According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity has more than doubled since 1980. In 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight, and more than 600 million were obese. (WHO defines “overweight” as a BMI greater than or equal to 25 and “obese” as a BMI greater than or equal to 30.)
It’s a trend that has created thorny issues with air travel, one that highlights the conflict between airline needs and basic passenger rights.
Last month, lawyer Giorgio Destro of Padua, Italy sued Emirates, alleging that his flight was disrupted by an obese passenger sitting next to him.
According to the report, Signor Destro was unable to sit comfortably in his assigned seat and spent much of the nine-hour flight from Cape Town to Dubai standing or sitting in the crew’s seats. His evidence for the lawsuit? A selfie with his co-passenger’s arm in his seat.
Passenger rights advocates argue that most aircraft are not suitable for passengers of all body types and that everyone has the right to fly.
“Tall, short, thin or fat, broad shoulders, broad hips or longer legs… people come in all sizes and it is rare for an airplane seat to provide a comfortable and enjoyable travel experience,” said Peggy Howell, vice president and public relations director of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA).
“The responsibility to serve customers of all sizes is a hot topic in air travel today in today’s modern world and that cost should not come at the expense of a group of individuals.”
Many airlines have responded to the growing obesity epidemic by insisting that “size” passengers buy two seats to ensure safety and comfort.
But recently a new fee has been created. Samoa Air charges by weight (what has become known as a “fat load”).
On top of all the other extra charges that seem to be creeping in, from checked baggage fees to in-flight drinks, is charging heavy customers an extra cost trick? And should added costs really extend to how much a person weighs?
At first glance, the fat tax issue sounds discriminatory, but some argue that it is purely down to numbers. The heavier an aircraft is, the more fuel it burns. And airlines are always looking for ways to fly lighter, therefore cheaper.
In addition to charging customers by weight, which Samoa Air says is not meant to create embarrassment, it also offers an XL (oversized) row that has a more comfortable seat for taller people. It measures 30 to 36 inches wider than the traditional chair.
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