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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?

57 comments so far

It’s a simple solution. Airlines have every right to charge more based on weight. Same reason they charge now for more luggage. The heavier the plane the more gas needed. It’s not fair to make a 120 lb person pay for the 300lb person’s gas usage. It shouldn’t matter even if they can fit in one seat. It can only have positive consequences for everyone.

- Posted by BWeigel Chicago

No. Maybe build the airplane only for obese which has bigger seat and charge the junk food business more money.

- Posted by Blue

Should smokers pay more tax to compensate for their heathcare needs?

Should overweight people pay more tax to compensate for their heathcare needs?

Should thin people pay LESS for an airline seat?

I mean this just opens up a massive can of worms and though I personally think it would be unpleasant sat next to a very overweight person on a flight, I don’t think it’s fair to charge THEM for an additional seat.

Arguably the airlines discriminate against overweight people by not accommodating them. Maybe they should take the airlines to court!

- Posted by Darren

Yes, larger people should have to pay for an extra seat. Airlines make money based on the number of people they carry. If someone needs a second seat, they should have to pay for it. If the plane is not full and the larger person is able to use two seats without displacing anyone, the airline should refund the second seat price. It’s simple economics.

- Posted by Chuck

Anyone that has ever had to sit next to someone that has requested a seatbelt extender will agree that those that can not fit into a single seat should have to buy a second. I paid full price for mine. Why, do I need to share it with an obese person because they overflow into mine.

Each person is responsible for their actions. These people eat like crap and don’t work out. They are killing our health care system. They need to be held accountable. One seat per person… if you can’t fit into one seat then you should have to buy another one.

- Posted by Seth Chicago

It might be a good idea to sell airline tickets by pound and inch (or rather by kilos and centimeters to make the standard applicable worldwide). The problem is that taking measurements would add to the already big hassle of air travel. It’s not unusual that the flight itself takes less time than waiting for check-in, security scans, baggage claims, and other land based procedures, combined. Now imagine that every passenger must be weighed, measured, and inevitable complaints taken care of.
Besides, why not to charge passport holders of certain countries, and also people of certain national origin, names, and looks more? After all, security is a huge expense, and it’s known that people with names like John Smith or Haim Abramovitz are less likely to be a security risk than people with names like Osama bin Laden.

- Posted by Anonymous

This is the same thing liberals have been trying to do for many years. Any tax is perfectly fine as long as it’s the other guy paying. Tax the rich….tax smokers…… drinkers……tax tanning salons…… tax tax tax…….now, listen to the fat liberals whine. So pathetic.


A Conservative who is not overweight

- Posted by MikeMichigan

Absolutely, charge fat people more. I am being charged for extra pounds in my luggage – why not make the same rule about person’s weight?

If you weight more than 250 lbs – pay extra.

- Posted by Josh

Absolutely! Obese people who cannot fit in their seat should pay what it takes so as not to invade the space of others.

I have sat in many seats where the obese passenger next to me was so fat, I felt like I was wearing them as a blanket.

That said, airlines can mitigate the problem by making bigger seats and especially extending the seat pitch (legroom). It is unreasonable to cram people into seats so small. I would gladly pay 10% premium for 10% more legroom.

- Posted by Frank

The size and weight of what goes into airplance spaces is already controlled and rightly so. If your bag doesn’t fit into the overhead-test box, it’s not supposed to go onboard as carry-on. Likewise, if you are carrying an oversized butt that doesn’t fit a normal seat, then it doesn’t belong in a normal seat. Normal passengers suffer enough grief now without the physical abuse of sitting partly out of their own seats because of a morbidly obsese person in an adjacent seat. The solution is an airline oversize-seat section for those beyond the threshold (it’s not rocket science to figure this out) — and yes, you pay more to sit there: Coach, First Class, Business, and ….Too Fat.

- Posted by MSG Rat

Since airline service has declined to the level of freight hauling and weight is the single most critical variable cost factor simply set a cost per pound for each flight. Total weight of passenger, luggage and carryons times cost per pound equals ticket cost. No discrimination here as everyone is being charged based on what it costs to transport them and their luggage.

- Posted by John

Tax the fatties!

- Posted by Thomas

Can we please stop calling it a tax! it’s a fee, just line luggage, movies, meals, etc. People are making it political and has nothing to do with liberals and conservatives – it’s a business decision that benefits the airlines. If a person needs another seat due to their size, they should be charged, plain and simple.

