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United Forces Overweight People To Purchase Two Seats on Their Planes

April 16, 2009 at 8:59 AM | by | Comments (11)

One of the perennial travelers' debates: should obese people have to pay for two seats? United put some of their best minds on the case and concluded: hell yeah they should.

Here are the outrageous new rules put forth by United which have already gone into effect:

Under the rules outlined by United, passengers who "are unable to fit into a single seat in the ticketed cabin; are unable to properly buckle the seatbelt using a single seatbelt extender; and/or are unable to put the seat's armrests down when seated" will be denied boarding unless they purchase an extra seat. If no empty seat exists, the passenger will be forced to take a later flight.

Listen. There are decent arguments on both sides. On one side there's the very reasonable point that people should pay for what they use. It's unfair to make one customer sit in half a seat because a bigger customer is taking up a seat and a half. On the other side there's "yeah but still." Yes it's unfair for "oversized" people to inconvenience people who are merely "sized." But still.

Imagine an overweight traveler at an airport. They're probably already dreading the flight. Now at the counter they're confronted by a petulant clerk who tells them that they're too fat to check in on a single seat. Or at the gate, they're told they're too fat to board the plane. Or on the airplane they are told they're too fat to stay in their seat. That just sucks.

But it doesn't matter which side is right. This is still a guaranteed PR disaster for United, and an an exquisite demonstration of how American airlines are staffed by myopic and self-destructive bureaucrats.

Here's how this will go down. There's going to be some poorly trained and deeply jaded United worker alone at a gate in Chicago. It's going to be February and half the flights will be canceled. Three things will be true: all the passengers will be delayed, all the flights will be full, and all the employees will be frantic.

And there's going to be a woman (or man) at the gate who seems just too big to lower the seat divider all the way down. And the gate operator will look at her body and tell her that she'll have to wait for the next available flight with an extra seat. Except as far as anyone knows that flight won't exist until some time in April. And now the fun begins.

Thirty minutes later the flight is still grounded while people scream at each other, which is what you want on a tight schedule. Fifteen minutes after that security gets involved, because airport customer disputes can end in arrests. Twenty-four hours after that discrimination groups start weighing in. Thirty-six hours after that United is on The Factor explaining why they don't hate fat people. Well done.

Is that fair? Who knows. Is it inevitable? Absolutely.

And here's how these policies get made. United executives said "we need to raise more money, but we need to do it in a way that doesn't piss off our customers." So - since they're MBAs and believe in numbers the same way Bronze Age hunters believed in talismans - they organized a focus group. This is science.

They had participants describe bad flights. The moderator brought up overweight people.

Now the only thing people like more than emoting about their sucky lives is self-importantly insisting that their lives suck because someone is being "unfair." Suddenly everyone in the room is a victim, competing to tell the most elaborate "this guy next to me was so fat it was the worst day of my life!" horror story. Everyone agreed that the airlines "should do something about it" and said they'd be "more inclined" to go with an airline that double-charged obese people. See? Science!

Except for how that's the opposite of true. No one is going to stare at a $50 price difference on Orbitz and say "well, I was going to save $50 - but I want to make sure I'm not squished next a fat person." People are going to buy the cheaper ticket and hope for the best.

Except for that overweight woman from Chicago. She and her companions and every obese person who hears about her are gone for good.

Honestly, are there any adults in any industry anywhere in this country anymore?

What do you think of United's new policy? Sound off in comments below.

Related Stories:
· United To Charge Heavier Passengers Twice To Fly [CBS2 Chicago]

[Photo: flissphil]

Comments (11)

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Great post

What concerns me most is, who decides which person is too big to fly in a single seat? Even the guidelines provided above are maddeningly vague; what if the person inadvertently pushes up an armrest a little bit while a flight attendant is watching? There's something really creepy about the idea of airline personnel scanning passengers as they board to try and figure out who will be a problem. Do I want my attendants distracted while they're doing SAFETY checks by the looks of my fellow passengers?

