Mario Di Simine

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Should the obese pay more for seats?

January 29, 2010

obeseIt can’t get more uncomfortable than this: Asking people to pay more because of their size.  But most people, it seems, are just fine with that.

A poll by travel website Skyscanner found that 76 percent of people believe airlines should charge what amounts to a “fat tax” to overweight folks needing an extra seat. Only 22 percent of the 550 people questioned disapproved of a surcharge.

Obesity is a problem in the United States — all you have to do is look around to see how prevalent it is. But there are statistics to back up the view: In 2008, 34 percent of Americans were obese, the Journal of the American Medical Association said.

The Center for Disease Control defines obesity as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more.  Its latest study showed that only Colorado had a prevalence of obesity below 20 percent.

There is also little doubt that weight plays a role in health, and costs a bucketload of cash — obesity-related health care costs upward of $100 billion a year, some research shows.  An ABCNews report said obesity will cost the United States about $344 billion in medical-related expenses by 2018.

But pulling out a statistic and saying this is what obese means is much different than looking at someone and saying you’re too fat to fit here, pay us some money.

This isn’t a new issue. Southwest Airlines and United Airlines have a policy where “oversize” people need to buy a second seat and can claim a refund if the plane is not full. This followed complaints from neighboring passengers.

The latest hubbub comes after an erroneous report that Air France KLM would start charging the fat tax, which the airline denied. In fact, the national carrier will take a similar stance as that of Southwest and United. Starting Feb 1. overweight passengers who had freely chosen to buy an extra seat for comfort would get their money back on flights that were not fully booked.

It begs the question, what’s next? Should taxis charge the overweight? How about your local bus? Railways? The seats in most modes of transportation are designed to squeeze in the maximum number of passengers in the smallest possible space.  How many “average sized” people are comfortable in economy class?

Some would argue that efforts to charge by the pound, so to speak, amount to discrimination, perhaps even a violation of a person’s civil rights.

And besides, how do you judge and who does the judging? Many overweight folks do fit into those airline seats. But you won’t know it till they sit down. Will they be charged then, or judged before?

What do you think? Is a “fat tax” a good idea?


This is not a weight issue (the aircraft can handle the load) but, it is a VOLUME issue as there is a limited volume, hence passenger capacity n the aircraft cabin. So charge customers accordingly, if a passenger requires 2 seats volumetrically, then I should be charged for 2 seats. Think of the weight loss incentive here, saving americans millions in excessive health care costs.

Posted by Rob | Report as abusive

I am curious if the author is overweight,as the article seems to be weighted (sorry bias) in defense of overweight folks.
Obesity is not normal, and the less socially acceptable it is the more people will take action and change their lifestyle to minimize it. Additionally, those who demomstate physical responsibility should not have to bare the burden financially, or otherwise of those who do not.

Posted by Rob | Report as abusive

This problem copuld be solved by manufacturing armrests that do not move up and down. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of sitting next to a morbidly obese person on a transcontinental flight and she wanted to raise the armrest between the seats. Although I understood why, I could not allow her to encroach into “my” space. I felt bad that I had to deny her that option and push the armrest back down. As a customer, I should not have to make that decision,nor should the flight crew. Planes are flown with cargo as well as passengers and the weight and balance are very important in calculating the amount of fuel the plane can carry. Airlines are losing money by not charging overwieght people for the extra room they need.

Those who consume more resources should pay for them….like families with 19 children who expect the rest of us to pay more taxes that allow their 19 kids to attend school. If people are going to complain about the national debt and taxes, then everyone will need to be willing to pay more for things they want.

Posted by 5280 High | Report as abusive

And what happens with the people who smell too much? and those too tall? are we going to put taxes on people for physical problems or illnesses? because we musn’t forget that obesity is an illness.
I am fed up with those comments like “he/she is fat because he/she wants to”. And those who smoke?
Eating, like smoking or drinking is not just a question of will….they need help and comprehension, and not bad words.


Why don’t we just change the size of the seats, that are really small and uncomfortable?


Absolutely! It is not fair to others sitting next to a person who is overweight. I pay for my own seat and don’t expect to have to share it with someone else. If a person doesn’t fit comfortably into a single seat then they should buy two seats. If it embarrasses the overweight person… perhaps they’ll get motivated to get some help with their condition.

Posted by Brian | Report as abusive

Americans need to get in shape! NOWHERE else in the world are there such large people.

Posted by Brian | Report as abusive