It’s long been understood that larger passengers might require a little extra room on an aircraft, often getting hold of an extra seat for the benefit of their own comfort as well as their fellow passengers. Usually, however, the passenger in question will purchase the extra seat themselves… until now.
We’re no strangers to the trials and tribulations of air travel here at DMARGE: unwelcome treatment from cabin crew, microscopic steaks, and cheese rolls that look like they’d leave a mouse with their tummy rumbling have all caused customers upset in recent memory.
But one aspect of flying that has caused awkwardness, discomfort, and difficulty for many years without a firm resolution has been the best way to accommodate passengers of size, who often find that the sardine-inspired seating in economy cabins around the world doesn’t adequately fit them.
That’s why one passenger from Vancouver – a woman called Jae’lynn Chaney – has setup an online petition calling for the US Federal Aviation Administration to “protect plus-sized customers”. How? Well, amongst other things, she wants the taxpayer to fund an additional seat for them.
WATCH: Being overweight isn’t anywhere near the worst thing you could do on a plane…
As part of the petition, Chaney claims that the experience of flying as a plus-size passenger causes her pain and vulnerability:
“Being forced to occupy only one seat can result in pain and vulnerability to poor treatment from fellow passengers, including hateful comments, disapproving looks, and even refusal to sit next to them. This mistreatment of plus-size passengers is unacceptable, and it highlights the urgent need for better policies that protect the dignity and rights of all passengers, regardless of size.”Jae’lynn Chaney
She then goes on to list some of her demands for the FAA, including but not limited to:
- Provide accessible additional seats: All plus-size passengers should be provided with an extra free seat, or even two or three seats depending on their size, to accommodate their needs and ensure their comfort during the flight.
- Reimbursement: Airlines should offer a refund for plus-size passengers who purchase additional seats independently. This should be a straightforward process that can be accessed online or through customer service.
- Accommodations: Airlines must provide additional airport assistance to plus-size travellers if necessary, including wheelchair assistance and priority boarding. Airlines should also create accommodations for larger passengers, such as larger bathrooms, seat belt extenders, and alternative seating arrangements.
Unsurprisingly, these requests have caused a fierce backlash online, sparking a debate between those that see this as a ludicrous and fanciful set of demands from someone who won’t take responsibility for their own weight, and others that see this as an inclusivity issue, arguing that everyone should be able to access air travel free of judgement and discomfort.
This policy has actually existed in Canada for several years already: if a person is medically diagnosed as suffering form obesity, the airline is required to provide them with an extra seat at no additional cost under the threat of being labeled – and no doubt sued – as discriminatory.
Questions around obesity always get people riled up, with comments like “just get a gym membership” or “take the stairs” abounding, and fit people everywhere getting immensely upset at the thought of missing out on a freebie after giving pouring so much time and money into the gym.
Ultimately, this isn’t just a question about obesity, its a question about how accessible air travel is to people with a whole host of so-called “abnormalities”, physical or otherwise.
As a tall man who always gets incredibly uncomfortable on flights with my knees either rammed into the meal tray in front of me, cutting into my skin, or up around my ears as I attempt to fold myself into a seat that clearly wasn’t designed for me, I can see where this lady is coming from.
I don’t think I should have to pay hundreds of dollars for extra legroom every time I get onto a plane; I think the planes should be more generously designed with passenger comfort – rather than maximum airline shareholder profit – in mind.
The difference here is that people assume obesity is a choice. Though this is often true, it isn’t always the case: people can become overweight for a number of reasons beyond their control including medical issues, mental health issues, or learning disabilities.
As such, I think a little more sympathy – or at least, a more open mind – wouldn’t go amiss amongst the anonymous online hordes who are always quick to criticise.
Moreover, I’ve got a funny feeling that if we really broke down the US government’s tax expenditure, we could find some questionable purchases that add up a lot quicker than a few airline seats… but that’s for another day.
For now, sit back, relax, and pass me that seatbelt extender…