16 April 2009

United Doesn’t Like Big Butts

On April 15, United Airlines announced that obese passengers on full flights will have to pay for an extra seat if they are too big to fit in one seat. Oh, so now there’s a fat tax to fly? Actually, United isn’t the first airline to come up with this policy. Southwest Airlines has been doing it for many years.

United’s new policy requires anyone who can’t fit in a single seat, properly buckle the seatbelt, or put the armrest fully down to purchase a second seat on full flights. If two adjoining seats are available in the cabin, then an overweight person can use the second seat free of charge. If no empty seats are available, then the overweight passenger would be required to purchase a second seat or upgrade to business class. If this is not an option, then passenger must rebook his or her flight.

Many people have spoken out praising United’s policy as fair, saying that they are tired of being overcrowded by overweight seatmates on airplanes. I understand that. But anyone who’s ever flown coach knows that those seats aren’t spacious to begin with. And I’ve had to sit next to skinny people who spread out as much as they want, invading my seat space. There’s nothing I can do about that, other than to seem rude by asking them to stay in their own seat.

This is why, for a few dollars extra, some airlines now provide a few extra inches of legroom for tall passengers. Why can’t the airlines do the same for overweight passengers by providing seats with extra butt room for overweight passengers?

Corporate greed, discrimination and elitism, that’s why. It’s socially acceptable to discriminate against fat people; it’s not socially acceptable to discriminate against tall people. However, by providing plus-sized seats, airlines might have to reduce the number of people they can book on a single flight. And that would be money out of their pockets.

Remember when the airlines added a fuel surcharge to all flights? Did that ever go away? Oddly, when fuel prices dropped, airline ticket prices did not.

Airlines are getting plenty of money. It’s not passengers’ fault if the airlines can’t budget properly or are paying their corporate fat cats way too much money. If they reduced the salary of some of their executives, then they’d be able to add two or three plus-sized seats to every plane.

Or maybe airlines just need to rethink the size of their seats altogether. People are bigger now than they were 30 years ago, and those seats don’t seem to have changed size much. Maybe all seats should be a little more spacious so passengers aren’t sitting on top of their neighbors even when neither person is overweight. Sure, there would be fewer people on the plane, but that’s not all bad, either.

Another problem I have with United’s policy is that it causes unnecessary embarrassment to overweight passengers, who are already embarrassed on a daily basis. If a flight attendant told the person next to me that he or she was too fat and needed to buy a second seat, I would be embarrassed for the person, and I would probably have some unkind words for the flight attendant. I just don’t want to see someone treated like that. Although I’m really not a people person, I hate to see underdogs treated poorly.

If airlines want to ensure the comfort of all passengers so badly, then why do I always get stuck on flights with screaming children? This is not comfortable for me or for other passengers, but the children are still allowed to scream, and the parents don’t have to pay extra. In fact, those parents should have to pay me and all the other passengers for having to listen to that noise.

I can’t choose a childfree flight — and believe me, if I could, I would. Tall people can get extra legroom. And overweight people should be allowed to choose plus-sized seats when they order their tickets.

Granted, United’s policy only takes effect on flights where two seats together are not available for an overweight person, and Southwest says it refunds 97 percent of second seats purchased because the extra fee is only applicable on flights with no empty seats. Nevertheless, just having a “fat policy” in place is uncouth and discriminatory.

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