Frankly, if you are that overweight, you should pay for two seats, pure and simple. Why should someone have to be crushed by someone obese? Skinny people have rights, too
FILE--Arlene Edelman of Sunrise holds a picture of her son Michael on Sept. 13, 2000, who died at the age of 28 in 1992 due to complications of obesity. Edelman, an activist on the issue of size discrimination, runs Michael's Weigh of HOPE, a weekly support group for obese people. The Associated Press
By SUSANNAH BRYAN
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
She argued with the skycap at La Guardia Airport in New York.
"We went back and forth," said Edelman, who now weighs 300 pounds and lives in Sunrise. "He said I couldn't fly. I told him I was going to fly no matter what."
Edelman, who lived in New York at the time, had planned a Mother's Day trip to Florida to surprise her mom.
Delta charged her for 2 1/2 seats each way. "It's crazy," Edelman said. "Someone's going to sit in half a seat?"
When Edelman asked the skycap for a wheelchair, he brought out a luggage cart. "I told him, 'I'm not luggage, I'm a human being.' When I got back from my trip, I gave Delta a piece of my mind."
Several calls later to the airline, Edelman received a refund, but no apology.
That was 10 years ago. But the policy of requiring obese passengers to buy multiple seats likely will not disappear anytime soon. The policy recently passed muster in a state court in California. The case was one of a handful that have been filed in the past decade, but were dismissed before making it to trial.
Cynthia Luther, who weighs more than 300 pounds, claimed discrimination and harassment after being asked to buy a second seat on a Southwest Airlines flight from Reno, Nev., to Burbank, Calif., last May.
A California state judge threw out the case last month. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marilyn Hoffman agreed with lawyers for Southwest that the airline's policy on overweight passengers is neither illegal nor discriminatory.
Luther's attorney, Robert Scuderi, is appealing.
"Our position was that Miss Luther didn't take up two seats," Scuderi said. "They pulled her out of line and said she couldn't fly on the plane unless she bought two seats. That's where the emotional distress comes in. But she sat in one seat perfectly well."
"It's just a pity," Edelman said of the decision. "We're like outcasts."
Edelman, an activist on the issue of size discrimination, runs Michael's Weigh of HOPE, a weekly support group for obese people.
The outcome of the case was no shock to Sandie Sabo, a spokeswoman for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. NAAFA, based in Sacramento, Calif., has about 10,000 members working to end size discrimination.
The problem, Sabo said, is that there are no laws banning discrimination against obese people.
"We have to look at changing laws," Sabo said. "These one-on-one cases are going nowhere. The airlines can do whatever they want to do. Height and weight need to be added to the protected status category so they can't discriminate against us based on size. People get discriminated against based on size frequently: housing, adoption, health care."
Meanwhile, the issue of the obese flier is not likely to go away. For one thing, many Americans are getting larger, while airline seats are not. About 52 percent of Americans are overweight, up from 33 percent a decade ago, and one of four Americans is obese, or more than 30 percent above ideal body weight, according to recent government reports.
"It's no longer the friendly skies," said Dallas business flier Hunter Elam, who weighs about 300 pounds. He flew recently to Fort Lauderdale on business. "In the '50s, look what happened when someone of a certain ethnicity had to move to the back of the bus. That's the same thing here, treating someone different because of their size."
The average seat in economy class is about 17.5 inches wide -- rather skimpy for many losing the battle of the bulge.
The fact that most airlines are easily filling flights only adds to the problem. It's one of supply and demand: Years ago airlines would block out the seat next to a large passenger and charge only for one seat, said Ray Rosario of Miami, a former reservation agent for Pan Am. But today, airlines are more likely to charge for a second seat.
Some may think the airlines are discriminating, but airlines are within their rights, said Bill Mosely, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Airlines are not restricted by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires that disabled people have access to public buildings such as courthouses and movie theaters. Airlines are instead regulated by the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, which does not require them to make special provisions for obese passengers.
