Flying fatties

Anyone who has ever had to endure a long-haul flight with the discomfort of a larger-than-average person taking up much of their prized personal space will have nodded in agreement with the suggestion from Tony Webber, former Qantas chief economist, that overweight travellers should pay more for the privilege of flying. Is this taking fatism too far, or is political correctness standing in the way of comfortable flights for all?

Anyone who has ever had to endure a long-haul flight with the discomfort of a larger-than-average person taking up much of their prized personal space will have nodded in agreement with the suggestion from Tony Webber, former Qantas chief economist, that overweight travellers should pay more for the privilege of flying. Is this taking fatism too far, or is political correctness standing in the way of comfortable flights for all?

The justification behind the possible charging an increased fare for heavier passengers is all about fuel consumption. Before any aircraft flies, complicated calculations are carried out to ascertain how far it can fly with the weight on board before it runs out of fuel. An average weight is assigned to each passenger, with some obviously being less and some being more. This then surely begs the question, if those deemed to be above the average weight are charged more, should those below this weight pay less?

A second quandary for the airlines is how do they define an average weight? Each country has its own guidelines for what is an acceptable healthy weight, so do airlines charge someone from a country such as the US, which has a statistically high obesity problem, more than someone from Japan where obesity is far from being an issue?

Lastly, would someone who is seated next to a larger person be entitled to a refund for the space they couldn’t use due to it being occupied by their neighbour?

The charging of overweight passengers is purely an economic issue raised by an ex-airline employee who, more than likely, has hardly ever flown economy class where space is at a premium. Charging overweight passengers more for the privilege of squeezing themselves into seats which just can’t comfortably contain someone of their size, would not actually deal with what is the common travellers bug-bear – lack of space. Airlines are a business and as such, operate on tight margins; the more backsides on seats, the more revenue an airline makes. However, if someone is to be charged more because of their weight, then surely they should be entitled to demand the space to travel comfortably?

Airlines have of course refuted the suggestion that they charge overweight passengers more. But rather than this be because of the risk of offending anyone, I’m sure it’s more about the changes passengers would demand if they were charged more. This would hurt airlines more economically than any benefit associated with the additional revenue.

Whilst I believe the rational behind the suggested charging is flawed, I do believe that airlines need to accommodate larger passengers in more comfortable seating, for their health as much as the wellbeing of those who have to travel alongside them.

Many of you have already had your say on our Facebook page and Meeting Place about this issue. But do you agree with Debbie’s summation of the issue, or should she keep her big fat mouth shut?


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    13th Jan 2012
    their is nothing worse than having some fat person in the seat next to you, and taking up your space and making a flight very uncomfortble. make them pay for an extra seat, then they can put the arm on the seat in a upright position without intruding on our space.

    13th Jan 2012
    I agree with Joe about overweight persons having to pay for two seats but there needs to be a way of making the double seat comfortable; just because the person's overweight doesn't mean they have to be uncomfortable.
    On this topic I have stated (elsewhere) that on-board luggage should be weighed with it's owner so that anyone overweight would have to pay excess baggage.
    Wendy HK
    13th Jan 2012
    I agree with Pipple - as the "slim beautiful" people take lots of clothes, makeup and accessories to maintain their looks whereas I "ms fat average" take the bare necessities and travel light.
    You can tell I have slim friends - and OMG the luggage they take!!!

    13th Jan 2012
    There are three components - the airline, the obese person and those required to sit next to an obese person which were well covered in the article.

    The airline would delight in using this excuse to increase fees and charges and then do absolutely nothing about the other two components which again was nicely commented on above.

    Hence, simply charging more would not help the obese person nor the other commuters.

    Should future aeroplanes be designed with fatties in mind? I think this would be ideal and forward thinking.

    If the obese persons were in the aisle seat they would inconvenience the aisle traffic, if they were in the middle they would inconvenience two commuters, instead of just one. The safest bet is to put them at the window and make that particular seat bigger. This seat would then demand a higher seat cost. As for in cabin hand luggage where dimensions are stipulated, dimensions would be stipulated for seat sizes. When entering the aeroplane the hostesses check your ticket and hand luggage, so too would they check your ticket against your posterior size.

    It is an awful situation though, we can sit back and say, I'm thin or 'normal' so I am okay but it is not nice for those that are obese. Today's society is basically sitting down and eating processed foods which IMHO contain that many preservatives and other poisons that we do not know how they affect our metabolism or other bodily functions. Once you are obese, it is so difficult to reduce weight to what is considered normal.

