

          • wysinwyg says:

            Being fat is a self-inflicted disability and the need for massive seats shouldn’t be treated the same as wheelchair access.

            What if you’re in a wheelchair because of a motorcycle accident that’s entirely your fault?  Isn’t that also a “self-inflicted disability”, and wouldn’t your argument justify denying people in such a situation any consideration for their disabilities?

            I don’t think obesity is entirely self-inflicted, incidentally. It would be a strange coincidence if hundreds of thousands or millions of USians decided to inflict such a disability on themselves over the past few decades. I believe there are other causal factors at work.

          • Speaking of poor comparisons :)

            Denying access to all wheelchair users because a tiny percentage of them might have been responsible for what led them there is rather cruel. Wheelchair users are also an exception, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen on on a plane, personally, but the facilities are easy to include and don’t have an impact on the other passengers. Catering to an unhealthy lifestyle that’s rendered you an inconvenience isn’t really the same thing.

            “I believe there are other causal factors at work.”

            Well yes, but it’s still self-inflicted. There are many causal factors involved in all addictions and dependancies, but they’re still self-inflicted.

            And lets not forget that a lot of people just really like to eat lots of pie. Who doesn’t?

          • wysinwyg says:

            How is it a poor comparison?  Obesity and parapalegia, both resulting from decisions made by the person afflicted by the disability.  You’re arguing that in one case we should not make any accomodations for the disability; I’m wondering if you’re going to consistently apply that logic by denying any accomodations for the other disability as well.  The comparison is fine in every sense relevant to this particular argument.  Or if it’s not you’ll have to spell out what’s wrong with it.

            I suspect it’s not actually a tiny percentage of wheelchair users whose poor decisions caused their own disabilities. You also note that obesity is not in every case the fault of the obese person. It seems to me the only way you can consistently make the argument you’re making is if you’re willing to make accommodations for disabilities dependent on whether or not the disabled person is responsible for his or her own disability (which is somewhat different from simply denying accommodations to obese people period).

          • Sorry I edited the comment after replying, I went on to explain, see above.

          • @wysinwyg:disqus 

            You make a good argument, but I’m afraid that to me it’s still apples and pears.

            I would put forth that a tiny percentage of Obese people are in such a condition due to genuine medical circumstance, especially as there are very limited conditions that could actually be responsible for obesity – as apart from hormone/metabolism related conditions (and mental health of course) it’s still just down to controlling your own diet.

            Equally the number of wheelchair users who are in that position through prolonged abuse of their own body are probably in the single digits.  Simply being alive puts you at risk of losing your legs, so to achieve the same level of intent I’d expect to see you carelessly hurling your body from 2 story buildings.

            If you put yourself in a position whereby participating in an activity becomes an inconvenience I don’t think that it’s fair to expect others to go out of their way to accommodate you.  Of course it’s nice if they do… but I don’t think it should have to be a legal requirement.

          • Jerril says:

             @NathanHornby:disqus  :

            You know why I’m fat? Because I had to start progesterone at the age of 12 due to crippling dysmenhorreah, which gave me an artificial hormone imbalance (weight gain) and stimulated the broadening of my hips early and dramatically (big booty even without weight gain). There’s a LOT of other people who got that one naturally – not everyone is a slim hipped nordic supermodel.
            And because I am at least the third generation in my family with severe chemical depression – which causes weight gain and tends to destroy attempts to get your shit together and lose weight, which is a cruel combination. This causes a vicious cycle of feeling shit about your body, which makes you more miserable, which leads to a slower metabolism, which leads to feeling more shit about your body, etc.
            And most of the medication for depression causes… weight gain.

            Obese people have actual measurable hormonal problems other than sex hormones – all kinds of crap messes up your metabolic rate, and all kinds of crap seems to mess up the hormones your body uses to regulate your desire for food (which are a pretty fancy-pants system that operates at a level far more basal than “willpower” or “rational thought”).

            Fat people aren’t fat because we’re stupid fat slobs who deserve to be fat because we’re weak and disgusting. The attitude that we’re like this because we can’t be arsed to change, or don’t deserve to change because of moral failings? Bullcrap.

          • Rachael Hoffman-Dachelet says:

            I am exactly 5’7 and am usually around 165.  I don’t fit in airplane seats anymore, I have a short torso and long legs.  Crazy!

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            6′-2″, 40 inch inseam. I haven’t flown in years, but the last few times, I had to spread my legs so wide that my knees were taking up half my neighbor’s leg room.