Omri, you are so right about this inevitably causing massive delays when United attempts to implement it. I'd rather leave and arrive on time and safely while squished in next to a larger person than get delayed because said person is being forcibly de-boarded.

delays will happen

i don't agree with this policy AT ALL. but i can see two sides to the situation. still, is this something that "overweight" or bigger passengers have to do at the gate? i mean, isn't there another solution? uggh.

totally agree

As someone that has experienced this (sitting next to someone that had to have the exterior arm rest removed with a wrench to get out of the seat at the end of the flight!) I commend United on creating this policy. If you are so overweight that you cannot fit in a seat and put down the arm rest, buckle the seatbelt, etc. you are more than likely aware of this before you get to the airport and should take care of getting the appropriate seating arrangements ahead of time...but if you don't, I'm glad United is protecting it's other customers.

United had to do it...now will others follow?

Sadly, this is a reality that has to be addressed and United is doing the right thing in my opinion. If larger passengers know the rules beforehand, it will be less awkward for all involved.


Hasn't Southwest always had something like this? I remember some very uncomfortable situations on that show Airline not too long ago.

If you start charging for overweight passengers, could they start charging more for physically disabled people? I mean they might need special assistance, someone to carry their wheelchair, etc. I'm not saying this is the right way to handle things at all, but will it open the flood gates to more judgment and more fees?

Yeah, SWA

Yeah, Southwest is pretty aggressive about forcing overweight people to buy two seats. But they can get away with it on a corporate level *precisely* because they're not an undifferentiated market the way United is. Everybody knows the difference between Southwest and US Air. United and US Air - not so much. Plus no one expects good customer service from LCCs, even though often they're much better than the major airlines. Except RyanAir, obviously. ;-)

It is disgusting

I paid for my seat which was unfortunately right next to an obese man. His hot perspiring rolls of fat laid on my soulder arm thigh and leg. There was nothing I could do and it was absolutely revolting. I became quite uncomfortable so I asked him to please give me some room and he simply explained that he flys frequently and never has any problems with staying in his own seat. He did not recognise how fat he is - another product of the high self esteem movement. Fattys should buy two or even three seats to accomodate their girth. Only the airlines can control this and perhaps the best way is to have a seat by check in, similar to the bag fit space - an see if a fatty can actually fit before allowing them on a plane. How about a scale at check it - we have to pay more for extra weight in our bags why not extra weight on our torso? Oh sure there will be discrimination cries all over - surely by those it would impact - but perhaps more severe public embarassment is what the doctor ordered. Push away, push away from the table and consume less. It is disgusting to be so fat.

You are rude!

You obviously have some issues because you are terribly rude. People are people whether they are large or small. You may have your opinion on the airline seating but you do not have to be so vulgar about it. I wonder if your mother knows what she raised.


i think it's really funny how exquisite you are on elaborating on the "jaded"? part of you're little speech to the world, and workers of the airlines to so called, "discriminate" against them the same way you are obviously steriotyping the blog you are writing about! lame ass> im wrinting a speech right now and using you as an example......thanks! shaking my head as i think of how close minded you are!....or, are you the victim? huh


i think it's really funny how exquisite you are on elaborating on the "jaded"? part of you're little speech to the world, and workers of the airlines to, so called, "discriminate" against them the same way you are obviously steriotyping the blog you are writing about! lame ass> im wrinting a speech right now and using you as an example......thanks! shaking my head as i think of how close minded you are!....or, are you the victim? huh!......


"It's unfair to make one customer sit in half a seat because a bigger customer is taking up a seat and a half. On the other side there's "yeah but still."" So you specifically state that normal sized non-tubs of lard shouldn't have to suffer for some lard-o's gluttony, and then go ahead and say, oh but there's the ever so compelling argument of "yeah but still". Is this for real, or am I not detecting some super high level of sarcasm? If some disgusting monstrosity of an excuse for a human being is so hideously large that they are SPILLING INTO ANOTHER PASSENGER'S SEAT, then yes, they should have to pay for that seat too. That's the end of that. No person wants to sit in a spot that some planet sized person is encroaching on with their lard. Nor should they have to. If you paid for a seat, you paid for a whole seat. End of story. But oh, heaven FORBID we should say something that may upset the poor fatass. We wouldn't want to hurt their FEELINGS. Then stop cramming hamburgers in your mouth for once and try walking a block. If you're that disgustingly obese that you leak into other seats, then you seriously should not be concerned about "fat acceptance" or your bloody feelings, especially at the inconvenience of others. Time to grow up, take a good look in the mirror, and then decide if you want to go around being so huge that you CAN'T physically do things that normal people are for the sake of your "feelings", or actually DO something about it. FFS. Maintaining your delicate little (hah) self esteem is your job, not the world's.

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