Thursday, April 16, 2009

Obesity in flight

clipped from
United Air to Charge Obese Fliers Twice on Full Jets

By Mary Jane Credeur

April 15 (Bloomberg) -- United Airlines, the third-largest U.S. carrier, may force some obese travelers to buy a second seat when flights are full and other passengers complain about being cramped.

The policy brings practices at UAL Corp.'s United in line with those at the other five biggest U.S. carriers including Delta Air Lines Inc. The rule took effect today after being adopted in January, said Robin Urbanski, a United spokeswoman.

United passengers previously "had to share their seat with the oversized guest" on full planes, Urbanski said. Chicago- based United acted after receiving "hundreds" of public complaints each year, she said.

"It's going to perpetuate that negative stigma that's already associated with obesity," said James Zervios, a spokesman for the Obesity Action Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group in Tampa, Florida. Airline seats already "could use a few extra inches of room on all sides," he said.

Urbanski said obese passengers on United will be reassigned to a pair of empty seats and won't be charged for an extra ticket on flights that aren't full. Travelers must be able to put the arm rest between seats down to its normal position and buckle a seat belt with one extension belt, she said.

Fewer Than 2%

Delta, the world's largest carrier, charges the lowest available fare for passengers who need a second ticket, said Betsy Talton, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based airline.

AMR Corp.'s American Airlines tries to "find another solution if at all possible" before charging for a second seat, said Tim Smith, a spokesman for the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier. US Airways Group Inc. has a similar policy.

Continental Airlines Inc. charges the same price as the original fare should overweight passengers need an extra seat, according to its Web site.

Southwest Airlines Co. has had similar guidelines since the 1980s, and it offers a refund on the additional seat if the flight isn't sold out, said Whitney Eichinger, a spokeswoman for the Dallas-based carrier. Fewer than 2 percent of passengers buy an extra ticket, she said.

Zervios of the Obesity Action Coalition said cramped airline cabins cause many disruptions.

"What if the person in front of me puts back their seat and encroaches into my space, or if the person next to me has a puffy coat or leaves their light on when I want to take a nap?" he said. "We need to keep in mind that it's just a form of transportation from Point A to Point B."

U.S. Obesity Rate

About 34 percent of Americans are obese, double the rate from 30 years ago, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only one state, Colorado, has an obesity rate of less than 20 percent.

Obesity is defined as having a "body mass index," a measure of body fat based on height and weight, of 30 or more. Using that calculation, a person who is 5 feet 9 inches tall (175 centimeters) and weighs at least 203 pounds (92 kilograms) would be considered obese, according to the CDC.

Click on Image to enlarge.

Chicago radio station WBBM previously reported United's policy change.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Jane Credeur in Atlanta at

Last Updated: April 15, 2009 16:53 EDT
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