- Posted by Mike

“This is the same thing liberals have been trying to do for many years. Any tax is perfectly fine as long as it’s the other guy paying. Tax the rich….tax smokers…… drinkers……tax tanning salons…… tax tax tax…….now, listen to the fat liberals whine. So pathetic.


A Conservative who is not overweight”

This is a funny comment. I’m willing to bet if we had census on weight and party, you’d find that independents were the skinniest group, followed by the dems, and last but not least (certainly in girth) would the the conservatives. I think that a large part of this is in part due to region of party affiliation. Much of the midwest and south are conservative, and everyone knows they’re all fat…

As far as the comment goes, there should be certain limitations to charging for weight. For example, if someone has an unalterable diseases that in part causes obesity, they should be given some leeway. However, if someone is fat because they have a poor diet and does not exercise, they deserve as much penalty as they are inflicting upon the rest of us. People need to take responsibility for themselves.

- Posted by G

sorry, what I meant to say was “if someone has an unalterable disease that in part causes obesity”

- Posted by G

First of all, they’re not talking about taxing fat people; they’re talking about fat people paying a higher ticket price because that persons size takes up more room. The issue is legitimate: if you’re fat and hang over into the next person’s seat you should have to pay more. It’s that simple.

- Posted by Lisa

Maybe airlines ought to have bench seating so that passengers are seated in accordance to size of the passenger in combinations: one fat person and two skinny persons; three normal persons; four skinny persons. Load them into the passenger comnpartment like they do the luggage in the luggage compartment. Maybe tickets ought to be priced by size of person. Skinny people pay less. Fat people pay more. Maybe ther should be rows for short people and rows for tall people. Just some ideas

- Posted by prdan

Then thin people should pay less? let’s pay the transportation of people by the pound (or kilo) of flesh!
What an absurd idea.

- Posted by Guido

YES they should have to pay more because they take up more than one seat. I have to pay for an extra seat once my toddler hits a certain age, even if they can sit on my lap. Obese people weigh far more than my toddler and I combined.

- Posted by Jennifer Odom

I think it is extremely relevant, instead of punishing everybody equally; it is similar to the “dumbing down” in classrooms or letting every team get a trophy….it is the downfall of this society…it is not acceptable to be obese and then let society pay for the 100% probability that you are going to have problems….it has a lot to do with the way the rest of the world sees us, why very large people have to drive SUVs, and the only answer is to make larger parking spots, larger seats, etc…where does the madness end?? the only sensible solution is that posed by Alabama, which started imposing fines on obese state workers…if they can slim down when there is a penalty for not doing so, why cant everyone else??? that being said, there are very few non-sedentary jobs…and employers need to be encouraged to let workers have time to work out…you can be more productive when you have energy and feel good about yourself….we would need a paradigm shift…and I believe it would have to come from big govt….very few companies are like google who only provide “perks” such as a gym, etc. in order to retain good employeees, the rest of peons work in old, hazardous buildings, which you wouldn’t live in, but are forced to work in….over a certain weight, you need to pay…it is called “positive punishment’..since positive reinforcement doesn’t work….Americans also eat empty calorie junk food which costs society….charge higher taxes on junk, instead of continuing to subsidize grain producers unfairly and call fruit and veg. farmers “alternative” crops like bush did in the last farm bill..make sure there are fresh options in inner city, etc…..

- Posted by change paradigm

Similar to what the airlines have for you to check to see if your luggage is of a size that can be brought on board (those displays that you can slip your luggage into to check size), perhaps they can have something that you sit in and if you overflow, you need to buy a second seat.

- Posted by Mims

airlines are now distributing costs of the obese among everybody; instead of making grossly overweight people pay for extra weight, we are ALL paying for extra luggage etc., when gas gets higher, as we continue to run out of oil…the solution will be unpalatable…but I think the airlines are going to choose their own survival over complaints of obese, if they want to stay in business…planes don’t fly by magic….or with pixie dust….

Every single person in this country who is obese, who spills coffee on themselves, who smokes for fifty years and then wonders why they got cancer..whatever, it is not THEIR fault!!! that is mentality we got from idiot bush!!!!nothing is his fault either!!!! It is now society’s (or the next administration’s) problem, and who just spends all day thinking about how the world is discriminating against them instead of just doing something….which explains why there is a dearth of indep thought…why more energy now is spent cleaning up messes from other people…..who don’t care and who are not smart enough to care or use logic…and why instead of moving forward like the rest of the modernized world….we are just getting sucked down by mor(*_; why trial lawyers keep getting rich off others…blood sucking vampires….nobody gets along, as climate change gets worse…diseases keep spreading….our society is collectively stoopider!!!put our head in the sand, do nothing!!!!I am sure doing anything is better than doing nothing….VCs just commented there are no new entrepreneurs in the last decade besides facebook…there is nothing for them to invest in….all intelligent minds left these shores….but whatever we do, don’t blame Bush!!!!it is not his fault, eating junk and being obese is not your fault, they could not possibly be related!!!! don’t be ridiculous!!!!

