Obese Man Forces U.S. Airways Passenger to Stand for 7-Hour Flight

on November 24 2011 5:05 PM
Obese Man on Airplane
Policies on "customers of size" vary by airline. Creative Commons

Arthur Berkowitz, 57, was forced to stand during the entire U.S. Airways flight from Anchorage to Philadelphia, one of the longest domestic flights offered by the airline, because of the size of an obese fellow passenger.  

I didn't fly from Alaska to Philadelphia on Flight 901, Berkowitz told consumer advocate Christopher Elliot on his blog. I stood.

The incident happened back in July 2011, but Berkowitz has only recently decided to speak out, upset after receiving only a $200 voucher from U.S. Airways. Some bloggers are picking up the story to push for weight restrictions on airplanes.

Berkowitz however, says the problem lies not with his obese passenger, but in the airplane's preparedness, which poses a serious safety hazard.

Body Covered Half of my Seat

Berkowitz was already seated on the aircraft when his fellow passenger, a late arrival, sat down next to him. The man was over 400 pounds, and Berkowitz says he spilled over into the adjacent seat, filling half of it. His size required both armrests to be raised up and allowed for his body to cover half of my seat, he said.

Calling the issue to the flight attendant's attention, Berkowitz explained that it was impossible for him to sit there. Unfortunately for him, it soon became apparent that there was nowhere else for him to stay.

All the seats on the airplane were full, and he was barred from the flight attendants' jump seats, which were vacant, because of U.S. Airways regulations.

Berkowitz was forced to stand in the aisle and galley area for the duration of the seven hour flight. He didn't have a seat belt on from the moment the U.S. Airways plane took off in Anchorage, Alas. to when it landed in Philadelphia, Penn.

Sorry for the Inconvenience

News sources covering Berkowitz's story, like The Post, have already begun giving the incident nicknames like Fat's in the Flier, and many news sites and bloggers have framed the story as a cautionary tale for Thanksgiving travelers: you may lose your seat to an obese passenger.

Commenters on Elliot's initial blog post have been particularly nasty, calling passengers like the obese man sweaty hambeasts stealing seats from deserving costumers.

But Berkowitz, who has been flying U.S. Airways for 50 years, places almost no blame with the passenger, who he says behaved like a gentleman and was very sorry for inconveniencing him.

The first thing he said to me was: 'I want to apologize. I'm your worst nightmare,' Berkowitz said.

In fact, with rising obesity rates across the U.S. making it likely that half of America will be overweight or obese by 2030, the problem on U.S. Airways Flight 901 was not so much that a 400-pound man boarded the plane as that the airline was neither prepared to accommodate him or to help fellow passengers adjust.

'Regrettable' Incident

Berkowitz is furious at U.S. Airways, whose gate agent should not have allowed the obese passenger to buy tickets or baord without purchasing two seats.

He did acknowledge that the flight attendants were sympathetic and fully acknowledged the mistake, but cannot believe that the end result was him being forced to stand for seven hours with no seat belt on.

When U.S. Airways heard of the situation, a spokesman apologized for the regrettable incident and offered Berkowitz a $200 voucher. Berkowitz was not appeased.

The disgruntled passenger found the idea of a $200 voucher (requiring him to buy another U.S. Airways ticket) as recompense for a terrible $800 flight inappropriate, and Elliot, after having reviewed the case, agrees.

U.S. Airways might want to take another look at his complaint, Elliott wrote on his blog.

Berkowitz told The Daily Mail that he had also raised the issue because he wants the airline and authorities to develop a policy on safety. His lack of a seat belt or even a seat throughout what could have been a turbulent flight is a very real safety situation, and one the airline would do well to examine further.

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