Fat Fliers: What Should Airlines Do?

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Southwest Airlines continues to get pilloried for tossing director Kevin Smith—a self-confessed fat guy—off one of its 737s a couple of weeks ago. It has devolved into a mildly amusing public trading of insults and apologies.

I would have found it a lot funnier if I hadn't had the pleasure—maybe four or five times—of being seated next to a massively obese person. So, at this point, reader discretion advised.

The absolute worst was a short Delta flight from Raleigh to Charlotte—a weird little connector that must have been a special section of some sort. I don't remember the details. But, brother, do I remember my seatmate. I boarded at the last minute, with a center seat halfway down the airplane. Although the airplane was full, the window seat was unoccupied so I figured fortune was with me.

Then she appeared, struggling down the aisle and barely able to clear the seats on either side. If she weighed an ounce, she was over 300 pounds and she was navigating to the only empty seat on the airplane—the window next to me. The FA practically stuffed her into the row and out came the seatbelt extender. Forget the arm rest coming down, she was fully a third into my seat.

Seeing my pained look, the FA gave me a glance back that said, "I'd move you if I could, but the airplane is full." It was a short flight—I was in the seat for 40 minutes, maybe, so I just sucked it up. But I was unhappy about it. I wrote Delta to complain and ask about their policy toward obese people—sorry, I refuse to use "person of size"—and as if to further insult me, they said they didn't have one because it wasn't a frequent problem. It's amazing to me that companies think their customers are that dumb, but some do.

So, what should they have done? I like Southwest's policy of requiring an obese person to buy the adjacent seat if the arm rest can't be lowered. Here's Southwest's express policy: "The armrest is the definitive gauge for a customer of size. It serves as the boundary between seats and measures 17 inches in width. Customers who are unable to lower both armrests and/or who compromise any portion of adjacent seating should proactively book the number of seats needed prior to travel."

The italics here are mine. Compromising the adjacent seating means that the large person is taking up more than his or her fair share of the seat and is denying the person seated next door what he or she paid for. And that's just wrong. I can't get past the idea that if I buy a seat on an airliner, there is some expectation that I should be expected to put up with another person occupying some portion of it because that person is obese. I can live with rubbing shoulders and having no armrest space.

I will readily concede that a degree of tolerance is necessary here and even though like everyone else, I have trouble summoning it when overweight people are involved, I do try. I understand that the airlines are public transportation and anyone using them has to reasonably tolerate screeching babies, loud and non-stop talkers, people with body odor, passengers who can't find their butts much less their seats and, yes, being somewhat crowded by a wide load in the next seat.

But reasonable has its limits and some people the airlines allow to fly stretch this to the breaking point. So Southwest's policy attempts to address this. Unfortunately, policies are adjudicated by people and people make mistakes. That may have been true in Smith's case and if so, that's unfortunate. But I'm having trouble being very sympathetic with the fat-people-have-rights-too argument when I think about my experience on that Delta flight.

That we discriminate against overweight people is a settled fact. Consider the safety argument, the basic concept being that a fat person could block an aisle or exit during an emergency evacuation. That's true. But on the last flight I took from Atlanta to Tampa, there were four wheelchair passengers. Such passengers also represent a cabin safety compromise, but we are tolerant and even solicitous of them. Why? Because in general, we view obese people not as handicapped but lacking the will and discipline to eat properly and exercise. That's also true, but not universally so by any means. Some overweight people really are handicapped.

As the U.S. population continues to grow ever more overweight, the airlines will have more of this rather than less. I think Southwest is on the right track in having a policy to deal with overweight people and if having to buy the adjacent seat or risk being yanked from a flight isn't motivation enough for a person to drop some weight, I don't know what is. Others include heart disease, diabetes, joint failure…you know the rest.

I'll concede a degree of intolerance on this issue. It's just one in a largish catalog of personal failings and character flaws, ever reinforced when I'm into the 30th mile of a bicycle ride wondering if I can hack the pain and still do 50.

As for Kevin Smith's wounded self-esteem, I can't get myself as incensed as he appeared to be. Why is it such a bad thing to suggest a stop at the salad bar on the way to the gym?

Comments (106)

I agree with your views but I can already hear the flak you're stirring up down below. Imagine if cable news started talking like this.

Maybe the airlines should put a few rows of larger seats in the plane. On larger flights they would only lose one ticket for every 3 seats which might be acceptable if you charged them for 4/3 of a seat instead of for two whole seats. Market the unused seats to the non-obese as 'roomy.'

On smaller flights, call it a weight and balance problem and kick them, or go ahead and charge for two seats on the wing.

Posted by: Corey Phelps | February 28, 2010 2:49 PM    Report this comment

So what was Kevin Smith's complaint? You did research that before doing this editorial/blog, right? Or did you just read all the other coverage, and decide to hop on the "Celebrity Too Fat To Fly!" news bandwagon?

My understanding is Kevin Smith's complaint is that he while he is fat, he doesn't have an issue with lowering the armrest and wasn't impinging on his neighbor's space, and that Southwest failed to properly apply its policy.

I would agree that Southwest's policy is a good one, if for no other reason than it actually exists, and allows people who need two seats to get them, and get the extra seat refunded if the flight isn't full. That seems like a reasonable compromise for those who really do need two seats. Unfortunately, it isn't clear this is the case for the cause of the latest celebrity news explosion. Admittedly a he said/she said situation, but covering both sides in such cases would seem to be reasonable.

Posted by: Bob Snyder | February 28, 2010 7:06 PM    Report this comment

Let's put all the "excessively husky" people in the same row and see if they can fit and leave the aisle clear. I'm willing to bet that you wouldn't be able to do it. I'm sorry, if the only way you can fit into a seat is for you to spill halfway into my seat, you can buy another seat, or buy a more expensive, larger business class seat, thank you very much. Southwest's policy is fair and a good idea.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | February 28, 2010 8:06 PM    Report this comment

"waddling down the aisle ..." What a boorish, insensitive phrase to use in an allegedly serious article.

Protect passengers from fatties?? How about protecting passengers from people spreading adenovirus 36 or any of the 50 or so viruses that cause weight gain? How callous for airlines to cram passengers together, maximizing disease transmission, and then increase fares on those who suffer from the experience.

If an endomorph requires an extra 30% width, that extra width should be available at cost. Charging anything beyond that is gouging and contrary to the ideals of the ADA.

"dieting may be the major cause of obesity"

-Jean-Paul Deslypere, University of Ghent Professor of human nutrition

Posted by: Chuck Forsberg | March 1, 2010 3:23 AM    Report this comment

I agree with Paul 100% on this one.

Posted by: Ray Wyant | March 1, 2010 4:09 AM    Report this comment

Personally, I feel that it is not the airlines but the NTSB/FAA who should settle this, as there is an aspect of safety to the matter. Evacuation tests should use obese people so a maximum limit can be set that ensures safety for all. Then, airlines/manufacturers can choose to buy larger planes with wider seats and thus fly heavier people, or they can use current seating arrangements and use a government imposed standard.

Posted by: Peter De Ceulaer | March 1, 2010 4:15 AM    Report this comment

I think you are confusing issues here Paul.

