United Airlines targets obesity, goes hunting for fat fees from passengers

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iStock_000000195819XSmall.jpgSo maybe those aren't really jumbo jets after all?

Beginning today, United Airlines is going to start aggressively enforcing its obesity seating policy that requires passengers that need a second seat because of physical size to pay for that extra space. According to WBBM AM-780, at the airline's ticket counters at O'Hare International Airport, that means gate and ticket agents will be asked to size up their larger customers - deemed "seatmates of size" - for the potential fat fee.

If a passenger cannot fit into a single seat, buckle their seatbelt - even with a seatbelt extender - or put the seat's armrest down, the airline will ask that passenger to pay for an extra seat or stay behind.

The policy applies to tickets purchased on or after March 4, 2009 for travel on or after April 15 and United says they did it because of passenger complaints - though a spokesperson tells Lewis Lazare that they got only 700 gripes out of 80 million or so travelers last year - and the increased fuel costs brought on by the heavier payload obese passengers create.

Here's the big question, especially for gate agents: How do you determine who's too big to go in one seat? Are they supposed to pull people out of line who look a little too hefty? Will calipers and Body Mass Index charts be issued and hanging next to the luggage check scale? Are there measurements involved? How soon til the first discrimination lawsuit is filed? And will there be discounts for the svelte fliers?

Who's next on the target list? People who snore while sleeping are charged extra to be put in a seclusion zone? People flying with crying children charged extra for a blast of thorazine and noise dampeners? Where does it stop?

Of course United isn't the only airline dealing with this weighty issue. Southwest Airlines has been in the headlines for its handling of heavy folks, too, though they've backed off their policies of late and do offer a refund if a seat is pulled out from underneath a passenger.

What do you think? Is this fair?

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    This page contains a single entry by Craig Newman published on April 15, 2009 10:25 AM.

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