  10. kyoorius says:

    It’s fine as long as they seat all the obese people together in the same rows towards the rear half of the plane.

  11. James Kelley says:

    Here’s how I think airline fares should be calculated.  First, planes should be equipped with seats of varying widths, ideally representing the actual population’s distribution.  A portion of the overall fare would be determined based on the amount of overall seat width a given seat represented.  Next, each passenger should be weighed and there would be a surcharge based on that weight.  Lastly, luggage could be weighed and a surcharge could further be added based on that weight.

    By doing this, the airlines could provide flexible and personalized pricing based on how much it actually costs them to move a given person and their belongings.  They’ve already got huge floor scales at every ticket counter anyway, so having people step on them during check in wouldn’t be a problem at all.  Cargo is cargo, and it should be charged based on what percentage of a plane’s total capacity it represents.

    • Lemoutan says:

      I suspect you’re working with the ‘charge according to time and materials used’ model. Most large businesses work with the ancient oriental ‘charge what you believe the user is willing to pay’ model.

    • To be honest this is the only fair way to manage it.

      I have thought on more than a few occasions that it’s absurd that I should have to pay an extra £50 for 10kg of luggage, when the guy sat next me weighs at least 20kg more than me.

      • wysinwyg says:

         As long as you can acknowledge “this is the only fair way to manage it” is a personal opinion and not a fact I think this can rest here.

        • Well it is a personal opinion, but it’s also objectively fair. How is it not?

          • wysinwyg says:

             Sorry, thought this was part of our other discussion downthread. 

            It’s not objectively fair because a 4’4″ person with a tiny bone structure gets permanent discount on flying while a 6’6 person with wide shoulders and big limb bones will never be able to fly cheaply regardless of their body fat or their respective needs (maybe the 6’6 person needs to fly a lot for business and the 4’4 person does not).  One need not agree with me that this is unfair but the fact that I don’t think it’s fair demonstrates that it isn’t “objective” at any rate.

          • Don’t worry I just assumed you were stalking me.

            I only mean its fair in the context of charging for weight, which is what airlines regularly do any way. But for some reason the weight of my luggage is of great interest to the airline, and carries with it a per Kg charge, and yet my weight is irrelevant. That’s not fair.

  12. peregrinus says:

    I’m a big believer in my freedom to enjoy ends where the next person’s starts.  And vice versa.  I fly enough that dropping 40 pounds over the last two years has made a real difference to my enjoyment!

    Large people, no issues – but if I’m squeezed, uncomfortable or out of sorts because of any passenger next to me, I’m going to create an issue with on-board staff until it’s fixed.  I’m always, when travelling alone, happy to move.

    NB Reclining seats on the new-ish 787 – “The seat pitch (leg room) on the ANA 787 is a relatively spacious 34 inches, and the seats don’t actually recline. Instead, the flat part you sit on slides forward and back. In this aspect the seats aren’t quite as comfortable as a conventional reclining seat, but the upside is you, not the passenger in front of you, determines how much leg room you have.”, at http://www.wired.com/autopia/2012/11/boeing-787-long-haul-flight/2/

  13. Deidzoeb says:

    Whichever solutions we find for this problem, let’s make sure that rich ppl are able to keep getting richer by investing in airlines. God forbid the job creators [sic] should have to actually earn their money by laboring.

  14. uncoolsam says:

    What i don’t get is; how come you only get a certain amount of baggage allowance, measured in weight (sometimes zero these days with budget airlines), but your actual body weight is never taken into account? The rationale for baggage charges is that extra weight uses extra fuel, which is a cost for the airline but what about extra human? They should weigh you with your bag at boarding to see if you need to pay any excess.

    I should declare my bias; I am thin.

    Also; why do we have to be conscious anyway? Can’t they just sedate us and put us in slots like a japanese capsule hotel?

    • I liked the “5th Element” style of flying. I suspect the medical staff necessary to realistically pull this off would by way to expensive though. I would love to just be able to lay down in a pod and sleep through a flight.

  15. huskerdont says:

    JFC on a stick, why does every story about airlines make me angry anymore? It’s like I’m becoming  completely irrational on the subject.

    I am tall, though not ridiculously so. Can I have the seat in front of me left empty if I bring a doctor’s not saying I’m tall?

    • peregrinus says:

      What is ‘ridiculously’ tall?

    • DevinC says:

      Apparently if you indicate you’re willing to help evacuate the aircraft in an emergency, you can get yourself moved to the rows by the doors (with more leg room.)  I’ve never confirmed this, though.