Firstly, I don't have a problem with overly large people having to pay more, even if only because it costs more to transport them. I weigh around 250 pounds in the old money and while I don't encroach on the seats next door it costs more to transport me than you. Good on you for being healthier and I don't mind if you save money for it.

I agree that its unreasonable to encroach on the personal space of others but where do you want to draw the line? A friend of mine plays football and weighs almost the same as me but stands 6'4". He can run all day but takes up more room than me. You would have trouble looking down your nose at him in any respect but he is cramped in a 32" pitched seat. People are getting taller and wider. Bigger seats are needed - maybe these days each group of 3 should have 2 larger and one smaller? And what about women? Most are smaller than men, taking up less space, and they spend their lives getting crowded by even average-sized men. Maybe a median weight should be determined and your fare varied above or below that in a revenue neutral way?

Finally, I understand that Mr Smith had booked two seats on standby but only one was available so they refused to fly him even though he could fit into one seat. It sounds like common sense went out the window here and that Mr Smith was caused unnecessary embarrassment and inconvenience that would not have occurred if he had only booked one seat.

Posted by: john hogan | March 1, 2010 4:49 AM    Report this comment

I don't care if I pay the same for a seat as someone who weighs twice as much I do. I just want to be able to use all of it, within reason.

I think the airlines are on the hook for a solution and Southwest's policy does that. The bit about compromising the adjoining seat--not just the arm rest--is the critical judgment issue and it is a judgment the cabin crew has to make on the spot. Without being there, it's hard to know if the call was made correctly or not.

What moved me to blog on this is that Smith and others who complain about this believe that the idea that one solution is weight loss should somehow be off the table and beside the point. I challenge that assumption, even though I recognize that it's everyone's personal right to engage in unhealthy or destructive behavior. (Smoking, drugs, excessive drinking...)

I can live with the indirect societal costs of this. But when the encroachment on others is direct--literally, seat real estate--I draw the line. I think it's just wrong, issues of damaged self esteem notwithstanding. I don't mean this to be a jump-on-the-obese diatribe, but I'm not afraid to raise it as a policy issue, either.

Southwest may have handled this specific incident poorly, but at least they are trying. I'm not sure other airlines are doing the same. I am arguing that they should.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 1, 2010 6:01 AM    Report this comment

I agree with reader De Ceulaer that an alphabet agency should arbitrate this rather than the individual airlines. I also believe in simple solutions when ever possible. The length of the seat belt is gauged to accommodate the largest passenger ever expected to occupy that seat. If the passenger requires a seat belt extension, that passenger will require the adjacent seat. I'll let someone else figure out the logistics and pricing.

Posted by: Craig Bartscht | March 1, 2010 6:30 AM    Report this comment

Paul, you are absolutely right on this one. Why is it everyones right to fly? If you can't buy a first class ticket or 2 seats get your fat butt in your car and drive. I will fight for my right to have both my arm rests down and locked. Flying commercial is such a horrible experience at its best, the fattys just make it worse.

Posted by: Lora Crawford | March 1, 2010 6:38 AM    Report this comment

If I pay for a seat I want to be that seat's only occupant. I am tired of having the obese person next to me forcing me to lean uncomfortably to the right or/left for an entire flight so they avoid having to pay for the seat next to me. I do not care how or why they are so large..only that I

Posted by: Dave Jablon | March 1, 2010 6:42 AM    Report this comment

If I pay for a seat I want to be that seat's only occupant. I am tired of having the obese person next to me forcing me to lean uncomfortably to the right or/left for an entire flight so they avoid having to pay for the seat next to me. I do not care how or why they are so large..only that I get to fly using the space I paid for.

Posted by: Dave Jablon | March 1, 2010 6:43 AM    Report this comment

It's about time that airlines started to have and enforce their policies regarding the size of passengers. If you are a "person of size," the expectation that you purchase two seats to accommodate you is not at all unreasonable! An ugly scene arises when airlines do not have a clear policy or that their policies are not uniformly enforced for all travelers.

Posted by: H Stewart | March 1, 2010 6:57 AM    Report this comment

imagine.... the p/a says one of the gear are not locked, you land, the plane spins, and the other gear collapses..... finally you come to a rest, with the cabin beginning to fill up with smoke, it's hyd fluid, with a special kind of smell, only the kind it has..... someone yells fire..... the exits are opened, faster than it takes to write this, and next to you are 2 obese people trying to dislodge themselves from their armrests.....

Posted by: john mcenaney | March 1, 2010 7:08 AM    Report this comment

just enforce the policy... it's a good one and reasonable. aside from squeegee-ing into the seat, and blubbering over into my seat, an obese person allowed to sit next to me should expect me to push back, and if there's an emergency i'm going right up their back and over them to get out of the airplane; I'm not waiting for them to get out of where they shouldn't be in the first place. Sit next to me and you assume the risk of same.

Posted by: Jim Epting | March 1, 2010 7:19 AM    Report this comment

I, like many of you, am a "frequent flyer". I, like many of you, have found myself seated (read; "squeezed") next to a "person of size". Well, I'm over it. I'm over all the "political correctness" that causes people to (pretend to) ignore what is going on around them, or act like it doesn't matter. Well, it does matter! The last time it happened to me I rang the FA call button. She walked back and asked "what can I do for you?". I simply stated "this is unacceptable". She, like the people within earshot, seemed amazed that I would actually complain! The FA stood there, kind of speechless. I said "either re-seat me or her. I'm not doing this". It finally ended up that I had to deplane and take a later flight. I didn't agree, as I didn't think that I was "the problem". Understandably (and as expected) the airline (not SWA) had no reply to my letter. Sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe.

Posted by: Ken Bittner | March 1, 2010 7:26 AM    Report this comment

I became an instrument rated private pilot so I wouldn't have to deal with these issues anymore. No one intrudes on my very comfortable left seat and the view is outstanding.The answer is simple; fly yourself knowing that if you do have to take a commercial flight the experience will not be as great.

Posted by: Brian Bailey | March 1, 2010 7:29 AM    Report this comment

@ John - as my gunner used to tell me on our Abrams tank when training the crew drill for abandoning the tank "Sir I'm coming out your hatch whether you're clear or not." Neither of us were small guys and I'm even bigger now so it's a sure bet that I'll find a way out, whether it's over those guys or pushing them ahead of me or dragging them behind, but I'm getting out.

Posted by: J Collins | March 1, 2010 7:34 AM    Report this comment

They are not persons of size, they are fat. I don't want to hear any more PC about it. They are fat and if they require more than their seat then they need to pay for it.

Posted by: John Fulton | March 1, 2010 7:36 AM    Report this comment

Einstein was right: Weight gain is a simple equation of consuming MORE calories than are burned, resulting in weight gain due to fat accumulation. We are not plants, which can gain weight through sunshine (energy) and converting CO2 to carbohydrates and other compounds. Regardless of a person's genetics, exposure to 'virus', etc, fat gain is due to consuming more calories than necessary for the body to maintain a constant weight. In general, 3,500 calories equates to 1 POUND of fat mass. At a constant body weight, for example, increasing caloric expenditure by 500 cal/day (3,500 cal/week), one should lose one pound each week. Similarly, DECREASING caloric intake by 500 cal/day would result in the same weight loss of one pound/week. Combine the two (fewer calories in, and more calories burned) would give even more weight loss.

