Canadian Court Gives Fat and Disabled Flyers Room

Laurie says:

Deb and I just blogged and it’s getting late, but this is great news that I just heard, and I wanted to share it.

The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a regulatory ruling requiring the country’s airlines to provide an extra seat — at no charge — to obese passengers and those with certain disabilities. Failing to do so, the court said, is discriminatory.

The landmark ruling requires the nation’s carriers to adopt the Canadian Transportation Agency’s “one person, one fare” guideline that grants an additional seat to the obese and to those with disabilities requiring a personal attendant or wheelchair. Although the ruling applies only to domestic flights, it could pave the way toward similar policies in other countries that have grappled with the issue.

It should only happen here!

Thanks to Lynn Kendall for the news.

12 thoughts on “Canadian Court Gives Fat and Disabled Flyers Room

  1. The ruling actually says that people who are “functionally disabled by obesity” deserve two seats. That sounds like a significant piece of language to me.

    Frankly, I don’t think that obese passengers deserve two seats for the price of one. Do you think people who drive hummers should get two gallons of gas for the price of one, or people who are hungrier should get two hamburgers for the price of one?

    This isn’t a criticism of obesity. Rather, it’s a belief that people should pay for the resources they consume. The obese passenger who occupies two seats costs the airline the revenue that they would have earned by selling the seat, as well as the costs for additional fuel. There’s a reason that airlines charge more for very heavy baggage, and it’s not just to jack up profits. While it would be morally unacceptable to weigh passengers before they get on a plane, it would also not be a completely unfair thing to do.

    I think it’s reasonable to try to place large passengers next to empty seats where possible. However, on a full flight I think it’s reasonable to charge the passenger who occupies two seats more than the one who occupies one.

  2. Patti,

    It seems to me we’re talking abut a couple of different things.

    I’m a small woman who just barely fits into an economy class seat. If you want fat people to pay extra then so should everyone else who doesn’t fit, starting with most tall people who have the same problems with the seats not to mention the average football defensive player.

    And then there’s the idea that people are fat because they are obsessive eaters who consume extra resources. If everybody ate their vegetables and exercised, there would still be fat people and thin people. Most fat people consume no more resources then thin people their set points are just different. (If you want to point at eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia and compulsive eating all fit the definitions.)

    For me the point is that if you are going to sell someone a seat, it should fit them. Size discrimination is simply wrong.

  3. Sorry, Laurie, I was posting before noon and therefore not writing all that clearly.

    I’m not saying that fat people (of which i am one, as Debbie can attest to) eat more and consume more resources. I’m saying that they consume more resources when they fly. It takes more fuel to carry 300 pounds of (person, luggage, cargo, whatever) through the air than it does to carry 150 pounds… this is just basic physics. A fat person who occupies two seats costs the airline money, because the airline cannot collect a fare for that seat.

    Airlines work on very thin margins most of the time. It costs the airline more when someone occupies two seats. I don’t think it’s discrimination when the airline passes on those costs to the customer– it seems like a reasonable business practice to me. I see it as no different than any other metered service.

    In essence, what the court said to the airlines is, “You must lose money when fat people fly.” I don’t think that’s reasonable. Do you?

  4. Patti,

    Primarily for me, this is a social justice issue. For example I don’t think that if someone needs a wheel chair the airline should charge them extra for the weight. Given remarkably inefficient way airlines operate, the question of “reasonable business practice” seems moot.

  5. For me, the issue is the size of the seats themselves. Airlines cram as many seats into the body of each plane as possible in order to maximize the profitability of each flight. They size of seats is not determined by what would make even average-size passengers comfortable, but in terms of how small they can possibly make them before discomfort itself starts affecting ticket sales. And I mean height as well as weight here. So if airlines are going to charge for two seats when someone cannot fit comfortably in one, I’m fine with that IF AND ONLY IF the size and spacing of airline seats is determined not by profitability, but by a standard that will allow the majority of passengers to travel without discomfort. U.S. carriers know that the majority of Americans are overweight just as well as anybody else does. If they’re deliberately making seats that will comfortably accommodate only a minority of U.S. adults, I’d say that’s an issue of product design.

