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Too Heavy For Rescue But Not For Profit

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photo: Air Methods

photo: Air Methods

According to the CDC, the weight of the average American has significantly increased since 1960 and that may be starting to have an impact on air medical transport providers, especially those that operate helicopters. The average weight for men aged 20-74 rose nearly 30 pounds over four decades ending in 2002, according a CDC report. And while some medical service providers are reporting that they're being forced to deny service to some passengers due to their weight, the percentage remains relatively small. Meanwhile, one commercial airline has been able to apply a different, more profitable, approach to accommodating plus-sized passengers.

In a recent report by NBCnews.com, Air Methods, a leading medical flight provider, revealed it has denied service at least three times this year due to a patient's girth. The overall number of patients denied service due to their weight is large (estimated at 5,000 per year), according to the report, but the percentage of flights canceled due to heavy patients remains relatively small. More than 500,000 medical flights are conducted each year in the U.S. and only about 1 percent of those are cancelled due to the excessive weight or size of a patient, NBC said. Of course, the main issue is with equipment -- some helicopters simply don't have a large enough opening to safely accept large bodies. That is less often of an issue for commercial airlines. And this April Samoa Airlines announced its plan to address heavier fliers. It began charging passengers based on their weight. Nearly one month later, the airline reported it had seen a 20-percent increase in profits since its pay-by-weight program was implemented.

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