The problem most people have as we all get older is that it is far "easier" to gain weight than to lose it.

Posted by: John Holcombe | March 1, 2010 7:44 AM    Report this comment

I agree 100%. I fly a lot of commercial (average 100K per year) and I recall one flight where I sat next to a mountain of a man in first class. He was so big he needed 2 seatbelt extenders and his stomach was so huge he used it as a table to keep his laptop at face height. He spilled over the sides of the seat and made me pretty uncomfortable. The seat frame also sounded like it was under severe duress whenever he shifted his weight. There is no way on earth he would have even fitted in 2 coach seats. I think this is an area where government should regulate and create an equal playing field. Also did anyone see the recent article about the smelly person who was booted off a 121 flight?. In a similar vein, I had the misfortune to sit next to an incredibly smelly person for an 8 hour TATL flight once. The smell was awful and you could smell her from several rows away. The whole duration of the flight was spent with the airvent blowing fresh air at full force over me.

- Tim

Posted by: Tim Fountain | March 1, 2010 7:47 AM    Report this comment

I agree with Peter D that this is an issue to be resolved by the NTSB/FAA. In a crash, weight dynamics change as the plane either suddenly or quickly stops. A parent may not be able to hold a baby in their lap because the baby's weight dynamic multiplies. What happens to an obese person weighing 300#'s. What is the seat and/or seat belt ratings and is the extension a weak link? Special seats and seat belts may be needed for these people. One other item brought up was evacuation. Has the FAA or NTSB done studies where obese people are included in the evacuation of the plane. If so, were they able to get out in a timely manor or did they cause others not to get out. Could they even fit through the doors on the wing?

I believe that these items need to be taken into account in any commercial plane layout or design. Everyone should be able to fly without encroching or causing a hazard to fellow flyers.

Posted by: Bob O'hanlon | March 1, 2010 7:54 AM    Report this comment

ATL-PHX, Delta 757, Exit Row, Center Seat... I'm talking with my boss sitting window. I feel something rubbing my shoulder. I look and see a >400lb man's belly rubbing it as he tries to put is carry on in the overhead bin. Now I start looking for other empty seats near by... As I'm going into shock at the thought of 4 hours with this guy sitting next to me. The next moment he is pointing his humongous behind at the seat next to me. Now I'm leaned into my boss like were dating and he "attempts" to plant that behind between the armrests. "Unable" is all I can say, it stopped a few inches short of arriving.

Fortunately, my boss had the wherewithal to point out that this was an exit row and if you didn't fit you probably should be looking for a new place to sit. I could have kissed him for that... Being squished by someone is unacceptable. Period. I'm 6'1" 200lbs.. Not a small person, but don't overflow into the next persons space.

Basically its like the carry on luggage sizing thing. If your ass doesn't fit between these 2 rails....

Sorry for the rant but reading this has brought back some mental trauma... Therapy is probably in order.

Posted by: Scott Keeler | March 1, 2010 8:04 AM    Report this comment

What a bunch of whiners, most of the comments must be coming from the obese, of which we have an abundant supply. Pay for 2 seats or dont fly! Period.

Posted by: charles heathco | March 1, 2010 8:07 AM    Report this comment

Yeah fair enough. Maybe larger passengers should all get seated together? Just make it about keeping the CoG right and who can argue? On a minor point and despite being overweight, I think it is reasonable to talk about people paying for their choices, be it in higher travel/health-care/climate costs etc. Cheers John

Posted by: john hogan | March 1, 2010 8:14 AM    Report this comment

Put them "ON THE WING"????? That may make sense for weight and balance reasons, but those are also exit rows on most aircraft. I'm sorry - but if need to exit the aircraft through that small over-wing exit I want the path to be clear....

Some of the other suggestions make more sense - special rows, etc. I'm not small (230 pounds; 6'3")and I'd LIKE to have a larger seat available (although I mostly need the legroom) and I can't afford - nor will my employer pay - for me to fly first class.

The airlines need to do "something" - perhaps they could even agree on something to do. Southwest's approach seems reasonable to me.

Posted by: Don Wilke | March 1, 2010 8:15 AM    Report this comment

"Put them "ON THE WING"????? That may make sense for weight and balance reasons..."

I do believe that was a joke.

Posted by: Stephan Wilkinson | March 1, 2010 8:23 AM    Report this comment

Sorry - I missed the joke (too much work I guess) and thought the poster was referring to seating the person in a row over the wing. I get it now. If you're going to make a joke please s.p.e.a.k s.l.o.w.l.y for the humor challenged among us.

Posted by: Don Wilke | March 1, 2010 8:27 AM    Report this comment

SWA publishes a more than fair policy for 'persons of size.' The recommendation is to purchase two seats if you are unsure you can fit one. The policy not only ensures larger pax have a seat if the plane is oversold. It also ensures there is no public discussion about the person's size (something specifically mentioned in the Q&A section of SWA's 'person of size' policy page) as happened to Mr. Smith.

SWA even refunds the cost of a second seat if the flight is not oversold.

If there is a question as to whether SWA misapplied its own policy one need only read the entire sentence. As Paul pointed out, it contains the clause, '...and/or who compromise any portion of adjacent seating...' That is a judgement call to be made by the person solely responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft -- the pilot in command.

Mr. Smith was aware of the policy and the fact he probably wouldn't meet the standard; he had purchased two tickets for the flight he was originally scheduled for. His subsequent public rant borne of his embarrasment and humiliation never mentions the fact that he created the situation.

Posted by: Mark Sletten | March 1, 2010 8:30 AM    Report this comment

The airlines will continue to get beat up when they try to take action. The only solution is for the FAA to issue a directive based on safety. Since the seat certification standards are based on a person of average weight, it really isn't that hard to calculate a limit. Put a seat outside in the gate area with a sign that says, you must be able to buckle this belt. Otherwise, you have to have two seats. That way, the airlines can say "Sorry, this is an FAA rule", just like they do for electronic devices.

Posted by: William Swatling | March 1, 2010 8:31 AM    Report this comment

Thin passengers should purchase two tickets if they are concerned about being squeezed out of a one ticket ride.

Posted by: Gordon Young | March 1, 2010 8:48 AM    Report this comment

Since it has been mentioned twice, and since I follow Kevin Smith on Twitter so got to see this all unfold as it happened in all its train-wrecky goodness...

Kevin Smith says he normally books 1 ticket when flying SW, and hasn't had an issue. For this flight, he actually booked 3 tickets because his wife was traveling with him and he wanted the whole row for the two of them. She ended up not going, so her ticket got cancelled as a no-show, and he ended up with 2 tickets in his name for the flight out and back. This is where the SW claim that he usually buys two tickets came from, and may be where the issue arose. I can easily see a gate agent realizing after the fact that he had two tickets, which would look like a self-declaration of being a "person of size" on what ended up being a full flight that KS was flying standby on.

