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Fat discrimination? - the funcrunch files


Feb. 10th, 2006 10:50 am Fat discrimination?

I read on Newsvine today a link to a blog post from a woman who was asked by Southwest Airlines to buy a second seat to accommodate her very large size. Normally I don't comment publicly on these issues because I know how sensitive a topic weight is (especially being overweight myself), but the content and tone of her post made me feel compelled to respond. For those who don't have a Newsvine account, I posted this:



I don't believe in giving blanket special accommodations to people who are morbidly obese, as opposed to just conventionally "overweight" as the vast majority of Americans (myself included) sadly are. While certainly some have a genuine medical condition that makes it much more difficult to maintain healthy weight, I am not convinced by available evidence that this is the case for the majority of obese people.

If someone makes the choice to be a very large size, they should not expect a commercial enterprise such as an airline to raise fares for all passengers (by increasing seat and aisle size, for example) in order to accommodate their choice. Nor should they expect other passengers to put up with them occupying parts of their seats. The analogy in the blog posting to a paraplegic whose wheelchair takes up extra space because he "chose to ride a motorcycle without a helmet" is just sad.

The only thing in the referenced blog posting I possibly agree with is that the airline should be more upfront about their policies, so there are no surprises when the reach the ticket counter. However it is a tricky situation to determine, without looking at the person, whether or not they will need an extra seat.



I apologize if my opinion offends anyone. I welcome your thoughts, opposing or otherwise.

Addendum 2/16: I mentioned this post to obadiah and he mentioned that a woman suffered serious injury after being seated next to a very large passenger from several hours on a flight. He's not taking sides one way or the other, just pointing it out.

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Comments:

From:emmett_the_sane
Date:February 10th, 2006 07:10 pm (UTC)
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The issue is also one of fuel. Airlines have been having increasing cost problems with how overweight Americans are.

So, I'll stick my neck out one step further: I suggest that airline ticket prices be based not just upon seat space (which is digital: 0, 1 or 2 seats) but on weight as well. The ticket price for a 100 lb child should be less than that of a 180 lb guy because of difference in fuel costs.

Similarly, the ticket price of a 120 lb person with 50 lbs of luggage should be the same as a 160 lb person with 10 lbs of luggage.

How to implement that, of course, would be interesting.
From:lrc
Date:February 10th, 2006 08:37 pm (UTC)
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I can certainly see why SW wanted to charge her for an extra seat
From:waterowl
Date:February 10th, 2006 08:38 pm (UTC)
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I agree with you. Airlines also can't accomodate other medical conditions such as people who require oxygen. I think reasonable accomodations should be and are made to accomodate people with mobility issues, which is why they provide wheelchairs and people to help you and out of the seat. However in the end flying an airplane is not a right but a service provided by a private companies. These companies don't have the right to discriminate against people based on qualifications that have nothing to do with the operation of their business, but they do have the right to operate their businesses as they see fit. Our country is based on this type of freedom. Similarly amusement ride, ski lift operators and many other services refuse to allow people who don't fit certain height or weight requirements to ride.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 11th, 2006 02:01 am (UTC)

Obese Would-Be Flyer

(Link)
This woman's self-hatred is very obvious, but not at all sad, as it might be if she showed even a modicum of understanding of the point of view of a person who might be forced to sit next to her. She seems to think the rest of us will understand why she won't read the policy, which might have saved her embarrassment even if she disagreed with it. But I think she's wrong. Would she also think that a wheelchair user should be able to show up and expect the airline to remove a seat, if the person chose to sit in his or her wheelchair, for comfort sake, rather than follow airline policy? Her arrogance isn't likely to win supporters, whether thin or morbidly obese. Some who are in pitiful circumstances engender at least a bit of sympathy and understand. Not this self-defined feminist, lesbian, separatist, fat lady. Her feelings are all that matter to her; if I find it offensive to have to be in contact with her body throughout a flight, that's just too bad, from her point of view. Her selfishness is without equal, and without even the normal boundaries of civility. She rails in an insane manner at Southwest, and those who might find being crowded by her obese body as offensive as she herself finds Southwest policy. If she received one comment that supported her point of view, or was even sympathetic, I would be shocked. I believe she should "separate" herself from the rest of humanity, and not just on airlines, until she learns to have compassion for others. Her description of going down the aisle and entering a seat, and treating others to contact with her belly and butt, makes it clear that she gets a great deal of enjoyment from being grossly offensive to others. This must be her only way of getting back at those she feel insult her, but she doesn't seem to appreciate that she is sticking her belly and butt into people that have said nothing to her, in all probability. What a truly pitiful, angry, and despicable human being she is.
(no subject) - (Anonymous)
From:funcrunch
Date:February 14th, 2006 02:49 am (UTC)
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I actually disagree with you on this one. I think that, while certainly someone so large is probably making some poor life choices, it is misplaced to refer to her size as an absolute choice (italics yours). I recognize that Americans are getting larger and heavier and that this is causing problems for airlines. But given the considerable level of difficulty involved in shedding the extra pounds, I don't think it's fair to characterize obesity in the fashion you do.

