Kevin Smith Takes on "Too-Fat-to-Fly" Airline Policies
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United Airlines added a policy in 2009 that says passengers who cannot put down the arm rests or buckle their seat belts comfortably will have to purchase a second seat or buy an upgrade to a roomier cabin.
The airlines took some heat recently when a photograph made the rounds on the Internet, allegedly showing an overweight passenger on an American Airlines flight. The photo was supposedly taken by a flight attendant and shows a man so large that he blocked the aisle while seated.
American Airlines spokesman Ned Raynolds said the photo was taken prior to takeoff during the boarding process. "American Airlines would never fly with anyone or anything blocking the aisle for any reason, nor would the FAA permit it," Raynolds said in an email statement. "Prior to takeoff, that particular passenger was given two seats at no charge, and the other affected passenger near him was moved to another seat on the same flight."
Raynolds expressed that while the airline has no hard-and-fast policy toward overweight passengers, it tries to maintain some flexibility. "We do not always or routinely charge for an extra seat unless there are simply no other options," he says. Raynolds does point out that most travelers aren't flying for the first time and should be aware of whether they can fit into a seat comfortably. "It can be costly, but you should be considerate of other passengers."
Even foreign carriers are putting official rules on the books. According to Air France-KLM, passengers with high body mass can purchase second seat at a 25 percent discount, which will be refunded if the plane isn't full. Refusal to purchase the second seat may result in being kicked off the plane.
However, if you're flying in Canada, you may be in luck. In 2008, the Canadian Supreme Court upheld a rule that plus-size passengers can get a second seat for free on domestic flights. According to the ruling, obesity is considered a disability in that context.
What do you think? Should overweight passengers be required to purchase two tickets? Should it be up to the discretion of the passenger or the airline crew?