[Op-Ed] Obese Airline Customers Should Pay For Two Seats

Obese people flying via commercial airlines have oft-complained about being forced to pay for a second seat when a single seat option is too small. The argument is typically simple, overly fat customers believe they should only have to pay the same price as a skinny or averaged sized customer. Others complain they were forced off a plane because a second seat wasn’t made available to them (typically this only occurs on sold out flights).

I have news for those overly fat, typically obese customers. Not only do the airlines not owe you anything, you should be reimbursing customers when you get away with two seats for the price of one.

Let me explain, in a recent conversation with the Sydney Morning Herald Tony Webber, former chief economist for Qanta’s Airlines writes “The rationale [paying for additional seats] is simple, the fuel burnt by planes depends on many things but the most important is the weight of the aircraft. The more a plane weighs, the more fuel it must burn.”

Further, an airline sells a customer a seat, not just a guaranteed trip from point A to point B. Read through airline literature or book a flight online, you will quickly be asked to reserve “a seat” not “seats” and if you choose to be assigned a seat before take off major airlines state that you will be assigned “a seat.” When an obese customer makes that purchase they are agreeing to purchase a single seat aboard the aircraft, if they can’t fit in the seat (dimensions are readily available online) that is not the fault of the airline or the poor customer who feels crush beside them.

Individuals who take up two seats often use the excuse “I have the same rights as any other passenger” but yet they don’t really consider the rights of the other passengers who also paid for a seat. Imagine for a second that you are the last customer to step aboard an aircraft, you head to the last remaining seat on the plane only to discover a morbidly obese person is taking up two seats, their own seat and yours. Does the issue become first come, first served? Even though you paid for your seat aboard the aircraft should you be forced off the plane because the fat man or women sitting next to you has stolen your seat? Less we not forget the skinny or average sized person paid for one seat and under airlines policy should receive one seat as airline literature dictates. Further, should the airline if they do allow the obese person to remain on the flight be forced to absorb the cost of a lost customer who they will now be required to offer a flight voucher too?

Let’s think about this logically for a second. A sold out flight with a customer taking up two seats not only costs the airline a delayed and angry customers, they must reimburse that customer, typically with a flight voucher, this means they give up a seat for free, then give up an additional seat for free to the customer forced off the plane. In return the airline has paid for three seats because a single customer can’t fit in one seat. Even if the obese customer pays for an additional seat on a sold out flight the airline still absorbs the cost of a seat when they offer a voucher to one out of luck customer.

Lest we forget flying on an airplane is not a right, it’s a privilege offered to customers by corporations. If Qanta’s so chooses they could force customers to step on a scale before boarding a plane or they could offer customers a “sample” seat before they pass through the gate, if the customer does not fit within the arm rests of that sample seat they must pay an additional fee before entering the aircraft.

Southwest Airlines offers a simple policy, if a customer can’t put down the armrest without body parts overflowing into the seat next to them they are charged for two seats, if the flight is not sold out they will accommodate the customer and refund the additional seat cost and absorbed the added cost of the customers extra weight.

I fully acknowledge that some customers (a small percentage) are obese because of medical conditions, type 1 diabetes they have lived with all their lives, a glandular issue, and other problems that have led to obesity, however the majority of people complaining are fat because of bad diet choices, unhealthy lifestyles and issues they have created. So when the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance says those people feel “embarrassed and humiliated” when told to purchase a second seat I find it hard to feel sorry for a majority of them. As one quick witted online commenter noted, “What’s next, the National Association to Advance Acceptance of Chain Smoking?”

The basic truth comes back to the economics of flying, an airline is a business and its choice of seat sizes and how many seats the business sells to each customer is the airlines choice, it’s not discrimination to sell a customer one seat and then refuse to give them a free one when they are not comfortable. Do these obese people order one Big Mac at Mcdonald’s and then demand a second Big Mac for free when they don’t feel their dietary needs were met because it takes more to fill them up?

Finally, the airlines have the right to demand that customers meet weight requirements per seat, in 2003 the FAA was forced to recalculate the estimated average weight of each passenger aboard the average commercial aircraft after a plane crashed in North Carolina and overloading was a suspected factor. Not only is the safety of the person in the seat next to an obese person at risk, the overall safety of the general passenger population is also potentially placed in harms way.

Honestly I feel sorry for obese people on airlines, not because they feel embarrassed when asked to purchase a second seat, but rather because they turn to organizations such as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance to offer a battle cry on their behalf rather than turning to a gym, a proper diet and the support of health care professionals.

Where do you stand in the debate of obese airline customers, should they be forced to pay for a second seat or should the airline eat the cost as part of doing business in an increasingly obese society?