      • Mya Lewis says:

        It once used to be true that merely asking for exit row seating would assure you of it, but this tip has been so often passed around that it’s nearly impossible to obtain it unless you are one of the first passengers to check in for your flight.

  16. kmoser says:

    If I get a doctor’s note saying I have restless leg syndrome, should the airline be obligated to give me a seat where nobody will be next to me?

  17. girlalive says:

    My husband and I are both fat, and we don’t have the option not to fly.  I’m from the US.  He’s from the UK.  We live in the UK.  If I ever want to see my family, I have to fly because the exchange rates are so bad these days that none of my family can afford to visit me.

    On our last trip to the US, IcelandAir had a very good way of dealing with this problem.   We had a total of 4 flights with them.  The first flight, I had a middle seat, and my 6’5″ husband had the aisle, since his legs don’t fit.  The woman who was assigned to the window in our row was told when she boarded, “We have some better seats near the front,” and quietly moved her to a different row and told me I could move over to the window.  The next flight, they told me and my husband that they had some “better seats” in the front, and moved us up into the “economy comfort” class seats, allowing for 2 rows with extra space back in economy.  We got similar treatment on a Jet2 flight a year earlier.  No one had to be squished, humiliated or overcharged.

    It’s not the perfect solution: if the flights had been oversold and crowded, we would have had to suck it up and be squished.  But surely, it is better to treat fat customers as human beings, and valued customers, rather than losing the potential business of 30% of the population just to appease the aesthetic morality of the privileged thin.

    • Ipo says:

       If the flights had been oversold and crowded it would be your seat neighbours having to suck it up and be squished.  It is you that extends into their space. 
      I’m skinny but long and broad, I use up the space assigned to me. 
      If given a choice, I’d rather not be pressed into, for hours, by anyone I don’t feel close to, but I have no such privilege. 

      That said, obese people obviously need more space.  I see hardly a reason to not accommodate them. 
      Because I’m tall I have often gotten the seats by the doors, without asking.  Airplane and public transportation seating is made for small to average sized people.  If airplanes had a percentage of oversize seating it would not go unused.  If they ever had a shortage of oversized people, they could even stick a short skinny person there. 
      One would really think our subsidies buy us seating approaching our respective sizes. 

      • girlalive says:

        “If the flights had been oversold and crowded it would be your seat neighbours having to suck it up and be squished.”  So you honestly think that fat people ENJOY not fitting in the seat?  That we like keeping our arms folded in front of us for six or eight hours at a time because we don’t want to get in your way?  Do you think we enjoy having to be pressed up against some skinny a-hole who is throwing dirty looks, or even insults, at us through the entire flight?  We are human beings and we do not enjoy the crowded conditions any more than thin people do.  We are not just an inconvenient piece of oversized luggage that is in your way.

        • Ipo says:

           No I don’t at all think that. 
          I think it’s terrible y’all get squeezed into those seats. 
          But it isn’t the fault of the skinny person sitting next to you, who paid for the seat he is now sharing with you.  Don’t be angry at her/him, he has nothing to do with what you eat or your medical condition. 
          Your beef is with some corporation.  Not with the skinny aesthetic morality of the privileged thin a-holes. 

  18. Erik Postma says:

    Like some of the other commenters I’m tall, 198cm (or 6’6″ as most of you would prefer). I cross the Atlantic 2-4 times per year, plus sometimes a flight across North America. Very rarely can I get an exit row seat, though I always ask. (It helps to be early, and it helps to be nice to the staff (as with everything else).)

    KLM (the Dutch airline, which might deal with a larger proportion of tall people than the average airline) has an “Economy Plus” class with a few percentage points more leg room and a fare that’s around 10% more expensive, and those seats frequently include the exit row seats. On such planes they typically don’t give out the exit row seats for free. So I get to pay $100 extra to have a seat that is as comfortable (*cough*) for me as the regular economy class seats are for people of average height…

  19. orwell says:

    how about a “per person average weight allowance?”  since you’re already screwed and pay extra for baggage (i.e. space + weight) why not average the weight of passengers?  those who are fatter than the average pay more if they want another seat (space + weight), those who are skinny get a “bonus,” and are allowed free baggage due to the offset of their weight? 

    gimme a fncking break…  everything becomes a “medical,” issue in this country any longer…  i’m amazed that so many americans claim “medical,” obesity, yet, throughout asia and africa, you couldn’t find an obese person if you spent years searching.  obesity, for the majority in america, is not a “medical,” issue…  it’s a “i drink lots of soda, eat lots of fried food, drive everywhere, watch tv and sit on my @ss,” issue…  people in other countries who don’t “suffer,” from poor diets, lack of exercise and modern conveniences are somehow amazingly “thin.”  i wonder why….

