Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A fat tax for flights?

Apparently, United Airlines received more than 700 complaints last year from passengers whose overweight neighbor "spilled over" into their seat space. So now, according to today's Chicago Tribune, United has a new policy. If you don't fit into one seat -- with the armrests down -- the flight attendants will try to find you 2 seats in a row.

But if the flight attendants can't find 2 seats in a row for you, you'll be bumped from the flight.

I always fly Southwest -- which, as the article points out, has a similar policy -- and I can hardly remember a flight that wasn't completely full. Two seats in a row can be mighty hard to come by during busy travel times. It seems to me that really overweight people are going to be shit out of luck during Thanksgiving, unless they purchase two seats. Which is the point.

For me, this definitely raises some serious concerns about discrimination and disability, but I'm no expert. I've gathered that the whole "fat people riding airplanes" thing is a much-discussed topic in the fat blogosphere.

Big Fat Blog has a few posts on the issue: one which questions whether thin passengers should get a $250 voucher because they had to sit next to a fat person, and another describing a "one person, one fare" policy law recently passed in Canada.

Kate Harding has written about the issue of weighing passengers, which is a big fucking can of worms. But it's not THAT different from eyeballing people and trying to decide whether they'll fit in one seat or not. Will the attendants check the airplane for any human flesh spilling over into space they didn't purchase? How can any such policy be enforced without serious embarrassment and inconvenience?

One thing's for certain: in virtually every story, the comments section is a horror show. People ask rhetorical questions like "Why should I have to sit next to a fat ass?" and "Must we bear the consequences because that person has eaten too much pizza and fast food?" There is a lot of vitriolic hatred of fat people, and it's deeply disturbing. We all know someone who's tiny and eats a lot of fast food; we all know someone who's NOT tiny and who eats healthfully and exercises a lot. The contempt and hatred on these threads is pretty ridiculous.

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