    I truly feel for obese people, although I understand that being wedged next to one in an aeroplane, would not be a pleasant experience.
    Kaye Fallick
    13th Jan 2012
    I am loving the great responses to Debbie's blog - thank you all for taking the time to consider this issue - I think the idea of being weighed WITH your hold and hand luggage is the fairest thing - sadly that would mean i would cop a fine every time :-)
    Nan Norma
    13th Jan 2012
    Mussitate You can't make one seat bigger unless you make the other two seats smaller, otherwise you have the seats poking out into the isle. What I would suggest is the airlines actually sell larger seats. Say two large seats in place of three seats.There could be a few on every flight. These could be booked an extra cost. Surely a large person wants to be comfortable too.
    14th Jan 2012
    I don't mean remodel the current aeroplanes, the one seat bigger, that I referred to was in relation to when new aeroplanes were manufactured.
    So, yes I agree, it would be difficult to remodel the aeroplanes currently in use.
    14th Jan 2012
    If you had two large seats one would certainly be sticking out in the aisle, (unless in the middle of course). No, it's one large, the size of two, and one regular.
    Ozirules idea about the measurer is good.. but not in public! How embarassing!
    13th Jan 2012
    solution is easy, just as they have a line drawn at dreamworld where kids under a certain height cant go on a ride there should be a couple of butt lines drawn at the airport.If you dont fit between the lines you pay for a first class seat.Bigger seat for the fatties (at a cost of course), less squeeze for the skinnies. It's called user pays.
    14th Jan 2012
    I like the idea of people being weighed with their luggage ( cabin and stowed ) and then charged if over 100 or 110 kg . Of course the fat....sorry , big boned people will hate this .
    14th Jan 2012
    I took a helicopter flight over the glaciers from Scagway 2 years ago and the rules printed on the ticket and boldly displayed around the booking office were if you weighed more than 250 pounds (whatever that is ) you had to purchase 2 tickets. Only those who the pilot thought may be overweight were required to be weighed. I think the trigger was whether or not the pilot could shut the chopper was a tight fit.
    15th Jan 2012
    I weigh in at 140kg, so I am one of those fatties that nobody want to be seated near. I am embarrassed whenever I get on a plane. But, I do like to travel.

    I have only once travelled long haul (to London) and hubby and I paid for business class so that we would be comfortable in bigger seats. We are both very broad at the shoulders, so can't sit side by side in standard seats comfortably. I thought business class was worth every hard earnt cent too. Once you go business class, you won't want to go any other way lol. My last domestic flights were holidays with my mum. As I couldn't afford business class, I decided to purchase an additional seat. A few interesting facts about buying additional seats .. you pay full fare minus the tax (about $20). You don't get any extra meals, snacks, drinks etc equivelant to a person paying for that seat would get. You don't get extra frequent flyer points for that seat either. In my opinion, this is a real money spinner for the airlines. As it turned out, mum sat next to me anyway because she doesn't have wide shoulders and we were both comfortable.

    Regarding paying by weight. Consider someone who is very tall, but not fat. They may exceed a weight limit, but not intrude on the person sitting next to them.

    I would love to see planes have larger seats (two seats instead of three) available in cattle class. I would be more than happy to pay the extra to get such seats. I think this is available on some international flights already .. known as "prestige class". I am not aware of this being available on any domestic flights though.

    I am sure that very tall people would also like to be able to pay a bit more for seats with extra leg room, after all if they are cramped up, aren't they more suseptible to DVT?

    In the meantime, I keep hoping that it won't be long until I can teleport from A to B.
    Kaye Fallick
    15th Jan 2012
    Great response di_ar - I think the airlines could be taken to court for not providing full service with the extra seat. And i do think weighing people plus baggage is a fairer way to go - i see 'skinny' business people stuffing multiple bulging bags into everyone else's overhead lockers all the time ...not fair!
    Nan Norma
    15th Jan 2012
    di-par has proved what I suggested was a good idea, remove three seats and replace them with two larger seats. I know that would be hard on a couple that want to sit together and only one needs the large seat. But you can't please everyone. If the seats are still vacant at take-off they would be good for a mother travelling with a baby as babies don't have seat belts anyway.
    15th Jan 2012
    Many many years ago - in the days of DC3s it was normal to weigh both passengers and baggage. All for weight and balance calculations. These days with almost unlimited take off power, this simple idea seems to have been forgotten. So, bring it back. we can still accommodate Fatties within limits by parking them in the middle of the aircraft - BUT this will usually mean at or near the c.g which also means close to the centre escape slides - which they would block in an emergency. So why not adopt the 'Tongan' solution? People from the island are, by nature, large. And that does not mean fat, they are just big, healthy people. But they have to travel First Class because they won't fit into economy seats. They're happy. The airlines are happy and most important - the other passengers are happy.
    17th Jan 2012
    I would fail a weigh-in too, but my weight is on my stomach, not on my backside, hips or shoulders. I don't take up extra room sideways, but I sometimes need a seat belt extension to cover my stomach. If weight is the sole criteria, I would feel annoyed, as would very tall people who weigh heavier and, presumably, some pregnant women who gain up to 20 kgs during pregnancy.

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