Should airlines discriminate against "heavy" people?

I notice this is particularly true in countries like Africa. Even though the people there don’t have enough food and are dying, there are still extremely fat people with bad genetics. Come on now, there is no excuse for being too fat to sit in an airplane seat. I have never ever seen a very fat person who is active and eats healthy. It really just comes down to laziness and lack of willpower.

Well Turb, there aren’t many people vying for an airline seat in countries like Africa. There aren’t very many people standing in line at a McDonalds in Africa either. My point is, that we made this mess, we’ve now got to deal with it. Our culture has created, through poor diet, lack of exercise, and a dependence on chemicals and drugs, a serious medical condition, as previously stated, we made the mess. I agree it started with sloth and gluttony, sadly now, it has surpassed that stage where it is immediately reversible.

Moving on, I must vehemently point out that there are indeed medical conditions such as hypothyroidism that are either contributing factors and/or causes of obesity. Being hypothyroid has absolutely NOTHING, let me repeat NOTHING to do with EITHER LAZINESS, OR WILLPOWER. It can, however, cause you to be obese.

Gus, that’s a damn fine idea, damn fine indeed.

Rex, it’s not my ass that’s the problem, it’s my shoulders. I can slip my keister into the seat just fine, but add another 18 inches to my 60" chest with my arms tight at my sides, and we’ll be real friendly, real fast.

It’s not just a size issue - it’s a safety issue.

I, like another poster here, fly a “bit more than the average shmoe” too (almost 700,000 FF miles worth as of last month on all airlines.)

I have seen the morbidly obese flying, and have seen the extreme difficulty of them even fitting in the cattle-car like seats of US domestiv coach. I have seen a woman have to turn sideways, and force herself with an enormous grunt, “popping” from row-to row, taking nearly 3 minutes to get to her seat. How is she going to get out should the plane have a survivable accident and evacuation be required?

And who will be filing a $1.8 trillion lawsuit against the airlines if she could not get out in time?

I have also been on a Canadair commuter jet once where, all of a sudden, the plane leaned considerably to the left - while boarding was in process. Now, it’s not usual for airplanes to lean like that in flight, but on the ground, it was frightening. The cause was an enormous man - maybe an honest-to-God 600 pounds - who had just boarded. (This is about the third time this sort of event has happened to me, btw)

Those who fly Canadairs know they are narrower and have smaller seats than even most carriers. He couldn’t even fit past the first row, and began bellowing with all his might that he be allowed to stand up in the doorway the entire flight, or else it was “discrimination”.

The pilot came back and told him that the plane weight balance was too upset by him being on. He told the pilot “bullshit” to his face, and asked the pilot to “step outside and fight”. The pilot, stewardess, and co-pilot tried to reason with him, telling him why he could not stand in the doorway during the flight. He bellowed further about how he “was a lawyer” and that they were all “making the biggest mistakes of their lives”. The pilot, co-pilot, and stewardess tried again to reason with him.

Eventually, he left without security being involved (it would be a different story post 9/11, I can tell you), but only after several passengers started shouting at him to shut the fuck up and get off the plane. Not a fun situation for anyone involved. But then, it delayed the flight by more than 15 minutes for everyone. As a result, an entire plane missed its slot out, and was more than an hour late. Some people surely missed their connections. But I guess he made his point…

These situations cannot be safe for anyone involved.

My view:

  1. You have no “right to fly”. See post 9/11 security measures if you doubt this. Try getting on the plane without giving your ID or consenting to a search.

  2. You have no right to impose yourself on others in a way that could endanger their lives in an evacuation.

  3. You have no right to disobey FAA regulations for passengers, such as standing up in the aisle the entire flight.

  4. You have no right to drape yourself over into my seat which my company paid an awful lot for. Whenever I fly overseas it’s Business Class, and I’ve seen people so large they overflow a Business Class seat. Now, I’ve paid (my company paid) $5500 for me to fly to Madrid - why is a man’s stomach draped over onto my seat? Never mind the fact I don’t like being touched under the best of circumstances - try having someone on you for an 11-hour flight.

