Should airlines charge obesity surcharge?

February 3, 2010 by  
Filed under OBESITY

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First there was the obesity tax. Now there is the obesity surcharge for airfares.

Early last year, United Airlines started charging extra-wide passengers for an extra seat. Airline seats are designed for an average-sized person and passengers who do not fit this category need to have seatbelt extenders and lowered arm rests – at the discomfort and the inconvenience of the passenger in the neighboring seat. According to the United Airlines website site:

For the comfort and well-being of all customers aboard United flights, we have aligned with other major airlines’ seating policies relating to passengers who:

If unused seats are available on the ticketed United or United Express flight, then a customer meeting any of the above criteria will be reaccommodated next to an empty seat.

If no unused seats are available on the ticketed flight, then the customer must either purchase an upgrade to a cabin with available seats that address the above-listed scenarios, or change his or her ticket to the next available flight and purchase a second seat in addition to the one already purchased. If a customer meeting any of the above-listed criteria cannot be accommodated next to an empty seat and chooses not to upgrade or change flights and purchase a ticket for an additional seat, he or she will not be permitted to board the flight.

United Airlines was one of the first of the major airlines to implement such a policy. Another was Southwest Airlines.

Last week, media reports indicated that the alliance Air France-KLM might follow suit starting February 1. However, the airlines that they have plans for implementing an obesity surcharge. According to a released statement,

“Contrary to reports in the press this morning, Air France is not planning to force corpulent passengers to pay for a second seat.”

They recommend, however, that extra-wide passengers should buy a second seat at 75% of the normal price, a recommendation that was in place since 2005.

“It is not an obligation; we suggest to such passengers they buy a second seat for their own comfort and in order to be sure the seats are adapted to their needs. If the plane is not full, they can get a refund.”

What do you think?

Is it fair for airlines to charge overweight passenger extra? Is it fair to the other average-sized passengers? Is obesity surcharge discriminatory? Is it an effective measure to fight the obesity problem?

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