    • Lobster says:

       What about sumo wrestlers?

    • wysinwyg says:

       Bullshit.  Obesity is demonstrably a medical issue.  It’s correlated with increased rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and a bunch of other long-term debilitating, potentially lethal conditions.  More bullshit, obesity is also correlated to low-income areas in the US — because soda and junk food are less expensive than healthy food here.  “I wonder why…”  Well, that’s why.  Obesity is a huge medical issue in the US because a lot of people make a lot of money by selling shitty fattening food to poor people who simply can’t afford healthier food. 

      But let’s take the poverty issue completely off the table.  Let’s say we have an obese person who can afford healthier food but currently has terrible eating and exercise habits.  How easy/difficult do you think it would be for that person to change their habits and drop down to a healthy weight?  Like you just wake up one morning, go for a run, and when you get home you find you’ve dropped 30 lbs?  What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever done to improve your life?

      • dnebdal says:

        I’m not sure if “causes medical problems” is a good criteria for something being a medical condition itself. (It would make “working with the wrong chemicals” a medical condition, for one thing.)

        Agreed on the rest, though.

    • Velocirapt42 says:

      Yep, there are no possible confounding factors in that equation. No differences whatsoever between populations of different continents, except more of the population of one drinks soda, eats fried food, and is lazy. Thanks for the clarification!

  20. tavie says:

    Whatever you do, don’t read the comments in the Economist article. Fat-hate is the internet’s favorite sport.

    • tavie says:

       Ugh – wait, don’t read the comments in THIS article. Lot of hateful ignorance going on up there. Gonna go look at pictures of kittens.

    • wysinwyg says:

       Surprised by how much of it I’m seeing on boingboing, actually.

      • tavie says:

        Yeah, it’s pretty dismaying. People will do anything they can to maintain and support their own hatred and prejudice. Even the original article in The Economist acknowledges that there is a difference between fat people and thin people that is beyond our control; it’s widely acknowledged that there are a variety of factors beyond “stop eating so much fatty” that determine whether a person is obese or not, and yet “only serve them salad” and “they should have to pay by the pound” and “they’re choosing to be fat” and “fatness is a lifestyle” and, of course, the automatic knee-jerk “fat = unhealthy” – it goes on and on in every thread attached to every article relating to obesity ever. Never mind the wealth of information out there refuting each and every one of those assertions. Lazy prejudice first.

        • kromelizard says:

          Exactly which science is this that doesn’t point to the increased average weight of Americans arising from an increased per capita consumption of food and a decrease in rates of physical activity?

          The Economist article waves vaguely at some unspecified correlations observed by neuroscience and implies a causative relationship. They say the brains of the obese react differently to food, ergo their obesity is an involuntary physiological response. It is equally, if not more, likely that the deleterious food related behaviors of the obese have rewired their neurological response to food. Their brains react differently because they’ve been trained to, much like a substance abuser or gambler’s brain develops a different response to those substances and behaviors.

          There’s not any scientific support for the conclusion presented in the article that obesity is most frequently an involuntarily acquired physical condition, and population statistics would militate against it. The increase in obesity in the past twenty years cannot reasonably be ascribed to any genetic differences because population genetics cannot change that quickly. So the change HAS to be cultural/behavioral or environmental. Saying obesity rates increase because of an acquired medical condition is essentially the same as saying poor populations have more drunks because of some unknown medical malady, and not because they’re poor and desperate and have little else to do but drink until they’re insensible to how desperate their condition really is.

          One of the prime difficulties with formulating an appropriate reaction to this problem is this absurd focus on whether or not obesity is involuntary or evidence of a character flaw, as if fixing that question one way or the other will solve the problem. 1) Of course it is not an involuntary physiological condition. There is no good population level science leading to any other conclusion than Americans eat too fucking much and sit on their asses all the time. You can only come to a physiological conclusion by focusing on small, carefully selected populations. 2) Moral harangues leveled at individuals are not a good solution to public health problems. Yes, that fat-ass eats too damn much and that’s why his corpulence overflows the borders of his seat, but if you want to fix a population level problem you need population level solutions. You need better food regulations e.g. rearranging food subsidies to lower the cost of quality food and increase the cost of processed junk, legally mandating portion control on the  food service industry, providing better public education on nutrition, decreasing the work week to afford more leisure time for physical activity, providing more public space to engage in that activity.

