Up, Up and Aweigh

Canadian airlines were recently ordered to make extra seating available for free to obese travellers. The airlines weren’t happy about this and Air Canada and WestJet responded by instituting a policy requiring obese passengers to provide a doctor’s note certifying their extra free seat requirement.

A lot of people don’t think it’s fair that just because someone is larger they should get an extra seat for free when obviously the cost of that seat is going to be passed along on everyone’s airfare.

Some people have suggested passengers should be charged airfare according to weight in the same way your extra baggage is charged. The thinking is that since weight is an issue overall on an airplane, fees for both passenger and baggage should reflect that.

This doesn’t solve the problem however of larger passengers requiring more space. Airlines regularly field complaints from passengers who’ve travelled next to a very large person who has significantly encroached on their seating space. They’ve had to refund millions to passengers who were squeezed out of their seats.

Southwest Airlines now requires larger passengers to purchase 2 seats for the “safety and comfort of each and every customer”. If you can’t fit between the armrests when they’re lowered, you need to buy the seat next to you as well.

They’ve been accused of discrimination, but defend themselves by saying everyone pays more for services they require above and beyond the average. If you want more food in a restaurant you pay more. If you want a suite rather than a standard room in a hotel you pay for it.

But buying or even getting an extra seat for free still doesn’t address the whole issue. My former boss was a very large man and a very tall man. He just simply could not squeeze himself into regular airline seats because there wasn’t enough leg room. Thrombosis is a real and serious risk for quite a large percentage of air travellers.

When he had to fly, he always went business class. On planes that didn’t offer business class, he always sat in an emergency exit aisle or a bulkhead aisle seat – both of which offer more legroom. And, he never ever used an airplane washroom because he couldn’t wedge himself into the tiny space.

Isn’t it outrageous that airlines can get away with offering a “service” that is so limited for so many people? I’m only 5′ 4″ and weigh maybe 125 and I find air travel horribly uncomfortable. Not to mention all the hassle and drama and endless queues…. and increasing prices of flights and the taxes, fuel surcharges, security surcharges and all those other hidden fees that double the cost of your ticket.

I wonder when it will occur to airlines to start making flying an enjoyable experience? Seating to accommodate human beings, fresh food, friendly staff, efficient scheduling, no lost luggage — passengers of every size and description happily enjoying the awesome miracle of flight.[1]

[1] About 5 years ago I actually had a flying experience like this on Skyservice  – a Canadian charter airline. The seats were enormous, both the ground and air staff were beyond friendly, we were served real food, the flight left and arrived on time. It was like a strange and wonderful dream.