Airline seats have been one-size-fits-all since the beginning. Today, those 16.5 to 18-inch wide seats are anything but.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity has more than doubled since 1980. In 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight, and over 600 million were obese. (WHO defines “overweight” as a BMI greater than or equal to 25 and “obese” as a BMI greater than or equal to 30.)
It’s a trend that has thrown up thorny issues with respect to air travel, one that highlights the conflict between airlines’ needs and basic passenger rights.
Last month, lawyer Giorgio Destro from Padua, Italy sued Emirates, claiming his flight was disrupted by an obese passenger seated next to him.
According to reports, Destro was not able to comfortably sit in his assigned seat, and spent much of the nine-hour flight from Cape Town to Dubai standing or sitting in crew seats. His proof for the lawsuit? A selfie that includes his fellow passenger’s arm in his seat space.
OBESITY HAS MORE THAN DOUBLED SINCE 1980.
Passenger rights advocates argue that most aeroplanes can’t accommodate passengers of all body types, and that everyone has the right to fly.
“Tall, short, thin or fat, broad shoulders, wide hips or longer legs… people come in all sizes and it is rare for any coach seat to provide a comfortable and pleasant travel experience,” says Peggy Howell, Vice Chairman and Public Relations Director of National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA).
“The responsibility of serving customers of all sizes is the cost of doing business in today’s modern world and that cost should not come at the expense of any one group of individuals.”
Many airlines have responded to the growing obesity epidemic by insisting passengers of size buy two seats to ensure safety and comfort. Sometimes the airline will offer a refund if there was at least one other empty seat on the flight.
But as of late a new fee has been created. Samoa Air is charging by weight (which has become known as a “fat tax”).
On top of all the other additional charges that appear to be creeping in, from checked baggage fees to in-flight drinks, is charging heavy customers an extra fee another profit ploy? And should added charges really extend to how much a person weighs?
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF SERVING CUSTOMERS OF ALL SIZES IS THE COST OF DOING BUSINESS IN TODAY’S MODERN WORLD.
At first glance, the fat tax issue sounds discriminatory, but some argue that this is purely down to numbers. The heavier a plane is, the more fuel it burns through. And airlines are always looking for ways to travel lighter.
One clue to the effect of in-flight loads comes from pilots. For 75 years, pilots have had to haul 40-pound Jeppesen flight manuals aboard every working flight, but now most US airlines have spent millions of dollars converting these heavy bags to electronic flight bags — in other words, iPads.
“Between two pilots, that’s 80 pounds per takeoff,” says Kurt Doerflein, a veteran mechanic for a major US carrier. “At over 100,000 commercial flights a day in the world, that adds up.” For instance, American Airlines has said the switch would save the airline $1.2 million a year in fuel costs.
As well as charging customers by weight, which Samoa Air insists is not intended to create shame, it also offers an XL (extra large) row that has a more comfortable seat for larger people. It measures 12 to 14 inches wider than the traditional seat.
Chris Langton, Chief Executive Officer of Samoa Air says the pay-by-weight system isn’t going anywhere. “Aircraft only have weight to sell and people will recognise that immediately,” he says . “So they will ask questions as to why should light-weight people pay for heavy-weight people, and why they get charged for ‘excess weight’ with excessive fees.”
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