Saturday, December 13, 2008

If the Seat Fits

The Sup reme Court ruling that Air Canada, Jazz and WestJet must provide an extra airline seat free of charge to persons requiring an attendant or who do not fit in a single seat has engendered a lot of discussion, even in other countries. Most public comment I have seen agrees with the concession for an attendant, but has been incredulous or mocking over accommodating the obese. The latter part of the decision is unique.

In a way I have no opinion on this. (So why am I blogging about it, eh?) I can see plenty of arguments both ways and don't pretend to know more about the laws of the land than the judges who rendered this decision. I see some odd issues in application though. Will there be a box to check on the online booking form if you need to be accommodated in this way? If you're not big enough to require two seats, what happens if you say you are? Is Air Canada going to look at you and say, "I'm sorry sir, but you're not fat enough to have an extra seat without paying for it"? Are non-obese people going to claim that they are being discriminated against because they can't get extra hip and shoulder room for free? I don't think anyone in the "almost" category is crazy enough to gain twenty pounds in order to make the grade for an extra seat, but I just don't know, do I?

The reason I'm blogging on this issue at all is to pass on a comment made on the Airline Biz Blog by someone identified as Jenny. She says:

To say that you should not accommodate a disabled obese person because they got that way themselves is ignorant. Would you then not accommodate someone with cancer if they got cancer from smoking? Would you not make concessions for a quadriplegic because they took known risks in a dangerous sport and got injured? What if they were paralyzed while driving drunk? Where do you draw the line? Many disabilities are the result of poor judgement. Disabled is disabled.

This MSN article outlines four options the airlines could take to determine eligibility for an extra seat under the policy. They include from self-declaration (but the author seems confused about the benefit, because suggests that skinny people would declare to be obese in order to save money), a doctor's note, body mass index, and actual measurement by the airlines. They've had those baggage-sizing devices for years; I'm sure I'm not the only one who has joked about putting a butt-sizing device next to it. On January 10th it might be reality.

But please don't eat too much over the holidays. I don't think the extra seat is worth it.


Paul B said...

My brother is certainly obese, and I believe chooses to fly club / business class on the few occasions he has flown recently, because he gets a bigger seat.

However, I would not, in ANY way, define him as "disabled"... he is quite able to walk, climb stairs etc etc.

But I suspect he would have problems fitting into a normal "economy seat".

So would I expect him to qualify for the free "double sat"? Why the heck SHOULD he? He's NOT disabled. I know full well, *if he wanted to* he *could* lose weight.

So, as he is not disabled, then he has to take the hit of flying business class. Sound good to me!

Sarah said...

I don't have an opinion on whether or not the extra seat should be free or not either. But as an occasional airline pax I am glad to hear it happens. Seriously, don't you note the obese in line at the gate and pray they don't have the seat next to you?

One of the most uncomfortable rides I ever had was when I found Mrs. Obese in my window seat, the middle seat open and Mr. Obese in the aisle seat. I insisted on my window. Still wasn't fun to observe the pain they were enduring.

chris said...

Let's not kid ourselves about the "free of charge" part of this equation. It still costs $X to fly an airplane from point A to point B, which means everyone else on the flight ends up paying marginally more for those "free" seats. So we're basically talking about welfare. And now that the court is on the side of the "oppressed", I can't wait to find out just how creative people can get about arguing themselves into being awarded one of those freebie seats!

Bjorn Freeman-Benson said...

I've always thought that airlines should charge ticket prices by passenger+luggage weight: after all, more fuel is needed to hoist more weight (plus it could help with weight and balance). You'd buy a ticket for a weight range, e.g., 80-100 kilos combined weight (KCW) or 100-120 KCW or 120-140 KCW, etc. Ok, so maybe the ticketing systems and buying public are not yet up to the complexity, but it's an idea...

muppomai said...

Obesity is one of the few ailments that we still give ourselves permission to mock and condemn. WE ALL KNOW that if THEY just had more SELF CONTROL, they wouldn't be fat, gross and disgusting - right!? I'm just happy that my particular "issues" aren't so readily apparent.

It's just not that simple. folks, or it wouldn't exist. Think about it.

The more difficult issue at ticket-selling time I suspect will be deciding who "needs" an escort and who is allowed to fill that role. That's where "free" seats are at stake.

I'm so glad I live in a society that is compassionate enough to actually care about such issues and try to resolve them without just locking "certain people" away and forgetting they exist.

Rhonda said...

It was a joke, but I rather liked the Derrie-Air concept of buying a ticket per pound - you and your luggage. After all, more weight means more fuel burned to lift you and your luggage.

Of course, I'm skinny and I tend to pack light.

dpierce said...