Again, I agree with many of the comments here, other than the tone of some of the "hey fatty, try eating less" ones. I think Southwest's policy makes sense, especially since they don't have a larger first-class seat they can push large people towards.

Posted by: Bob Snyder | March 1, 2010 8:52 AM    Report this comment

I agree 100% that a person who does not fit into their allotted space should be required to purchase an extra seat. I would imagine that no one would willingly sit next to that person but the possibility always arises that there would be another person of size even larger and a paying passenger would then try to sit next to you and it could become awkward telling them that you had purchased two seats. Another option is if you do not want someone of size sitting next to you can you purchase two seats to ensure that???? It really gets complicated so I do believe the responsibility is with the flight crew to make a judgement call as to whether that person is a safety hazard or a comfort hazard to people next to them. I applaud SWA.

Posted by: Judy Snyder | March 1, 2010 8:57 AM    Report this comment

Geez! Apart from the question as to whether the FAA standard person should still weigh 170 pounds in this food-toxic world, why is this a topic for AVWeb?

For the record, I weigh more than 170, but the armrest still comes down.

Posted by: David MacRae | March 1, 2010 9:03 AM    Report this comment

Make the entry to the jetway the same width as the emergency exit. If you can't get through, you're not getting on the plane.

Posted by: Brian waters | March 1, 2010 9:06 AM    Report this comment

The cabin door would be the emergency exit for the "people of size."

Posted by: Scott Keeler | March 1, 2010 9:12 AM    Report this comment

When I pay for my seat, I want all of it - such as it is. There are restrictions about the size of carry on luggage that are pretty strictly adheared to. Obese people should be no exception. Oh, excuse me. You can't hurt the feelings of a carry on bag.

Posted by: Jud Phillips | March 1, 2010 9:15 AM    Report this comment

So, we already have a limit placed on our baggage weight; why not a limit on personal weight, with excess charges to apply as necessary. There is a weight and balance figure calculated by the aircrew for the passengers based on a set figure. If individuals, as many do, exceed this figure, then the calculations go awry, especially on smaller aircraft like those used for regional flights. We don't cut smokers any slack any more. Why should we pander to the morbidly obese?

Posted by: Mike Hill | March 1, 2010 9:19 AM    Report this comment

I'm reading a number of comments suggesting a judgment call be made by a flight attendants or the captain. The F/A's have plenty to do without having to abjudicate a "does this seat belt extension make my butt look fat?" contest. The airlines need a clear cut yes or no policy such as requiring an adjacent seat if the passenger requires a seat belt extension.

Posted by: Craig Bartscht | March 1, 2010 9:21 AM    Report this comment

I would rather sit by a pleasant heavy person, even one who encroaches, than have a seat kicking child, loud talker, deodrant impaired, or a smelly food eater near me. If you can't tolerate the size of the general population, buy your own airplane or drive.

Posted by: Anna Osborn | March 1, 2010 9:24 AM    Report this comment

I keep hearing about how America is getting heavier and that 90% of the people are obese. This means that airlines should weighing each person and then restricting 90% of the travelers. I bet if the person that was obese was an NBA,NFL player most of these post would be more like . "I got to sit next to so and so celebrity". Looks like "Paul Bertorelli" the egocentric reporter should have removed himself from the flight if it bothered him so much. I think the airlines should narrow the seats for those chicken leg people and widen the seats for the majority of America.

Posted by: Russell Holm | March 1, 2010 9:30 AM    Report this comment

Good on you Paul for expressing your feelings on the matter without regard for political correctness!

Are the few of you suggesting FAA or NTSB involvement really serious? Do we really need the gubmint to solve this issue? I think not. Well, on second thought, maybe it wouldn't be that bad. Just think of all the jobs the govt could create by creating a new role for themselves.

Posted by: David Brown | March 1, 2010 9:38 AM    Report this comment

Well said Paul! I boarded a flight last year and looked at my middle row seat. Both passengers crowding my full fare seat weighed 300+. I looked at the FA and my ticket and stated,"I paid full fare and expect a full seat." As luck would have it the FA scanned the manifest and noted a mechanic was boarding on privilege and he shifted the mechanic to my assigned seat. The bottom line is that the paying passenger has to stand up for his/her rights. I'm not sure I agree with the rubbing shoulders comment though. On a flight into Steamboat Co on a CRJ we saw a couple unload their considerable mutual bulk from the back of the bus and noted that their shoulders where wet at the contact points where they had been joined since boarding in Houston. Yuk!!!

Posted by: Glen Coombe | March 1, 2010 9:39 AM    Report this comment

I actually don't favor government regulation on this either. I prefer that airlines step up and make decisions for competitive and customer retention and service reasons.

Southwest did that. I am merely using this forum to support that because we report on both general and commercial aviation. This is a topic worthy of discussion.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 1, 2010 9:58 AM    Report this comment

I cannot argue with most of the comments posted above, and agree the FAA needs to define a specific regulation to deal with this issue. As a practicing cardiologist, however, I can assure the reader that although one's weight is the sum of calories absorbed minus calories burned, it ain't that simple: Obesity starts in childhood, has strong familial and hereditary components, and is infinitely harder for the individual to correct than is tobacco or alcohol addiction. Virtually every study to date confirms that dietary therapy is not generally effective (and is often counterproductive)in maintaining substantial weight loss. The only therapy proven to be safe and effective is bariatric surgery, which is rarely covered by insurance and rarely recommended by a primary care physician.

I notice that Paul quotes the SWA policy that states the distance between the armrests is 17" - that would translate to a private aircraft cabin width of 34". (Continue on next post)

Posted by: John Johnson | March 1, 2010 10:01 AM    Report this comment

Add 1.5" for your share of the armrest and the fact that the cabin walls are either vertical or curved inward, and that's about all the shoulder room your getting in coach unless you have an aisle seat. Read any aircraft review and see if the author would be satisfied with such narrow confines. The cabin width (I know, depends on where you measure it - these are probably shoulder widths) in a C152 is about 38", and very few would consider that comfortably spacious especially if wearing jackets. A C172 is about 40"-44" depending on model, still snug for many of us. Put me next to anyone weighing over 170 lbs and I'm going to feel squeezed. Maybe one usefull FAA reg should mandate available shoulder width of, say, 22"!

Posted by: John Johnson | March 1, 2010 10:02 AM    Report this comment

It's been mentioned above, but I think the topic of certification of the seats bears some 'expansion' (ha). Seats are still statically tested by a 170 lb occupant wt test, x 9g fwd and all the other required loading direction forces. Seems reasonable to make a limit of some factor, say 1.5 x 170 lb = 255 lb (ref. FAR 25.303, 25.561), beyond which we could say that the passenger exceeds the rated seat strength and needs to either take 2 seating positions or occupy a specially designed seat for heavier loads, including the attachment of the seat to the aircraft.