          Of course, all of those solutions would negatively affect corporate profits, whereas a medical response, like you support is an awfully sexy option for the medical-industrial complex. If obesity is considered to always be a condition to be medically treated across the whole population, then that is a truly massive (pun intended) new profit center for them. But this is not a problem with medical origins, they’re purely social and economic. Food is cheap in the U.S., selling twice as much of it for maybe a 20% increase in revenue is a huge boon to big agribusiness, and is in fact the only real path to the kind of growth required of a publicly traded, for-profit company. So the food industry does whatever it can to get Americans to buy more food. Restaurants market larger portions as a selling point and processed food companies spike their product with as much sugar and salt as they can. At most low to mid priced food service businesses it’s no longer even possible to order a reasonable portion size at a reasonable price. As has been noted recently in NYC, a small soda has somehow become a pint with the large sizes hovering around a full quart of sugar-water.

          The thing is, and why I cannot stand these arguments that obesity is an involuntary medical condition: when you focus on medically treating obesity, you’re really just aiding the wonderful capitalist practice of selling people both the problem and the solution. It is not a problem with a medical origin. It’s like saying cholera is a medical problem with a medical solution. It’s not, it’s a water supply and sewage treatment problem with a water supply and water treatment solution. Obesity is a food-supply problem and needs a food-supply solution.

  21. TheMadLibrarian says:

    I’m plump but not all that tall.  I can still fit comfortably into a cattle class seat; the problem is the pitch between the seats.  If someone 5’3″ bangs their knees on the seat in front of them when that person reclines, maybe, just maybe, the issue isn’t necessarily that passengers are too big.  Possibly it’s that the airlines have made their seating arrangements uncomfortable for anyone over age 10.

  22. Velocirapt42 says:

    I like how there’s the “good” obese people and the “bad” obese people. Like, the good ones have genetic problems, or they actually eat right and exercise but were dealt a bad genetic hand. They should probably spend 3-4 hours a day running and not eat because, you know, being fat is not acceptable, but they still are accepted into the “good” category. Sorry I lumped you in with the bad ones, bro!

    Then there are the BAD obese people, who drink soda and don’t exercise and eat bad food!!(!!) Never mind that there are plenty of thin people who do this, who can be just as unhealthy. Those obese people are bad, bad, bad. They take up more space! They are unhealthy! We hate that they’re unhealthy because unhealthiness is bad (pause for drag on cigarette) and ohmygod really we’re just so WORRIED about them, we want them to lose weight FOR THEIR OWN GOOD.

    Guess what- until you stop generalizing, until you stop assuming that the only reason people don’t eat well or exercise is they’re just so LAZY, until you can stop snap-judging obese people whenever you look at them, you’re not going to change anything, be it the person’s health behaviors or your airline experience. And yes, I’m sick of sitting next to people on a plane who I have to involuntarily cuddle for a cross-country flight because there’s no way for them not to be in my seat. But I don’t blame them, I blame the airline. When I was a child plenty of obese people were on the plane and for the most part, the seats were big enough for them. If seats keep shrinking then soon only very short supermodels will be only vaguely comfortable. 

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      I like how there’s the “good” obese people and the “bad” obese people.

      Yeah, it sounds like a c. 1993 description of AIDS.

    • Jerril says:

      I pointed out why I’m fat upthread, which can make me look like someone saying “I’m a ‘good’ fat person!”. That certainly wasn’t my point.

      For clarity, I don’t believe in “bad” obese people. Everyone where you can’t point to the reason why their body is fucked up is just someone where you can’t point to the reason why their body is fucked up yet. My point was that I’m evidence that fatness isn’t linked to the sins of gluttony and sloth, nor is thinness linked to the virtues of industry and restraint. Other folks who don’t have evidential links as to cause are just medical mysteries right now.

      We used to think that bad things happening to you was a sign that you were being punished by God for some secret sin or moral failing. Now… well, we believe that bad things happening to you is probably a sign that you’re being punished by an abstract moral force (or God) for some secret sin or moral failing.

      Cancer patients are mostly exempted from the “bad shit is happening to you for a reason” clause, along with some victims of crime, some accident victims, and some people who get sick (sometimes – sometimes you got sick “because you don’t take good care of yourself”). Some parts of society are willing to accept that some people in poor economic situations didn’t do it to themselves, so that’s another advancement. I can’t think of many other cases yet.

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