While I'm generally not in favor of legislating customer service decisions, an upside may be that if this privilege is invoked frequently enough, airlines may begin to re-evaluate the width of economy class seats.

If a 50-row flight averaged 50 people who invoked the rule, the airline may reason that increasing standard seat width and losing one seat per row may still accommodate the same average number of revenue seats while improving customer satisfaction for ALL pax and simplifying the process of seat allocation.

I'm probably simplifying the situation too much.

steve said...

Muppomai, above, appears to be suffering" selective retention"

the article referred to, clearly states that if the diet was modified(to what is basically percieved as "healthy") , the obese lost average 25lb ANDthe balance of gut-bacteria was restored.....putting it another way, gluttony engenders obesity.

What next? I'll have to pay a premium on clothes which contain half the cloth, buy meals too big to eat ,massive reinforced furniture,and small cars will be verboten.

People with a real,medical reason for obesity, have my sympathy.Selfish, greedy people don't.
The lung-cancer/alcoholic argument doesn't fly either.....both groups pay vast sums in duty/taxes,which,after"costs" still shows society a monetary "profit" from their excesses.

Every pound an aircraft carries, costs money(perhaps 'Trix could Blog about the fuel that is lugged around and NEVER EVER USED...but adds about( 10% ? ) to the aircraft's fuel-burn.

Charge per seat, with a weight -limit set by the structural integrity of the seat/floor/mountings/belt.

"abnormal loads" pay abnormal rates. why should the rest of the population subsidise a minority....sorry, rant off.

Anonymous said...

For fuel that's carried but not used, see past posts on

The price-per-kilo model would meet any legislative requirement to not discriminate against the obese (since the model applies to everyone) and is technically possible but it'd mean re-equipping terminals and money is tight these days. A judgement like this in a G8 country would have the industry excreting bricks, but hey, it's only Canada.


Aviatrix said...

muppomai: According to that article, obesity is contagious. Now this is a result you don't want to be true, or known if untrue. Given an unclear vector of transmission, should I refuse to spend time with the obese or to eat foot they have handled? Ihe 'epidemic' of obesity really is an epidemic, spread by eating at the same buffet table as obese people? The more trips to the buffet you take, the more likely you are to 'catch fat'?

steve: I couldn't help wondering how such a partnership had evolved. It would be great if it worked the other way around, such that the starving had the tools to extract more nutrition from their food, and those in the land of plenty ignored more of it. I say the more efficient the bacteria the better. I ould save time and money and eat only one small meal a day. The article also indicated that obesity in newborns could be predicted from gut bacteria at birth, so you can't really blame them that way. One wonders if kids with this intestinal flora would regulate their weight fine if allowed to choose their own food intake, but instead are socialized to consume as much as their less efficiently digesting cousins.

steve said...

aviatrix said"or to eat foot they have handled? "

steve see's 'Trix with foot in mouth :-)

Yes, it seems perverse that the less nutrition available,the less able the body is,to extract it with equal efficiency.

I'm as thin as a rake, wether I trough big meals or eat extremely frugally.
3 overweight friends-2 admit to poor diet, male admits to too much self-indulgence, female blames it purely on "takeaways"....other female "eats very little....but my eyes tell a different story.
Ah, well, i'll avoid toe-jam sandwiches,just in case.

Meanwhile ,a gut-feeling says that research is fundamentally flawed and will be discredited.

Aviatrix said...

Steve: Re: foot in mouth.

Not really. That's exactly as I meant it. I'm trying to point out that "obesity is a contagious disease" doesn't improve the pariah status of the afflicted one whit. It makes it worse. The implication is that anyone wanting to avoid diseases and disability linked with obesity should avoid contact with the obese. You don't want someone with hepatitis handling your food, lest you contract hepatitis; if a food handler is found to have hepatitis, the health department calls everyone in contact to be tested and treated. Why would you take the risk of consuming food prepared by the obese if obesity is a contagious bacteriological infection?

On the other hand, these bacteria could be an excellent tool for the military, greatly reducing the costs and logistics in supplying meals to troops. Can they be adapted to live in the guts of commercial livestock, reducing feed costs? How about in wilderness survival kits, allowing the stranded to live for months on their shoe leather and pocket lint?

I have no idea whether I am joking or not. I'm just trying to come to terms with the many implications this concept.

I am certain that different individuals metabolize the same food and exercise differently because I have lived in close enough quarters with people to see exactly how much food and exercise they got, yet seen people who eat less and exercise more than me fail to lose weight, while I eat candy and meat and lounge around surfing the internet. I always assumed it was genetics, and that those people's ancestors had endured more famines, selecting genetically for those who could maintain weight on the least food. Generally this is an excellent characteristic for survival of a species; perhaps the researchers haven't yet discovered a substantial population of people who live with these high-efficiency bacteria, happily maintaining weight and health on one small meal every couple of days.