Posted by: Unknown | March 1, 2010 10:12 AM    Report this comment

I remember several years ago being seated in the middle seat between two linebacker-sized guys on a 45 minute Las Vegas to Phoenix flight. I would not describe them as obese, although each was carrying an extra 30 or 40 pounds on his frame. My derriere was wedged tightly between them, and I had to sit leaning forward because it was impossible for me to lean back in my seat because of the width of their shoulders. (I am the standard FAA 5'10", 170 lb guy.) Anyway, even for just 45 minutes it was an extremely uncomfortable flight for me. And again, these guys were not obese, just BIG. I cannot imagine being seated next to such a person for a flight that was hours long.

So it is a real issue, and one that needs to be firmly addressed and no longer ignored. However, I do NOT think it is the government's place to get involved. It is both the right and the obligation of each airline to formulate firm guidelines, as SWA has done. I do not think it is necessarily fair to charge the obese person double if there are empty seats on the flight. I like the idea that they will be refunded the price of the extra seat if the plane flies with empty seats. OTOH, what if there are two obese people who had to buy an extra seat and there is only one empty seat on the plane? Do they each get refunded half of the empty seat? That would make sense in my mind, and it should not be difficult to program such a formula into the airline's reservation system.

Posted by: George True | March 1, 2010 10:17 AM    Report this comment

(Imho) the SWA policy makes sense and they were/are ebmpowered to enforce. Kudos SWA

Posted by: Ken Bittner | March 1, 2010 10:28 AM    Report this comment

(Imho) the SWA policy makes sense and they were/are ebmpowered to enforce. Kudos SWA

Posted by: Ken Bittner | March 1, 2010 10:28 AM    Report this comment

Delta has a seating policy for fat people now. Unfortunatey, a ruling in Canadan courts might make this all moot. Obesity will be treated as a disability. Like invonvenince gue to weather, you'll be paying more to accommodate fat people.

Posted by: Harry Alger | March 1, 2010 11:07 AM    Report this comment

I really appreciate the fact that SWA has a stated policy and is willing to enforce it.

Posted by: C Hadlai Hull | March 1, 2010 11:16 AM    Report this comment

On the subject of putting large people together I once got on a crj with 2x2 seating, the plane was only a little over half full so most people had 2 seats-except for 2 very big guys, not fat big, but tight end big it looked so ridiculous I had to laugh- they actually stayed in those seats the entire fight

Posted by: b huse | March 1, 2010 11:29 AM    Report this comment

If I buy two seats, I expect to get two seats and not have the airline shove someone in it who's on standby. How about more leg room so I can seat my 6'-4" high frame without having my knees pressed against the back of the seat in front of me. My 6'-8" son has a bigger problem that me. How about keeping the seats from reclining and further cramping my legs. How about requiring everyone to check their bags. Also, no more of this roll aboard luggage crap that takes up time on the ground and space in the main cabin. Save the overhead bins for coats, purses and briefcases. We would all be more comfortable.

Posted by: Richard Dickerson | March 1, 2010 11:30 AM    Report this comment

Maybe the airlines could put in something like they have for carry on bags, if your fat as* doesn't fit in here buy another seat.

Posted by: Duane Hallman | March 1, 2010 11:32 AM    Report this comment

I agree 100%; I too have been there and it was miserable. But maybe the fix should be even more inclusive. First off; Why is first class in the front of the airplane? Why do they load first? They want everone to see they bought first class!{sick!} We all know that ones chance of survival is better in the tail. So why don't we have Big expensive seats in the rear with a seperate Jet-way (they can have a larger John)Fancy Meals, Free booze . It could be a seperate escape capsule that floats with a special excape parachute. Now the first class people would get extra safety and fire protection for their dollar.

Now the front seats would be the skinny seats and the entrance to that jet way would require you get thru a 20 inch gate to even load. Today the airlines call them Economy, then busines and First class. Business class has all but disappeared and first class is shrinking. The common vernackicular is "First" and "Cheap-seats" (I can see "Fat-assed" and "skinny-butt" with this approach). Truckers haul freight and get paid by the ton-mile. The airlines really haul freight; it is just people and their expenses are somewhat dependent on volume and weight. No charge for baby's and child fares are discounted below a certain age,not weight? So why not weigh everyone and their possessions (via a computer and strain guages in the floor and the computer then makes seat assignments by size and weight)and give the lite ones money back on their credit card.

Posted by: Thomas Eichhorn | March 1, 2010 12:00 PM    Report this comment

Been there, done that. Got some chuckles from reading the above comments. We have more gov'mint regulation that we care for now. The airlines need to solve this problem since they are selling space.

Posted by: Donald H Dinwiddie | March 1, 2010 12:29 PM    Report this comment

To be fair, those whose legs impinge on the pax in front of them should be discriminated against as well.

Posted by: Chuck Forsberg | March 1, 2010 12:36 PM    Report this comment

Always interesting reactions from people when a 'trigger' like obesity challenges us to our assumptions. I'm not sure at the moment if I would rather sit next to largess or the above poster who claimed 'my armrests' on a plane, among other intolerances mentioned. For me the solution is at the airline level, they are the ones who for 'bottom' line (sorry, couldn't resist) reasons or flat out greed decided to cram as many bodies as possible on board. Now they have a new challenge to accomodate the obese without losing the regulars. But the onus is really on them, not the feds or anyone else.

Don't know if it is any comfort to the author but the one fly on the plane always seems to find my piece of food and no one elses.

Posted by: Dave Miller | March 1, 2010 12:56 PM    Report this comment

"Don't know if it is any comfort to the author but the one fly on the plane always seems to find my piece of food and no one elses."

Yeah, but don't swat it! Nowdays, you have to answer for that now too!

Posted by: Josh Johnson | March 1, 2010 1:09 PM    Report this comment

The first rule for commenting is "Please keep it civil. Save the name-calling and insults for private e-mail or newsgroups." When Paul wrote "waddling down the aisle" that was uncalled for and somewhat insensitive.

I'm a fat guy and thankfully I rarely have to fly commercial, my 182 takes me where I need to go. Not everyone that has a weight problem can attribute it to not putting the fork down or not eating healthy. There are many reasons why some of us have weight problems.

That being said if I had to fly commercial I would absolutely purchase two seats and I think Southwest's policy is A-OK.

Posted by: Dave Kalwishky | March 1, 2010 1:45 PM    Report this comment

waddling down the aisle" that was uncalled for and somewhat insensitive.<<

Point taken. Fixed.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 1, 2010 2:25 PM    Report this comment

How about flying from LAX to Fiji with 300 lb plus woman whose husband would check on her every few hours of a 13 hour flight, but wouldn't sit next to her? The people in front of her would get their seat back slammed forward with her knees and she would say: "Don't do that"? The passengers behind me and my wife would jam our seats forward when we slowly tried to recline them. The crew would curtly order passengers to sit down when you would get up to reinflate your lungs and go to the head. By the time we got to our destination we had been sitting in 11/2 seats for over half a day.

Makes you want to stay home. What else can I say?

Posted by: Robert Wuilleumier | March 1, 2010 3:02 PM    Report this comment

Obese people are a serious problem not just in airplanes but in society as a whole. It is a fact that obesity is the number one cause of diabetes. Diabetes is only one of the health care problems created by obesity.