- Posted by git r dun

It seems simple to me. If you can’t fit in a seat with the armrests down then you need to buy two seats. I had to sit next to a guy once who assumed it was OK if his body covered half of my seat

- Posted by Cecil

Maybe airlines could compromise and come up with a “plus size” area that costs a seat and a half? I’d love to design the icon for that area.

- Posted by Lee

Absolutely…they have every right to charge double. Perhaps paying more might encourage a more healthy lifestyle. Honestly, I can’t even believe this is being debated.

- Posted by Elheffey

Have you ever sat in the middle of 2 overweight people? I have, it’s awful. Try it for a 8 or 9 hour flight.

- Posted by Judy

Absolutely. Retailers charge more for Big sized clothes because it requires more material. Why not charge more for a seat if the a/c will use more fuel. The FAA standard passenger is 170 pounds and that’s how a/c loading, seat and design is based. Why not a sur tax per 10 pounds over the standard weight? Same with bags, by the weight.

- Posted by Bill

yes FAT people need to be fined i had to fly from Salt Lake to Alaska with out a seatbelt because all seats were full and the fat person next to me needed part of my seat

- Posted by CF

If you cannot fit between the armrests in coach you need two seats or a seat in first class. A very simple standard that would be easy to enforce. I am not willing to give up part of my limited seat space to someone else, especially on the overseas flights.
A coworker is also a frequent flyer. He is roughly 300 lbs. He always travels in first class because there is no way he would fit in a coach seat.

- Posted by chinomb

I love it! Put all your belongings, including yourself on the scale and pay up! 10 cents a pound, or 25 or 50! Airlines will love it because they’ll advertise “lower” fares and you’ll know not to eat or drink but be sure to pee prior to check-in. Looking forward to paying my fair share!

- Posted by OneJacket

Of course obese passengers should have to be accountable for the cost of their personal transportation. This is a model that is true for just about anything. Heavy packages cost more to ship… deal with it.

And btw, taxes are what pay for all the wonderful things we have in this country, like roads and schools… the more money we spend on tax, the more we get in return in terms of a higher quality of life.

- Posted by colorado man

While at first blush it seems right, to charge people for being fat, it really isnt the solution. In this instance it may seem logical, but as some have pointed out is where does this lead to?

Can we charge or ban stinky people from entering public transportation?

How about disabled people? Shouldnt we charge them for all the extra arrangements that need to be made for their accessiblity?

As a society, we must not charge for the way people are, no matter how inconvenient it is for us. I much prefer taxing cigarettes and junk food than the people that consume them. Taxes are a great tool when used to incentivize good social behavior. We all have our freedoms, but the freedom to behave in a manner detrimental to the wellbeing of others is not one of them.

- Posted by One Size Fits All

Overweight folks need to pay more.

It’s the same concepts as with shipping a package – the more teh weight, the higher the charge. Or with large/tall clothes – they cost more that regular clothes.

It’s a matter of transporting certain amount of weight from point A to point B. Nothing personal, no discrimnation…its just fair.

- Posted by Citizen

Just take a look at this guy: 1232899/Jumbo-jet-setter-The-airline-pas senger-obese-hes-safety-hazard.html

- Posted by Citizen

Of course! Anyone who cannot fit in one seat and needs to two seats should pay for two seats. I have travelled with an over weight passenger next to me. It was torture for 8 hours.

- Posted by Praful

As a person who simply couldn’t eat in such a way as to gain weight, I am mystified at how these obese can get to such a pathetic state and yet not see themselves for what they look like. So, yes, tax absolutely indeed! And stop the nonsense in blaming everything under the sun for their obscene condition.

- Posted by axioum

Anyone who has had the misfortune of being in the same row of seats with one or more than average size people know how unpleasant this can make your flight.My mother would not fly because she knew she could not fit in a regular seat.l don’t think she would have paid more to fill two seats.She just knew flying was not right for her.
She traveled by auto or bus rather than subject people to the problems of travel with overly large people.She said it’s just not fair to your fellow persons.

