Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Saturday, June 20, 2009
  2 Seaters
It strikes me that Airlines are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act if they force clinically obese people to buy two seats.
On airlines such as Southwest and United, people who can't fit into 17-inch seats with the armrests down and their seat belts fastened must buy a second seat or they don't fly. US Airways and American Airlines are likely to offer free second seats, but on a full flight they make extra-large passengers pay for them.
Obesity is as often as not not a simple matter of gluttony or lack of will power. There is a ton of research going on that show there are dozens of factors, from viruses to air-conditioning to trace synthetic hormones. It seems pretty clear that in many, if not most cases of true obesity, too many Twinkies are not the cause.

As more and more information comes out, I suspect that lots of things will change, from medical advice to the way we process food. More importantly I suspect that fat people will no longer be the one group that it is OK to ridicule - or charge for two airline seats.
I'm not with you on this one and it has nothing to do with punishing someone for being large. I see it as paying for what you use. You wouldn't expect to pay the same price for a suit that fit a 130 person as you would one for a 330 pound man.

The airline has prices set on per unit costs (seat), if someone needs two units then they should pay for two units.

I'm sure that if the airlines raised prices so that all passengers paid for two seats (whether or not they needed them) just so everyone pays the same price - there would be hell to pay.

What about in your industry? If a larger person came in and said, you know what, a single portion just doesn't suit my dietary needs, I need two portions but I'm only paying for one because that's what everyone is paying for.
CJ, If they charged everybody by weight, like, say FedEx, I would agree. That would save me a lot of money when my kid flies.

But that's not going to happen. And if they don't charge consistently, it becomes a matter of discrimination.

They don't charge people in wheelchairs extra to be carted around the airports and the ramps. I'd bet a six-pack that they would never try to charge a pregnant woman for two seats. Blind people, deaf people, etc.... all need extra services that are considered reasonable accommodations under the law.

The article admits that the 17" standard for the width of the seat was set in the 1950s. They seem to have not given this issue any new thought in 50+ years. Why? It might cost them money.
I have to agree with CJ on this one too. I don't see it as discrimination so much as paying for what you use. And yes - make it consistent. If you need two seats, you have to pay for them. You are also not talking about extra "services" - you are talking about extra space in a fixed space environment. If you take up more than your "share", that leaves less than a "share" for another customer who has paid for the same thing.

I've been on the other side of the armrest too many times. I am not a skinny person - just an average (that would be size 12) woman- who fits comfortably in one seat (well, coach seats really aren't all that comfortable...). I've been on hellish 12 hr trips where the person next to me has filled his/her own seat and half of mine. Full flights never allowed me to switch seats and business appointments made it impossible for me to take the next flight. I paid my full price for one whole seat and only got a half (and certainly no refund). It was embarrassing for me and for my seatmate - and almost unbearably uncomfortable.

I'd love to see airlines retrofit all their planes with larger, more comfortable seating - but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting. I can't imagine a nearly-bankrupt industry forking over any money to replace seats that are still perfectly functional for the majority of their passengers.

In the mean time, if they don't have a pay-for-what-you-use policy, what would you suggest as a realistic alternative?
BTW - I've been a lurker for quite some time and thoroughly enjoy your blog. Good luck with the election!
When they sell the capacity of an airplane, airlines use seat count, not weight. The FAA allows the use of "standard" passenger weights when computing gross weight and CG issues. We do weigh the bags in the belly, but we count on everything else, including fat people, skinny people and carry on bags, averaging itself out. In a pinch if we're close to a performance limit, we can count the number of "children" and use "half-weights" for them. I've never seen a corresponding "double weight" used.

All of which is a long way of saying that the seat is the commodity being sold. A friend of mine recently paid for a "premium" seat on United and ended up next to a very oversized passenger. He didn't feel like he got his extra $15 worth of room, so he complained hoping to get his $15 back. Instead, United gave him a couple $100 flight coupons.

Airline pricing has not made any sense for a long, long time. If a flight is sold out charging for the extra seat makes sense, but what fare do you use? Every airline has no fewer than 9 different coach fares for every flight.

This is a can of worms, which is why most airlines that aren't in desperation survival mode have stayed away from it.

Cap'n John
The problem is the cattle car seating with 17" seats which are not comfortable for even an average sized passenger. A seat in an average economy car is 22 inches wide while an ordinary office chair measures 19 inches. On the other hand, being a rather large person myself, I would love to be able to buy seats by the inch on some logical scale. Say $100 for 17" and $129.41 for 22". That's what it works out to. Let's stop blaming the passenger and call the airlines out on their seating scams
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