If you want to stuff your face with more food than your body needs to live healthy life, then by all means, do it. Drug addicts and alcoholics make the same basic choice. The problem is, we are told obesity is a "disease" and a "disability". Rubbish!

Obesity is nothing more than overindulgence in pleasure; the pleasure of eating, perhaps mankind's most basic need. Let's treat these people as we would other addicts. Don't make excuses and compensate and enable them. Make they pay the cost of their addiction. Don't pass it along to others, either in the seat next to them or in taxes paid for health care.

Hurray for Sowthwest and for Paul for tackling this issue head on.

Posted by: Bendrix Bailey | March 1, 2010 3:45 PM    Report this comment

Thank you Paul.

Posted by: Dave Kalwishky | March 1, 2010 3:46 PM    Report this comment

"Obesity is nothing more than overindulgence in pleasure; the pleasure of eating, perhaps mankind's most basic need"

While that may be true for many fat people it is not true for all of them. Some fat people have medical conditions that cause the weight. A persons ability to loose weight and metabolize food is linked to their genetics. This is not the proper forum so such a discussion but I ask that you think before you write.

Posted by: Dave Kalwishky | March 1, 2010 3:50 PM    Report this comment

Dave, sure, there are exceptions and they should still purchase a seat. However, all it takes is a look at obesity rates over the last 100 years to know that you are giving and excuse to many for the misfortune of a very, very, very few.

Enabling is the worst thing you can do to an addict.

Posted by: Bendrix Bailey | March 1, 2010 6:18 PM    Report this comment

I 100% agree with Paul Bertorelli and also josh Johnson, throw all the obese ones in the same row and let them deal with their face stuffing results. I sat next a fat a-- one time on southwest and never will fly in a cattle car of theirs again if I have any other choice.

Posted by: mike brooks | March 1, 2010 6:42 PM    Report this comment

Yeah. You're all pretty much on the money. Better yet, why not just check everyone for a passing BMI at the gate and shoot anyone that's above the limit! And while you're at it take a gun to the flapjack with the earphones on listening to rap (doesn't deserve to be capitalized) so loud it can be heard six rows back. Hey, big time author of the original article! Did you ever think to go back to the late '60s early 70's and check out the typical seat size in a DC-9? Hell, we're all packed in like sardines these days. If you need to get pissed at anyone get pissed and the poorly managed airlines. And safety... safety! Does anyone really believe that all of maxed out 35 lb carry-on cases that get stuffed up in the overhead will remain there in the event of an emergency landing (read crash)? Sheesh! Gimme a break. Oh, you do realize that those oxygen masks, with the bags that you're told will never inflate are there only to muffle the SCREAMS on the way down! LOL. Y'all need to get a life!

Posted by: Barry Karchner | March 1, 2010 8:26 PM    Report this comment

@ Thomas Eichorn - as my uncle always says, "How often to jets back into a mountain?" And we know who's the first on the scene of the accident. I think its quieter in front of the engines and you get off first.

More generally, sizing of seats (and maybe the whole aircraft?) will have to change sooner rather than later. It made the news a couple of years ago that the people rebuilding the Wimbledon Tennis Stadium in London had had to specify a few inches extra width on the new seating - up from the original 16. You see the heights of doorways in old European houses and it makes you wonder how tall we will end up.

Air travel has never been cheaper and the stuff that infuriates the regular traveler probably contributes to the infrequent traveler actually getting a chance.

I might walk up the stairs instead of taking the lift today.

Posted by: john hogan | March 1, 2010 10:55 PM    Report this comment

Corey it wold be a chage of 1 and 1/2 the normal seat price. If you are taking three seats and making two it would be and additional 1/2 and not 1/3. I think it is crazy the way airlines assign seats anyway. outside, inside leaving the middle open then two passengers want to fly and get middle middle...give me a break. Heavyweight seats to the front for weight and balance..and additional price for tickets. There ain't no free lunch. You and your belongings weigh more so you pay more. I am sure if you had wide body seats, skinny people would chose thase seats first for extra room, so how do you stop that? The whole way airlines charge for seats doesn't work, so they don';t make money. Go figure!

Posted by: Joel Johnston | March 2, 2010 5:04 AM    Report this comment

Corey it wold be a chage of 1 and 1/2 the normal seat price. If you are taking three seats and making two it would be and additional 1/2 and not 1/3. I think it is crazy the way airlines assign seats anyway. outside, inside leaving the middle open then two passengers want to fly and get middle middle...give me a break. Heavyweight seats to the front for weight and balance..and additional price for tickets. There ain't no free lunch. You and your belongings weigh more so you pay more. I am sure if you had wide body seats, skinny people would chose thase seats first for extra room, so how do you stop that? The whole way airlines charge for seats doesn't work, so they don';t make money. Go figure!

Posted by: Joel Johnston | March 2, 2010 5:04 AM    Report this comment

I am predisposed to being overweight and hate running on the treadmill to stay in shape. That being said, I think one's eating habits, or smoking, or driving without a seatbelt, or whatever should be a person's right. It costs more, in terms of fuel, useful load and space to transport an extremely large person - I have a problem with having to subsidize that with either loss of reasonable personal seat space or higher ticket prices to me. I do think there would be a market for a "coach-class" larger seat, but it will have to cost more for the aforementioned reasons.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | March 2, 2010 11:30 AM    Report this comment

Hey if you put a wider seat in the middle when you have three seats together, maybe they will fill first..

Posted by: Joel Johnston | March 2, 2010 12:30 PM    Report this comment

I think everybody's worried about stuff that's really not that important.

Posted by: Richard Dickerson | March 2, 2010 12:33 PM    Report this comment

Air travel today is like a Mexican bus ride. It used to be a special occasion, now it's just especially unpleasant. I avoid it unless absolutely necessary.

Posted by: Richard Montague | March 2, 2010 1:26 PM    Report this comment

Been on the Mexican bus before - it's probably better than the airlines.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | March 2, 2010 3:56 PM    Report this comment

Are the larger seats in first class for fat guys, or just for confort? Why can the Attlines just put those people in those seats? And when ypu cannot fit in those seats, yoou just buy a double ticket. It is rediculous to state that the weight of a normal male person is still 140 pounds, where the average of the american people is far above it. The airliners should be more realistic and get away of the old seating type of 2d class (economy)and put every body in first class chairs with an armrest on both sides and not a common armrest in the middle for both passengers. Finally, if there is a seat empty in the middle of a row of three, even normal shaped passengers always struggle to occupy the middle seat for additional luggage, lap tops etc. Why, Because it is too confortable? Just give people the confortable space they require. Larger people is also driving larger cars, but on airplanes, you just not have the choise. Why can the airlines not offer the first class seat, without the first class service of free drinks etc?

