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Heavy travelers flying United Airlines might find themselves paying for an extra seat. United is the third and latest airline to charge obese passengers for two seats instead of one. The guidelines are clear: Passengers need to be able to put the armrest between the seats down, and they need to be able to buckle their seat belt without an extender.
The decision, clearly, isn't without controversy. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance thinks United is way off course. 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 a spokesman.
Other weight diversity advocates argue that since one-third of Americans are obese, airlines should upsize 30 percent of their seats, so that obese travelers can travel comfortably.
I was having trouble forming an opinion on this one, so I bounced it off my husband at dinner. Well, he mused, Other forms of transportation don't charge more if you're obese. I mean, if you ride the subway or the bus, you don't have to throw in an extra token, right? Right. And the fact is, airplanes are in the hospitality business, so it's their job to make everyone comfortable, not the other way around.
But on the other hand, building airplanes with bigger seats kinds of feels like resignation to me. Like we're throwing up our hands at America's obesity issue and saying, Okay ... we give. Let's just make everything bigger. Janice Taylor, at Our Lady of Weight Loss, suggests that airlines encourage their passengers to live a healthier lifestyle instead. You penalize overweight people yet you offer no real healthy choices when distributing your peanuts, snack bars, cookies, et al. Why not offer fresh fruit? says Taylor. She also thinks airlines should offer gym memberships to frequent fliers.
United claims to have gotten 700 complaints in the last year about over-sized passengers, though they're probably fielding ten times that after announcing this policy change. If this truly is a comfort issue, then maybe airlines are going to have to start charging passengers who are too tall, too chatty, too smelly, or parents with small children too. Isn't being uncomfortable on an airplane just part of the ride?
What do you think about United's new policy?