  5. That having been said - seats and seat design in airplanes is not magic. I could see a few easy ways that a plane could be designed with a single or double row of modular seats that, should there not be a sold-out condition, could be easily moved to accomodate larger people (both tall and obese). And should there be a sold-out condition, well, I would see the seats be moved, but an additional charge applied.

The problem is that so, so many of the flights I am on seem to be sold-out now. I don’t know how often they could be used. And you just know people would complain about why they were being discriminated against for being thin or short, and not getting the extra legroom.

Now you’re just making stuff up for the sake of it. It would be cheaper to hire a personal private jet for every obese person in the country than it would to retrofit aircraft like this.

Moveable seatbelts? New standards require those things to hold to (preposterously) 16 G’s. Sliding lights and oxy masks above, and sliding armrests with electronics below? When the vast, vast, vast majority of people fit into the current seats? The extra weight alone of all that stuff means planes couldn’t take off with anything near the load they currently do.

originally posted by FireWitch
My point is, that we made this mess, we’ve now got to deal with it. Our culture has created, through poor diet, lack of exercise, and a dependence on chemicals and drugs, a serious medical condition, as previously stated, we made the mess. I agree it started with sloth and gluttony, sadly now, it has surpassed that stage where it is immediately reversible.


The thing is we didn’t make this mess, the people who have the poor diets and who don’t exercise made it for themselves. Sure, it’s easier to become obese in a modern society with fast food on every corner, and where physical labor is not part of everyday life. But not everyone is morbidly obese or even overweight. And while weighing 800 lbs isn’t immediately or even easily reversible, no one went to sleep one night weighing 200 lbs and woke up weighing 800.

Diseases and genetics surely have an effect on how eaily weight is gained or lost. But I know of no disease that causes a person to gain weight when they consume fewer calories than they expend. Even your cite doesn’t claim that , only that set-point theory says that drastically cutting intake slows the metablism and while it mentions that hypothyroidism can cause weight gain , this states that hypothyroidism causes a slow metabolism. Still a case of consuming more than is used.

Maybe there could be some sort of special standby arrangements made that would allow people so big they need more than one seat to fly for the price of a single ticket on undersold flights with two or more side-by-side unsold seats. But if the flight is not undersold, anyone who needs multiple seats should have to pay for them. I know I’d be pretty ticked if I couldn’t get a spot on the flight I needed because someone else was taking up not only the seat they paid for but one or more extra seats they got for free.

Because it would be bad from a financial standpoint. This seat would go unused on the vast majority of flights; sure, you could have it set up so a standard person could sit there if the seat wasn’t requested by an obese person, but there’s still a substantial amount of space being wasted. As well, where would you put such a seat? It’s going to disrupt the aisle/row setup in to at least some degree.

I don’t think 50% of Americans are obese. I believe the statistic I’ve heard was that over 50% of Americans are overweight…thought I fully concede that I could be wrong.


Your example of starving Africans is of course quite faulty; without access to food, of course there will be very few obese people. That’s sort of a minor point compared to your assertion that laziness and lack of willpower is the cause of obesity. Can they be contributing factors? Certainly, but for many obese and even morbidly obese people, using the ‘eat less, exercise more’ solution is not as easy as it is for people of a normal weight:

I myself am morbidly obese. I am one of two morbidly obese people in my department at work; my four other co-workers in that department are very lean. In my 2 and a half years of working here, I have not visited any fast-food restaraunts, whereas my lean co-workers oftentimes get a fast-food lunch combo (sometimes supersized!). Only one of the lean co-workers exercies regularly, and I equal or surpass the amount of exercise he does; I ride a stationary bike for upwards of 40 minutes at least 5 times a week, I work out on my home gym three days a week, and I make sure to walk at least 20 minutes nonstop each weekday at a very brisk pace. He, on the other hand, walks to work (about 1.5 miles) and participates in a basketball league and plays one game a week on Monday nights for all of three months. This same lean co-worker is notorious around the office for flocking to any and all free treats that anyone brings in; cupcakes, cookies, candy, popcorn, etc., whereas I very specifically and deliberately have avoided eating any of the snacks that are brought in. Immediately after beginning my current exercise program, I lost 40 pounds, but my progress has ground to a halt over the past few months. I don’t eat pizza, chips, ice cream, soda, cheeseburgers, fries, or fried foods; the last time I had a slice of pizza was in 2001, and even at that time I didn’t eat any more of the pizza than anyone else at the party (I took a single slice).