Paul B said...

Another thing I hadn't thought about: if they have to take a "helper" with certain disabled people, then what happens if both are also obese?

That would mean FOUR seats for the price of one:-)

dpierce said...

I read this article to a few friends today, and the reactions were: "If my disability is agoraphobia, do I get a whole row to myself? Or the whole cabin?" "If I'm a control freak, can I fly the plane?" "If I'm feeling ill, can I have my own lav?"

I think Steve was just joking about your use of "foot" when you probably meant "food".

I don't think anyone was suggesting that the obese be locked up. The issue is whether or not they have to pay for special seating, a far less dramatic penalty. After an accident, I needed to have my leg immobilized a few months ago, and paid a business class fare so that I (and my leg) could fit on the plane properly. No one ever offered to put me in business class for free, and I didn't expect them to ask. (Although I would've accepted it if they did.)

If I'm asked to accept obesity as a disease that can't be tamed, certainly cigarette addiction falls into that category as well. They don't cut the smokers a break.

muppomai said...

re: these bacteria could be an excellent tool for the military,..

I think the contagion factor is in terms of decades here, not hours. Which might help explain our growing obesity issues as a society?

There is also the question of "what makes you feel full?" -- so you know it's time to stop eating. Bacteria might also be implicated in that because it's a biochemical issue as well (and of course emotional/psychological issues related to why we eat is a huge topic).

New research is also showing that these newly discovered types of bacteria (numbering in the thousands apparently and needing a DNA sequencing technique to "find" them) are small enough to pass through most existing filters - smaller than many viruses.

And speaking of "I thought it was genetic..." these CWD bacteria are quite possibly messing with that too? Anyway, off topic, but certainly interesting.

Tschäff said...

Wow, this post was a real comment provoker. Maybe it would help to explain a real life situation I had:

I was working as a CSR for KLM at ORD. A flight attendant comes out of the airplane while we're boarding and says there is a situation I need to fix

the seats are in rows of 3
window, middle, aisle seats

in the middle is a very obese person, wearing an orange seat belt extender but it's not containing this person

this person is occupying his seat, and half of the seats on either side of him.

my first response was to think, where do i have 2 empty seats?

but the plane is 100% full.

it's not an option

No empty 2 seats on the airplane, my heart beats faster as i'm getting a little bit panicked. I don't want to tell this guy he can't fly. I can't tell these two people they don't have a right to their full seat.

then it occurs for me to ask him, are you flying with anyone?

he says, yes, my wife, and gestures to the thin women in the window seat.

so I say, ok you two switch!

Problem solved.

On a typical day the airline can check in an obese person, and block the seat next to them in the computer.

Helene said...

This past week I flew, along with various members of my family, to El Paso for a family funeral. As last minute flights go, you expect as an economy passenger to find yourself at the mercy of the seat in front of you so far as leg room or having your knees slammed as the seat reclines on them. You probably also expect that the seat will be somewhat narrow. However, I still paid almost $300 for that less-than roomy seat. So for the limited amount of seating my money does buy I expect to enjoy every square inch of it!

So why is it that the large person who sits down next to you feels that it's okay for their oversized body to seize part of your "paid for" square footage so that they can sit more comfortably? Do you think me cruel to feel extreme annoyance? If so, let me share that I take no issue with their size whether by choice or physical limitations. But I do take great issue with them booking an economy seat, knowing that the seat will be less than accommodating and then spilling over into my portion of the seating. I'm already not terribly comfortable and my $300 is just as good as their $300. So why, by nature of their size, am I required to donate, relinquish or otherwise fall prey to their seizure of my seating space?

They may understandably argue they can't afford two seats. However, I would argue that their lack of financial resources do not entitle them or justify them to taking a portion of what I've paid for; Seat 10B!

Airlines need to give every passenger what they paid for and that includes allowing me to enjoy my entire seating space, no matter how small it is. Therefore, I believe airlines should have rules about people size, just as they do about carry on luggage size. The luggage must be able to fit within an overhead bin while allowing it to close tightly. Passengers should be required to fit in their paid seat without spilling into the arm, shoulder or otherwise space of the passenger(s) seated next to them.

This isn't about being cruel or singling any group of people out. Rather it is about providing each passenger with the space they paid for. It's about not allowing a large passenger to pay the same price and then encroach on the paid space of another.

If a passenger doesn't fit within the dimensions of the seating space dimensions they should be required to purchase another seat or an upgraded seat that provides for a larger space.