  6. Michele, how much of a premium are you willing to pay for larger seats? 10% 20% 50%?

    As far as I can tell, the only way to make seats wider is to make planes wider, or to have fewer seats. If you went from the standard arrangement of six seats across to five, you could have wider seats, but it should cost you 20% more to fly.

    Making new airplanes wider is possible, probably with only like 2-3% more expense per passenger (a number I pulled out of my ass, but seems intuitively reasonable) though that won’t do anything to address the extremely large existing fleet.

    Note that United has an Economy Plus upgrade that you can buy. The seats aren’t wider, but there are five inches more legroom. The premium for this is in the neighborhood of 10%, I believe, though you get it for free if you have premier or higher status with their frequent flier program.

    Plus, on most aircraft you have the option of buying business or first-class seats. As someone who has traveled in both cabins, I can assure you that the seats are significantly larger and more comfortable. They’re also commensurately more expensive.

    OTOH, I traveled from Los Angeles to Sydney and back in economy some years ago. At 5’8″ and 260#, I didn’t find it terribly uncomfortable. It wasn’t luxurious by any stretch of the imagination, but it also wasn’t uncomfortable.

    Airlines are in business to make a profit, plain and simple. Optimizing seat size for ticket sales and maximum profit is exactly what they *should* be doing. Suggesting that they should ignore this profit motive is ignoring a basic reality of the universe.

  7. Patti: Actually, the physics of aircraft are such that flying them costs a set amount per hour, almost without reference to them being full, or empty.

    So the fat passenger, at 360 lbs, is using about the same fuel (within a couple of gallons, on a transcontinental flight) as I am, not three times what my 120 lb frame causes to be consumed.

    In plain terms, adding an extra 150 lbs to a take-off weight of 174,000 lbs isn’t that much of a difference, esp. not to a powerplant which is generating about (depending on the models, and I’ve been using the standard, not the high gross weight versions) about 56,000 lbs of thrust.

  8. But if there is only so much cabin space, and the seats are bigger, you can’t fit as many people on the airplane. I think that Patti’s correct that If airlines can fit fewer people per plane, means a fare increase — which is happening anyway. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, as far as I can tell, we’re all used to artificially low fares for a whole host of reasons. In my utopia, air travel would be used mainly for trans- or intercontinental trips, with high-speed rail for shorter journeys.

    The “ask the pilot” column on Salon has a lot of discussion of comfort (or lack thereof) during flights, including seat design, for example: http://www.salon.com/tech/col/smith/2008/04/18/askthepilot273/index.html

  9. If a person has a medical condition that does not allow them to lose weight, then they should be accomodated at no extra charge.

    If a person is naturally large, like Andre the Giant, then they should be accomodated at no extra charge.

    If a person has made lifestyle choices that result in gaining weight and bulk so they don’t comfortably fit in an airline seat, then that person should pay for the extra seat.

    The vast majority of overweight people CAN lose weight, if they choose to do so. They don’t, for whatever reason. I say this as a person who was obese, and who has lost about half the weight I want to lose, and I’ll lose the rest.

    Having excessive body fat is a result of consuming more calories than are burned. Given a balanced diet, all a person has to do to lose weight is to burn more than they eat… by eating a little less and exercising a little more.

    The heaviest person can get a healthy diet with plenty of nutrients, eat 2,000 calories a day, and lose weight by exercising for a half-hour each day. If this person has medical issues from being overweight, then there is always SOMETHING they can do to exercise. Walk, stationary bike, swim, get in the water and MOVE… there is always something.

    The problem I have with this requirement is that it sets people up as privileged for lifestyle choices, not medical reasons. The rest of us are being asked to subsidize these folks. It would be far better to keep the current policy, and for the Canadian government to make a concerted effort to improve the health of its citizens… especially since the Canadian government, and by extension the Canadian taxpayer, foots the bill for the totally preventable health problems caused by obesity.

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