Should obese passengers pay more to fly?

Photo: The Straits Times

Airlines want more money from heavy fliers, but some say it's a rights violation.

Airline seats have been one-size-fits-all since the beginning. Today, those 16.5 to 18-inch wide seats are anything but.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), obesity has more than doubled since 1980. In 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight, and over 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 thrown up thorny issues with respect to air travel, one that highlights the conflict between airlines' needs and basic passenger rights.

Last month, lawyer Giorgio Destro from Padua, Italy sued Emirates, claiming his flight was disrupted by an obese passenger seated next to him.

According to reports, Destro was not able to comfortably sit in his assigned seat, and spent much of the nine-hour flight from Cape Town to Dubai standing or sitting in crew seats.

His proof for the lawsuit? A selfie that includes his fellow passenger's arm in his seat space.

Passenger rights advocates argue that most aeroplanes can't accommodate passengers of all body types, and that everyone has the right to fly.

"Tall, short, thin or fat, broad shoulders, wide hips or longer legsā€¦ people come in all sizes and it is rare for any coach seat to provide a comfortable and pleasant travel experience," says Peggy Howell, Vice Chairman and Public Relations Director of National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA).

"The responsibility of serving customers of all sizes is the cost of doing business in today's modern world and that cost should not come at the expense of any one group of individuals."

Mass charges

Many airlines have responded to the growing obesity epidemic by insisting passengers of size buy two seats to ensure safety and comfort.

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