I did mention that I'm aware some people have medical impediments to losing weight. However, I still believe that for the majority of obese people, they became that way because of, as you say, poor life choices.

Every time I sleep in a little longer rather than exercise in the morning, every time I take another helping of dessert, I am making a choice that will ultimately make me a little fatter. Indeed, I have been overweight for most of my adult life. However, I never have and very hopefully never will be so large that I cannot fit into a standard airline seat. To get to that size - again, unless an unusual medical problem is at play - takes time. At some point one must realize that they are getting too large to do many things comfortably. One can continue to live an unhealthy lifestyle, or do something about it. It is a choice.
I don't think we should be putting pressure on the obese to go to drastic and probably unhealthy measures such as gastric bypass surgery in order to conform to common standards.

I would never recommend that someone have gastric bypass surgery. Much safer weight loss methods are available, and while they take effort, they are doable. If someone attains a large size and chooses not to make the extra effort to lose the weight, that is their right, but I don't believe society should have to give them special accommodations.
I think it would be acceptable for the airline to ask the woman politely to pay for first class, which would be much cheaper than buying a whole extra ticket. Most of my large friends pay for first class or for first class upgrades just to make themselves more comfortable, anyway.

I have no problem with a suggestion of a first-class upgrade, as long as it isn't at a discount. But it simply isn't fair, in my opinion, for regular-fare paying customers to be squeezed out of parts of their seat by someone who clearly cannot fit.
I think airline seats are, generally speaking, too small for anyone post-pubescent to be comfortable in them.

Yes, coach seats are narrow, but certainly one can see the difference between a 160-lb woman such as myself being slightly uncomfortable in one vs a 400-lb woman who is protruding noticably into the seat(s) next to her.
Given my choice, I'd rather sit on an airplane next to a fat adult than a skinny child.

I don't like children either, but there's at least a chance that they might be quiet for the trip. If the plane is full and you're being squeezed from one or both sides, you're out of luck.
From:mikz
Date:February 16th, 2006 05:04 am (UTC)
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To be honest, I'm uncomfortable with your opinion here. It sounds too similar to fashion designers who say 'if women couldn't be bothered losing enough weight to fit into our clothes, we couldn't be bothered designing clothing to accommodate them'.

I'm curious about what available evidence you've looked at.

And frankly, airline seats are just plain too small. If everyone within 2σ of any bodily dimension felt reasonably comfortable in them, I'd have more sympathy for airlines. But I doubt that they accommodate even a single standard deviation. (BTW, I'm outside of that second standard deviation, based on height, so I'd still be uncomfortable if my 'If everyone within..' statment were satisfied.)
From:funcrunch
Date:February 16th, 2006 07:51 am (UTC)
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To be honest, I'm uncomfortable with your opinion here. It sounds too similar to fashion designers who say 'if women couldn't be bothered losing enough weight to fit into our clothes, we couldn't be bothered designing clothing to accommodate them'.

Fashion designers don't even bother trying to create clothes that "normal" people will fit into. Airline coach seats are small, granted, but they do have to accommodate a much broader range of people than fashion designers.
I'm curious about what available evidence you've looked at.

I've done a fair amount of reading on nutrition, weight loss, and exercise - Drs. John McDougall, Joel Fuhrman, and Neal Barnard among others. I'm not a doctor or nutritionist myself, so I can only give my opinion.

Bottom line, I just don't see a problem with a commercial airline politely asking someone whose size would make their seatmates lose part of their seats, to pay for a second seat (or first class upgrade).