Posted by: ludo huybrechts | March 3, 2010 3:18 AM    Report this comment

What is it with all this PC stuff? Being seriously overweight is horrible. We all know the effects it has on ones health but what about all the good things you just cannot do? You can't ride a mountain bike down the side of a steep hill, you can't windsurf, you can't fly gliders, you can't play with your kids. You cant...etc etc etc. Why do this to yourself? Why does society pretend its OK? I am 45 and have to work hard not to be overweight. Sometimes I have let slip and developed a bit of a gut. I hate that uncomfortable out of breath feeling. I hate not having stamina, etc. Its enough to motivate me to exercise and avoid all the bad food and drink. People seriously need to wake up!

Posted by: Chris G | March 3, 2010 3:55 AM    Report this comment

>>Why does society pretend its OK?<<

I'm not sure society does pretend it's OK. I think there's a mighty struggle defined on one end by discrimination toward the obese and on the other by push back from heavy people who've had enough of hearing about it. Constantly.

You may have noticed that Michelle Obama's worthy effort to take on childhood obesity has been attacked on two fronts--one as an abridgment of personal rights and another because it will traumatize the heavy kids more than they already are. One talking head I saw said there's no science to support health problems among children merely for being overweight.

Bottom line: it's hard to even have the discussion. Unfortunately, the airlines are at the pointy end of the problem and will be forced to deal with it, as Southwest obviously has. Judging by this thread, other airlines do it adhoc. Short of FAA rulemaking, I'd like to see them become more proactive.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 3, 2010 6:22 AM    Report this comment

>>Discrimination<<

You mentioned the super power word there. As soon as that word comes up we are shocked into submission. So we'll just pretend everything is OK shall we? A previous poster mentioned how shocked everyone was when he complained to the FA about the fat person invading his space. Why shocked? Because he got fed up with pretending it's OK and said something about it! I think there have actually been a couple of incidents where an aircraft crashed because the weight/balance was so far off. People were killed in those incidents. That's definitely not OK. Sure, as a fat person you have rights but you also need to accept that there is a long list of downsides involved with that. Fitting into small spaces is just one of them. It's not OK to invade another person's seat space. Is there anyone out there who does think its OK? Not that you don't have options. There is first class, business class and two seats in economy class. So what's the problem? Ah you just want your cake and to eat it too, maybe?

Posted by: Chris G | March 3, 2010 7:15 AM    Report this comment

I think one has to guard against group think on either side of the divide. As Dr. Johnson has observed, this isn't a simple as it seems. I didn't intend this blog to be a pile-on-the-fatties exercise, but I am not afraid to raise it as an issue, either.

In the background, I got a couple of e-mails from people seriously offended by my even raising the issue. But when I asked in return if I should expect to surrender part of my seat to on obese person, no answers were forthcoming.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 3, 2010 7:39 AM    Report this comment

Agree with Paul, bad enough with airborn germs,odors,and whatnot, and then, adding insult to injury, having a very uncomfortable ride because of insensitive fat people encroaching on my space. Perhaps several rows of "enlarged area seating" at extra cost charged by the pound ?

Posted by: mark schoening | March 3, 2010 8:28 AM    Report this comment

A very interesting, and timely, thread -- yesterday, I flew from IAH to EWR surrounded by individuals who were in need of seat belt extenders (we actually ran out, one of the FAs had to deplane to get extra).

I was seated in an aisle seat on an exit row. Both of the passengers between me and the window exit required extenders, and while they were able to get their armrests down, it was a joke (they literally vanished into folds of fat). I really was concerned about what would happen if we were to have an emergency -- it was a cinch that neither of these individuals would have been able to fit through the emergency exit, and likely would have prevented their use by other passengers.

Kids can't sit in exit rows. Nor can the elderly or disabled -- I propose we extend this restriction to anyone who requires a seat belt extender. This isn't a matter of PC, it's one of commen sense and safety.

Posted by: Dan Dickson | March 3, 2010 9:11 AM    Report this comment

More likely, the issue has to be addressed to an Agency, such as the FAA. In the past, the minimum of 17 "" space requirement might have been correct, but as the average weight isn't lowered in the time, it needs some adjustments: In case that the actual normal weight status of 170 pound cannot be respected by 80% of the male people, using airlines, it should be adjusted to may be 200 pounds. Beyond that limit, is to pay additionally.

Posted by: ludo huybrechts | March 3, 2010 10:14 AM    Report this comment

Sixteen men board a 45 min flight from one centre to another. All except two are around the 180lb mark and the two are only 200 lbs each. All are rugby (similar to American Football except you cannot throw the ball forward) players. When seated in the rows the bums fit well into the seats and even has space on each side. The Hostess come round and tell everyone the seats must be in the upright position before takeoff. The chap on the aile nearly falls at her feet. The Hostess is not amused and said “Please Sir you have to sit in the upright position.” The first chap looks at the second player and he looks at the window chap. The window chaps asks if there is a fire axe anywhere near and the Hostess asks WHY? The chap replys that he needs to remove the glass in the window so that he can have space to sit upright. The Hostess freeks. Moral of the story; Its not only fat people that have trouble it’s also top notch sports people. We are not talking about national sides but club sides. Aircraft are designed to carry people who are small in statue and weigh no more that 170lbs They now need to change that to something reasonable like 200lb and a medium size person.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | March 3, 2010 10:20 AM    Report this comment

Aircraft are designed to carry people who are small in statue and weigh no more that 170lbs They now need to change that to something reasonable like 200lb and a medium size person.<<

I'm not sure I buy that. While it's surely true of an RJ, I don't think it is of a A310 or a 737. I've sat next to plenty of people who appeared to be north of 200 pounds and while snug in the seat, they didn't compromise my space.

The larger problem is seat pitch, which in some airliners--not all--simply can't accommodate a person much over 6 feet. I'm 5 ft 8 in. and fit well in most airplanes, but some offer minimal legroom even for me.

Part of this is driven by discount fares, as airlines try to get more seat mile rev out of the same airplane then fly some of the seats below cost.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 3, 2010 10:34 AM    Report this comment

Well ir airplanes had plenty of room and leg room and treated you like a person, they would be full so the revenue per mile would go up. It is not like you can stand on a flight. What is the width on the subway seats. Granted we are larger bodied now so we need a little more room for comfort. Maybe make the plane a foot wider add three inches to each seat or offer discounts to tiny people who sit in the narrow window seat

Posted by: Joel Johnston | March 3, 2010 11:22 AM    Report this comment

'The larger problem is seat pitch'

Thank you for that. At about 6'3" and 200lbs I have never had a comfortable flight on an airliner due to lack of legroom. And rarely am able to use the armrests anyway due to people who seem to think the armrests are theirs alone whether they spill onto them or not.

Along the lines of safety standards and the like on airliners, I wonder if someone from the ICAO or airline management could post something on the why of airline seating - unless it really is entirely about the bottom line. I always chuckle when waiting for the Dr. when I read in the exam room that someone my size and weight, according to insurance industry standards, is supposed to be around 170lbs, and that I am borderline obese as an ordinary stick man.

Posted by: Dave Miller | March 3, 2010 12:28 PM    Report this comment

They are always full of it in the Dr. office. I haven't seen a Dr. yet who fell in their guideline. I dis know a chief cardiogolist who was off the charts inn eveything being good, but he died before the age of 50...you guessed it heard problems. So I am not really sure about height/weight issues, just that people are bigger today and trying to fit in smaller seats- on airplanes and stadiums/bbasketball arenas. More people, means more revenue provided all seats are full (and not from too many heavy people).

