Video: Too fat to fly?
updated 12/4/2009 1:35:25 PM ET 2009-12-04T18:35:25

A photograph of an obese passenger filling his seat and part of a jet’s aisle, reportedly snapped by an American Airlines flight attendant, has renewed the debate about how airlines deal with obese travelers.

Policies differ by airline — some carriers try to accommodate their passengers at no cost, some require their large customers to purchase a second seat and reimburse the money if the plane is not full and a second seat becomes available.

Large or small, frequent traveler or not, opinions are numerous.

A vote asking readers if it’s fair to charge obese passengers more to fly resulted in dozens of comments.

Read on for a selection of responses.

(Some responses have been shortened and edited for style.)

Why not just be more realistic about the seats? People have complained about the size of coach seating since flying became a mode of transportation anyway. Most domestic carriers use smaller planes (like the 737-800 I was just on) and cram them full to save on operating costs. This is not working. Jet fuel prices have long been stable and prices have gone up and extra fees are skyrocketing compared to how things were just three years ago. Where’s the benefit? There is none. If they're going to charge us so much and tack a bunch of fees on besides, the least they could do is buy some planes that aren’t built like sardine cans.”
solidux (Click here for the full response.)

“I think the seat sizes should be standardized to fit 90-95 percent of nominally fit adults comfortably. This is in both the width of the seat and leg room. To ask the airlines to lose revenue because someone is obese is absurd and so is the suggestion that people who are not large should sacrifice their space and comfort for their overflowing seatmates ... I believe in tolerance, but I also believe in social responsibility to ensure one does not intrude upon the rights of other without their expressed permission to do so.
TY_HI(Click here for the full response.)

“I work for an airline and we learned long ago that for all the talk of bigger seats, all people really care about is the lowest fare, and the few airlines that have tried to provide cabins with larger seats at moderately higher fares have all gone under in a price war. So unless you're willing to put up the money and shop for seat pitch and width online, you’ll have to accept what you get. It’s your problem, not the airlines.”
— David-358395 (Click here for the full response.)

“The current pricing model for airline seats is outdated. Airplane fuel consumption is directly related to the weight of the plane. That is the reason why we are now paying for extra luggage and luggage over certain weight. Airlines seats should be priced on a similar model, by the pound. An overweight person requires more fuel to transport than a slimmer one. Why should that person not have to pay for the extra fuel needed to carry his or her weight. I think airlines should start charging by the pound of body weight. Not only is that a more fair system but also puts the responsibility of being overweight squarely back on those that refuse to take care of their health.”
— UP2U-1920

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“I am overweight. However, even at fighting weight, my hips are too wide for a coach seat and my shoulders overlap into the adjacent seats. Should I be forced to pay more as a result of my genes? How is that fair?”
Dave -040393

“ ... You mentioned fairness. Is it fair that another customer should be forced to share part of his seat — that he paid just as much for — with a person who is too large to fit within the confines of a single seat? Is it fair for the smaller person to pay just as much to only be able to use three-quarters of the space he paid for?”
NA224 (Click here for the full response.)

“Maybe it would be better if the airlines had graduated seat sizes in the plane and charged more for them. People that want more room (kids, babies, pregnant, taller, larger, etc.) could pay slightly more (but not first-class prices).”

“Charging the overweight person in the seat next to me more money might make the airline a few more bucks — but it certainly doesn't benefit the average size traveler next to that person. I'm not paying less for my seat, and I still lose out on the room I paid for. Oversize people may pay more, but the other travelers won't see any benefits.”

“Passengers should be charged per pound just like when I mail a package. More weight equals more fuel burned. It is only fair.”

“They [airlines] should charge a base price for a seat, then a price per pound. Kids and skinny people would be cheaper on fuel, why should they pay full price? Large people cost more to move.
— Tired of Silly

“ ...This is the business the airline people decided to go into. It's really up to them as to how to accommodate the average size person. If the average is going up, then they need to follow with seat size, letting everyone's tickets go up. If people really need more, still, then OK, yes, a charge may be appropriate. But it should be the exception.
— Sarah-396361

“A whole range of issues arises from obese people on airplanes. Weight — airplanes can only carry so much and every pound costs more fuel. Girth — airplane seats are designed to carry ‘average’ sized passengers + a little ... I have personally seen a passenger get wedged in a seat and unable to get out without assistance. Safety — even the aisles are small on airplanes because of design restrictions, if a plane needed to be cleared in a hurry (like sinking in water) then the aisles must have UNRESTRICTED and swift movement ... the emergency exit doors are sized and placed in positions of design requirements as well, not to accommodate severely oversized humans.”
1623 yankee (Click here for the full response.)

“In truth, this isn’t a debate/discussion about airline seats. And it’s not a discussion about thyroid problems, about genetic anomalies ... it’s not really even about ‘rights.’ This is a debate/discussion about the obesity pandemic. The issue that’s going to change our world as much as anything else. And it's a subject that has already show people to be moving to one side or the other.”
— schmadrian (Click here for the full response.)

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