- Posted by Glenn Tomlinson

Yes charge by the pound. Put you and your bags on the scale. Packages are done that way. Of course, I am not fat so this sounds really good to me. That is a choice I made for myself.

- Posted by Betty Morgan

Airlines should charge based on the total weight passenger and baggage (including carry-on), you would buy your ticket as $/lb (or €/kg, or £/stone) pack accordingly and weight in at the airport as part of check in. I would not see this as discrimination simply paying for the service of transporting you and whatever you wish to take with you from point A to point B.

- Posted by P

Yes of course. A Fat Tax is obviously a solution to help the obese slim up! Otherwise, they will face the penalty of being overweight. I mean the way you see people eat at any Las Vegas buffet restaurant, it really makes you sick. The plate is always filled with mountainous of food. People eat so much not just to fill their empty stomach but to fulfill their greed.

- Posted by John Lee

A tax won’t help the obesity problem. It may encourage people to think more about what they eat, but there are 30 years of research from Cambridge University, Duke, University of New Mexico, UCSF and others which strongly suggest that as food becomes cheaper (and it is, adjusted for inflation) it also becomes less nutritious. Less nutrition encourages our body and brain to eat more. The only way to help our society get back to reasonable weight is to force people to eat the good stuff which is not found at restaurants – fast food or otherwise – and occupies 60% of your super market or more. If you’re struggling financially, it stands to reason that you’ll chose the cheaper option, not the healthy one – and the healthy option is always more expensive and more time consuming. We should be treating foods full of sugar or fat and low on nutrition like cigarettes. Tax the heck out of people who make them and buy them. This won’t happen any time soon of course because it would kill the farming part of our GDP… Taxing fat people will do one thing – make them fatter.

- Posted by Trainer Austin

definitely yes, if you sit beside one of them you will know how uncomfortable for you or them plus, if you check in a luggage over what it suppose to be the standers you will be charge extra so why not they pay the extra ???

- Posted by liza

I’m an Asian woman, 1.5 cm and 50 kg., and my problem has been always the same having some excess check-in baggage.
I once told an airline ground stewardess during check-in to consider my size and put the extra weight that I don’t have in my check-in baggage. Problem solved, but not always! An average plane passenger weighs at least 80 kg.
so do I get a refund for weighing 30 kg. less?

- Posted by Vanessa

I’m an Asian woman, 1.50 m and 50 kg., and my problem has been always the same having some excess check-in baggage.
I once told an airline ground stewardess during check-in to consider my size and put the extra weight that I don’t have in my check-in baggage. Problem solved, but not always! An average plane passenger weighs at least 80 kg.
so do I get a refund for weighing 30 kg. less?

- Posted by Vanessa

I think it would be a little unfair to put a “Fat Tax” on over weight people. Because different people carry body weight differently from other people. For example, 250# looks different on a person 5′ verses a person that is 6′. How can they determine who has more body weight, unless it can be equal to height and body fat. But, really alot of people inherit this problem, and it is not their fault.

- Posted by Kelly Thibodeaux

Forget the tax on obese travelers. Require a extra ticket purchase if they can’t fit into a normal seat. Simple as that. If free seats are going to be given to the obese than I want a free seat for my carry on & purse!

- Posted by Margaret Petersen

Have you ever sat next to an obese fellow flyer who encroaches on your space? If you have, you too would insist that they buy two seats.

- Posted by otis

Yes, flat tax or surcharge for obese people taking up space in adjoining seats. Avoid the tax, loose weight!

- Posted by Rob

It is this simple: Airlines are a private business and should implement any policy they want or need to operate a profitable business…within the legal limits of the law.

If an airline makes certain I am not inconvenienced or made uncomfortable by one of these foodies, then I am more likely to fly their airline (Southwest). If an airline doesn’t have a policy and places me next to a bulging blob, then I have the ability to request a seat change, request a refund or simply suck it up and ride next to this person. I personally have done all three and do not recommend the third…

Let the market decide

Straight Up

- Posted by Straight_Up

The airlines should give them the option of paying extra to sit in the passenger section or flying in the cargo hold as air freight.

- Posted by George

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

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

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

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by mariodisimine: Should the #obese pay what amounts to a fat tax for airline tickets? Some people think so ..…

- Posted by uberVU – social comments

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.

- Posted by ingrid

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

- Posted by ingrid

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

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

- Posted by Brian