These are not the first efforts I have made to lose weight; my battle with obesity began when I was a child and I have never, in my entire life, had a weight that was in the ‘normal’ range. Despite this, during my high school and college years I played basketball half or full court every single day that there wasn’t rain or snow and I ran hard. I’m very competitive, and it used to motivate me that people wanted to guard me because they thought I wouldn’t work hard; I wanted to make them ask to switch defensive assignments, and I worked extra hard to do it. During that period I was also working at a restaraunt as a busboy/dishwasher/cook and I was always running my ass off, working up a good sweat each shift.

I am not lazy, and I don’t exhibit a lack of willpower.

In sharp contrast is the case of my other co-worker, the mother morbidly obese one; as far as I can tell, he has made NO sustained efforts to lose weight, and I think he’s in denial about it. He’s unhappy being heavy, but the effort required for him to overcome his obesity is surely daunting; just think about it; I’m “doing everything right” including diet, exercise, and regularly attending a support group and I’ve lost 40 pounds in a year and that’s it. Now, 40 pounds is like nothing to you when you need to lose 150-200 pounds. The only way I can keep myself motivated now is to set a series of progressive exercise goals, and even that is wearing thin (no pun intended). I finally ‘gave in’ and scheduled bariatric surgery for April. It’s not an ‘easy way out’ despite what many people think, but it is a most effective long-term weight loss solution, and I’m going to take full advantage of it.

As much as I dislike it, I think that if someone’s girth is such that the seat next to them is unusable and the plane is booked full, then the passenger should be expected to pay some sort of fee for the extra seat. I don’t think it’s fair to make them pay for an extra seat if there are other passengers around the plane with an extra seat next to them.

I myself prefer the train, as long as I don’t have to be somewhere at a specific time. It’s far more comfortable and easier to use.

Wonderful. Oh there’s no such thing as personal responsibility, the CULTURE makes people fat! They have no choice but to eat at McDonald’s 6 times a day and sit in a dimly lit room watching anime wondering just how they got so fat.

Sorry, I’m not buying it. Obesity is a choice.

And I must vehemently point out that these conditions are not common. The vast majority of obese individuals are obese because of their lifestyle, not an overactive thyroid gland. Even so, these individuals can be relatively healthy if they eat right and exercise. They make look chubby even making healthy choices, but they won’t be 800 lbs.

Whether you believe obesity is a choice or not, please address how your analysis will handle the people I have sat next to who were not obese but in fact just had broad shoulders, imposing on “my” space.

for Cuckoorex, Weight isnt always an indicator of fat. As much as you excercise not loseing weight might just be an indication of gaining muscle. Dont lose hope yet. Before you get surgery get a body mass test. It measures the amount of fat you have in comparison to the rest of your bodie. If you get one every month you will be able to see if you are loseing fat, even if your weight doesnt change.



And you’re a medical expert, I take it?
Cuckoorex-best of luck to you.

Burner: Thanks for the tip; in fact I have accounted for this and should have made that clear in my post. While I almost certainly have gained some muscle mass and I know that weight alone is not the sole indicator of a healthy body composition, it is still disheartening to encounter lengthy plateaus in attempts to lose pounds of bodyfat. Nevertheless, I’ve lost as much as 60 to 70 pounds before using an approach almost identical to my current regimen only bounce back with additional weight gain in the dreaded yo-yo aftermath. I’m not going to be a spring chicken for much longer, and it’s going to become increasingly difficult for me to maintain this level of exercise unless I lose a lot of weight very soon. Bariatric surgery is a decision and a process that for me has been almost two years long. I’m ready for it.