Posted by: Joel Johnston | March 3, 2010 1:00 PM    Report this comment

Recently took an emergency trip from DFW to PHX. (Couldn’t fly myself due to a head cold)

As one who traveled extensively (~1 flight/day x 6 days/wk) during the 1970s, this is not a fatty issue, it's a perception issue. We "perceive" airline travel to be as it once was... The airlines do make it look glamorous, don’t they? Not so, today it's no better than the filthy Greyhound or subway... I haven't been near either in 40 years.

I rarely fly commercial and am generally amused by people, but I was appalled… rest rooms were filthy; fungus infected toenails and tramp-stamps are the norm; unwashed, unshaven, uncombed, unkempt must be the new sexual attraction and fat… why FAT is everywhere. Inside the clothes, outside the clothes, in the food; even on the floor. Airline Captains, FOs and FAs are FAT… granted not all, but there are far more exquisite examples than I care to remember. What ever did happen to those SWA hot pants and flight-deck crews who truly looked like professionals?

We simply can’t fit inside our current generation airliners. And the airlines are going the wrong way in airplane design. What we need is a return to the 707 and Convair 580 for interior room, not the RJ, M80 and 737. (continued)

Posted by: David Spencer | March 3, 2010 2:27 PM    Report this comment

(continued) As for those who are adipose intolerant, I say get over it. The lipid challenged among us are not gluttons, they’re “genetically challenged”. When 67% of the population are excessive adipose depositories being intolerant is just mean spirited.

In short, these airplanes are making our butts look big…

Posted by: David Spencer | March 3, 2010 2:28 PM    Report this comment

Too funny, David... they're making my legs look long too. Hope your stay in Phx here was a bit better.

Posted by: Dave Miller | March 3, 2010 4:47 PM    Report this comment

the person in question had a reservation on a later flight w/ 2 seats; he chose to take an earlier flt, and only 1 seat was open.... too bad 4 him, end of story.too many people cry it's not their fault, when it is.... ya don't get fat overnight.

Posted by: john mcenaney | March 3, 2010 5:34 PM    Report this comment

oh by the way, in the past people were not nesrly as large as they are now; look at a cubs useful load; mine says 360 lbs, minus fuel. back then people were more active, and alot thinner, unlike now.

Posted by: john mcenaney | March 3, 2010 5:38 PM    Report this comment

I think there is another dynamic to all this in regards to seat space and ticket prices. A friend of mine flies for a well-known regional carrier. He mentioned that he typically gets the comment from passengers "Nice flight, tell your boss we'd like bigger seats" Nice thought, except this guy likely booked a $200 round trip bargain fare from who knows where to Florida. I'm sure the airlines would love to increase service and seat room, but then everyone would book their flights with their cheaper competitor. I really think it's time for re-regulating the airline fares and getting rid of the internet-based cut-throat competition. Until this happens, I'm afraid little will change. Our airlines have become kerosene-fueled greyhound buses. I for one would gladly pay a little more to have a well-rested crew in a well-maintanied aircraft seated next to reasonably clean people in a reasonably comfortable seat. For the "bottom dollar" crowd, they can and should have alternatives, perhaps Amtrak or the new high speed rail the President is promoting.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | March 3, 2010 6:05 PM    Report this comment

Everyone who thinks that seats on airliners are big enough for anyone other than an anorexic super model, raise your hand. They know the seats are too small even for normal people. They sell exit row seats for more money - "economy plus" or some such crap. And what do they do when a manufacturer comes out with a larger plane? Stuff in more seats instead of making them bigger. Sorry, there's just no defense. The airlines have caused the problem. These overweight people take other forms of public conveyance. Why isn't it a problem there?

Posted by: Jerry Plante | March 4, 2010 8:02 AM    Report this comment

You're right Josh. Before we condemn the greedy airlines, we need to consider the greedy passengers. Our love affair with cheap seats will trump the call for bigger and better every time. We're simply getting what we pay for: sometimes less and never more. An even bigger tragedy is the business traveler who ponies up for a short notice fare, never quite makes the top of the list for an upgrade and then faces the same tiny seats and crummy service as the rest of us. That guy never gets what he paid for.

Posted by: Craig Bartscht | March 4, 2010 8:57 AM    Report this comment

>>Our love affair with cheap seats will trump the call for bigger and better every time. We're simply getting what we pay for: sometimes less and never more.<<

That pretty well nails it, I'd say. Whether they are badly managed or not, the airlines respond lockstep to market expectations. We all expect cheap seats and cutthroat fares and that all but legislates short seat pitch, smaller cabins, less seat width.

Maybe the Dreamliner technology will turn the corner on that. I'll believe it when I see it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 4, 2010 10:00 AM    Report this comment

Good article and I agree, good policy.

The real solution is larger seats, and charging what it really costs to fly these aircraft. No where in the consstitution does it gaurentee your right to a CHEAP airline ticket. The business traveler subsidizes the airlines and all the cheap tickets, but no longer get any of the services that the airlines used to have to compete on when prices were regulated.

hmmmm...wonder how a business only airline would work...oohhh..that's right we have them, they are called coporate aircraft...what a novel idea... :)

Posted by: Richard Mutzman | March 4, 2010 11:01 AM    Report this comment

The Dreamliner comment may be on to something. I'm no engineer, but I bet the cabin wizards can make a distinction between cabin space and the perception of space. Compare the Boeing 757 and the Airbus A320, two modern jetliners. In the main cabin of the 757, I feel the only thing missing is the soybean oil. In the A320, I don't get that sense of confinement. I know the aisle on the Airbus is an inch or two wider, but I'm not certain that the seat pitch is any different. Think the Boeing guys have this figured out?

Posted by: Craig Bartscht | March 4, 2010 11:44 AM    Report this comment

Just make the seats have REALLY tall sides. That way, just the FAT people will only make themselves uncomfortable and not impose on what others have paid for. Either fit in a seat or you're in the cargo bay...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | March 4, 2010 12:22 PM    Report this comment

Hate to mention this, but airline seats haven't gotten smaller in over twenty years. In fact, due to FAA regs for exit rows and some galley removals, along with slimmer seat cover re-designs meant to grab a little more room, there is slightly more seat pitch on mainline jets. The width is exactly the same because the seat frames haven't changed.

Regional Jets notwithstanding of course

Posted by: Harry Alger | March 4, 2010 1:42 PM    Report this comment

there is slightly more seat pitch on mainline jets. <<

Really? Surely doesn't seem that way.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 6, 2010 6:58 AM    Report this comment

Yes, on average due to emergency exit rules and removal of some galleys.

Posted by: Harry Alger | March 6, 2010 9:09 AM    Report this comment

Imagine reserving a sub-compact from Hertz and when you show up at the desk, demand a full size because you can't fit into a sub-compact. Sometimes you need to pay for what you need. Airline seats should be no different.

Posted by: bob scola | March 15, 2010 2:15 PM    Report this comment

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