Most airlines don’t have any policies regarding unusually tall or fat people and can’t handle their extra size in cramped seats. It’s becoming a growing problem for the airlines, the obese, and the people who have to sit next to them.

My recent comments on the subject on Travel-Rants, suggesting that passengers be charged per seat generated some controversy. I’m going to explain why the obese should be charged per seat, and welcome your comments as well.

  • Airlines Charge Consumers For Quantifiable Things – The airlines charge you per extra baggage, for every snack, or any other item that they can count. Since seats are a fixed space, if you take up two (no matter how much you weight), they should charge you for both seats. Otherwise, someone next to you is paying the same price for 1/2, 3/4, or some percentage of the same seat.
  • They Don’t Charge Babies Since They Don’t Take Up A Seat – Babies (usually under the age of 2) can ride for free provided their parents don’t get them a seat. Babies don’t fill up a seat and can’t be charged for it, so the reverse should be true as well. If you take up more than a seat why shouldn’t you have to pay for it?
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  • Airlines Are Price Gouging On Everything Else – People should be up in arms over extra baggage fees (which can be avoided with an extra suitcase), charging travelers $5 for peanuts, and endless flight delays. But when a passenger only gets half her seat, the airlines worry about offending customers.
  • Obesity Is In Most Cases A Result of Lifestyle Choices – The extremely tall are born tall due to genetics and don’t affect the people beside them (the people in front, with some knees, maybe). Being obese is the result of eating more calories than one burns over a long period of time. Having a pet is also a lifestyle choice – and if you decide to fly them to Oklahoma you’ll be charged for that too.

As the Concerned Conservative writes, there may also be a safety issue.

In 2001, a woman suffered serious injuries including a chest clot and muscular tears on a Virgin Atlantic flight. She was seated next to a very obese woman whose body was literally crushing this poor Welsh woman. She requested to be moved, but was told by the flight attendants that the flight was full and that there was nothing they could do. She was rushed to a hospital upon landing in Los Angeles and suffers chronic pain.

Many passengers are put in the same situation and airlines, airplane staff, and passengers don’t quite know how what to do. Christopher Elliot has some good straight forward advice for someone who requested a seat change due to an obese passenger who was sitting next to them.

Asking a flight attendant for another seat, and offering to buy a first-class seat, was a good start. You were also smart to brush off the crewmember’s insensitive comments. Your next step would have been to appeal this to the chief purser and pilot. Obstructing the aisle of an aircraft is a safety hazard, not a punch line in a flight attendant’s joke. Similarly, your decision to e-mail Delta was correct. But you shouldn’t have taken its “no” for an answer. You could have — and should have — appealed this to someone higher up.

An appropriate stance is for airlines to take is to charge passengers who take up 2 seats to pay for 2 seats only if the flight is full. Southwest takes this approach but most airlines are vague on the subject.

What’s your take?

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[photo by: Combined Media]