Guinastasia Thanks. I’ll be sure to post lengthy reports at the SDMB during my first year post-op, so we can have some good firsthand testimony about the surgery’s effectiveness and the entire process that one goes through involving bariatric surgery.

I’ll probably still prefer trains to planes even if the surgery is a spectacular success.

Cuckoo, I just read your post and I cant really believe you when you say you are “morbidly obese” yourself. Either you are lying about your lifestyle or you are exaggerating your obesity. Are you actually monitoring your calories and making sure you take in less than you burn? I understand that some people have weight problems that may be extremely difficult to overcome, but being huge enough to require 2 airline seats is simply not natural. When you say you are morbidly obese, do you mean that you actually need 2 seats on a plane? You are probably being harsh with yourself. If you can refute me then I will withdraw my statement, of course I will have to take your word for it that you work as hard as you do to slim down.

Of course I brought up Africa as partly a joke, but I was still pointing out that when people don’t eat, they do not get fat, no matter what their genetic structure is like. And yes, it does partly relate to willpower, because nobody should eat every single time they feel a little hungry. I am slim and I still deny myself food all the time, partly for economical but partly for health reasons. And it does take willpower!

About hypo-thyroidism, I actually have it, and I am skinny as hell, so I don’t buy that point for a minute.

Turbo-Sloth: I am morbidly obese at 6 feet, 1 inch and currently 382 pounds. My weight this time last year was around 420 or so. A year prior to that, I was at 378; the year prior to that, I was at 396. The last time I was under 350 was 1997. The last time I was under 300 was probably 1993 or 1994. It was around '93 that I started lifting weights regularly, and I don’t doubt that at least some of my extra weight is muscular; one doc I saw in '99 said he thought that my lean weight would probably be around 220-240. I can fit into a standard airline seat, though the arms on the seats dig into my legs. Having my gut spilling out into the next seat is not so much of a problem as my shoulders extending out into the aisle and into the space of whoever’s next to me. Likewise when I ride the bus to work in the winter, my ass fits in the seat OK, but I have to pull my shoulders in to allow anyone to sit next to me.

I work at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, and this is where all of my weight loss efforts in the past three years have originated and have been monitored; I tried Xenical with limited success, but the docs deemed the level of weight loss to be insufficient to warrant a renewal of the prescription. After I got off the Xenical, that’s when I got up to around 420. The docs had talked to me about bariatric surgery before this, but I had told them that I didn’t want to try surgery until I was sure that I had tried everything else first.

One thing I will note, regarding eating; my eating habits were certainly shaped early on by my parents, and my mother is obese as well. There’s always the question of whether the connection is from learned behavior, genetics, or a combination of the two factors. I have been able to correct many bad eating habits in recent years, such as eating in front of the TV, skipping breakfast, eating when I’m not physically hungry, etc. There are MANY bad habits that I’ve eliminated from my lifestyle that surely contributed to my weight gain. Now, however, whenever I try to lose weight, my body is resistant to the changes; I’ve become quite efficient at storing surplus fat. I eat three to four meals a day, drink water exclusively, and avoid the typical snack foods that get people into trouble. I eat at least two cups of broccoli with a meal each day before moving on to the main course, sometimes with two meals a day. I kept a detailed log of my food choices for my nutritionist here at Mayo, and she concluded that I was eating a healthy diet devoid of ‘bad’ foods and in reasonable quantities. My weight fluctuates from week to week sometimes dramatically; dropping or gaining five pounds happens to me with no appreciable change in my diet or routine. I’ll lose 4 pounds one week, gain 3.5 pounds back, drop 2 pounds, gain 3 back, drop 4 pounds, gain 1 back…ultimately the net result is a painfully slow weight loss. Why painful? Because it’s hard for me not to look back to three years ago and see that I’m only down 14 pounds, or even worse that two years ago I was 4 pounds down from where I am now. I know that I work hard at it, but any little slip-up, any variance from my routine seems to result in a setback that takes months to climb out of. I have a very real fear that unless I am able to maintain a constant level of fairly intense exercise that I’ll never be able to maintain a normal weight, with or without surgery.