Changing the law, Mosely said, would take an act of Congress. So far, no one is lobbying. Obesity support groups just don't have the financial or political clout, said NAAFA's Sabo.
While some are sympathetic to the plight of the large flier, others take the side of the airlines.
Look at how airlines treat oversized baggage, says Stuart Klaskin of Klaskin, Kushner & Co., an aviation consulting firm in Coral Gables. "If you show up for a flight and have more than the normal number of bags, they charge you extra. Or if any of those bags are outsized, you get charged."
Richard Kinkead of Lantana, who is 6-foot, 3-inches and weighs 315 pounds, objects to the comparison. "You can adjust how much you pack," he said. "You can't ask a passenger to drop 100 pounds just to take a flight."
On the flip side, some passengers have complaints about large seatmates.
Robert Weisberg of Coconut Creek, who flies once a month for his sports memorabilia business, recently found himself next to a large passenger on a crowded flight from New Jersey to Fort Lauderdale.
"Some of these people invade your airspace," Weisberg said. "We were crushed. We couldn't move."
Steve Kupchun of Dania Beach also has felt the squeeze. "I've sat next to a big person who has been spilling over into my seat, and I'm in just half a seat. But when you're on an airplane, it's not their fault. The seats are so small."
Airlines are notorious for not being nice to obese fliers, said Bettye Travis, a spokeswoman for NAAFA. "I've had ticket agents ask me if I want to buy a second seat. It's embarrassing. It's another situation where fat people are treated blatantly unfairly. We don't fit in the seats. The lavatories are almost impossible. The week before I fly it's not fear of flying, it's fear of fitting that gets to me."
The industry admits that seat pitch, or the distance from your seat to the seat in front of you, has decreased in the past 15 years. Some carriers have taken note of the crunch and are spending millions to make their fleets roomier. Seats won't get wider, but legroom will increase.
American Airlines announced last February that it was adding 3 inches of legroom to most of the coach seats in its fleet. In August 1999, United moved to establish a roomier area in the front rows of coach. And last January, British Airways introduced a new class of seat, World Traveler Plus, that provides more space than the typical coach seat but costs less than first-class.
Still, when it comes to seat space, American's policy is no different from any other airline. "If you need two seats, you buy two seats," said spokeswoman Martha Pantin.
Although no U.S. agency is investigating the plight of obese passengers, Canada is looking into whether they should be given disability status. The Canadian Transportation Agency began its inquiry after a woman complained that Air Canada discriminated against her by charging her for two seats. After months of research, the agency's inquiry officer recommended obesity be recognized as a disability.
The airlines objected.
"Just because you're overweight doesn't mean you're entitled to more (space) than the average passenger," said Clifford Mackay, president of the Air Transport Association of Canada, an airline trade group. "If you're overweight and you want a bigger seat, fly business class."
In June, Tony Mazzamuto of Santa Ana, Calif., accused Southwest Airlines of discriminating against him because of his weight. Mazzamuto, who weighs 400 pounds, complained that the airline forced him to buy two seats.
Southwest Airlines forbids staff from discussing closed or pending litigation, said spokeswoman Christine Turneabe-Connelly. But Southwest ticket agents and other "front-line" staff are trained to handle such situations with sensitivity, she said.
"We don't weigh every person that comes on board -- or piece of luggage," Turneabe-Connelly said.
"It's not our intent to hurt the feelings of the customer," she said. "If it's obvious the person will need two seats, the ticket agent will discreetly inform them that they'll have to purchase the additional seat."
If an obese passenger refuses to pay for a second seat, the passenger might be asked to get off the plane, she said.
Meanwhile, most people, no matter how humiliated, are loath to take on an airline, even in court, Sabo said. "They are too humiliated and want it to all go away," Sabo said. "They go home and cry. Or they don't fly."
Edited by - Simon on 7 February 2003 19:20:4