The point is, I know how hard it is for me to lose weight, and I’ve never had the mindset of a fat person; I still have a hard time thinking of myself as a fat person because I consider myself strong and agile and able-bodied. Even at 350 pounds I was able to jump up and grab onto a basketball rim down at the playground. Imagine how hard it is for people who have resigned themselves to the idea that they are destined to be fat, or who struggle with depression in addition to their weight problems! Is it really any wonder why morbidly obese people find it so hard to lose weight and keep it off? Willpower is great, and it can get you far, but when you happen to think about the big picture, that you’re going to have to work out like Rocky Balboa and eat like Rocky the Flying Squirrel for a good long time to maybe acheive a weightloss that statistically is not likely to be lasting…?

To some degree, this is about freedom.

You have the freedom to do what you want as long as you do not impinge upon my freedoms. Fat is not the issue here, simply the effects of size.

I am not little, but when I sit on a seat in public transportation, I do not take more than my share of that seating, cramped as it may be. When someone impinges upon my space, they impinge upon my freedom. In these circumstances, it behooves the taker of my freedom to do something about it. If it means that they pay for extra space, then so be it! Another aspect of the freedom issue relates to safety. I do not want to sit on the same PLANE with someone who can not move down the aisle, or who will prevent me from a timely exit from the aircraft. Even physically handicapped and aged can get a shift on when necessary, they can be helped or can find reserves of self preservatory strength/energy. some fat people physically can not proceed down the aisles or move from seats with any alacrity. These people endanger us and themselves.

I am sorry that I can not buy into the genetic ideas about overweight that are becoming popular in some places. They are at root an excuse. Obesity occurs for one reason only, eating more calories than are expended. I don’t think a single doctor would argue with this even whilst accepting mitigatating factors. It is not medicine, not genetics, not lifestyle; it is physics and chemistry! It may be that some people have a genetic predisposition to need fewer calories than others. These people are fortunate. But if they eat too much they get fat faster.

For me to use personal examples of fatness, to personalise the issues does not help. The bottom line is that unlike almost all other disabilities, fatness IS under the control of the individual.

Bottom line: I don’t really mind what anyone looks like, smells like, sounds like, what nationality or colour, what religion, or what they had for breakfast; but please do not reduce my freedom to travel in safety and ‘comfort’. In return, I promise not to inflict myself upon you!

Southwest Airlines, which has a policy of open seating, is more than accommodating on this. In December, when I flew home with Aaron, the flight was undersold, and they allowed me the use of the seat next to me for Aaron’s carseat. If I’d had to book the seat in advance, it would have been $200.00 over and above the cost of my ticket. (I usually call ahead to confirm that the flight isn’t full before I rely on this.) Similarly, on undersold flights, I’ve had whole rows to myself.

That being said, I think the issue of the cause of obesity is a red herring. It simply doesn’t matter what makes a person obese for the purpose of this discussion. I don’t care if you overeat, have a metabolic disorder, or have had blasts from secret space rays. If you’re too big for the seat, you’re too big for the seat. Period.


Plain and simple, if a large person requires the width of 2 seats, then he or she should pay for them. I certainly didn’t pay a price for a seat to have my lap used as a partial seat for one half of someone’s buttocks, sorry. Am I going to be paid for someone’s use of my lap? I hardly think so. Airlines should perhaps have 2 or 3 seats of larger than average size to accomodate large people, or a small row. But there’s no way anyone should have to pay for seats on an airplane and endure someone’s butt in their laps for a long trip. It’s not right.

Good grief! I actually agree with His4Ever on something! A momentous day. :smiley: