The policy of a US airline to subject weight-challenged passengers to a weigh-in prior to boarding has become a weighty issue. The controversy came out after two hefty Samoan passengers were unable to choose seats on a Hawaiian Airlines plane and, instead, were required to hit the scales before they were allowed to board. Passengers are certainly not happy and feel offended, but according to an airline official, the policy was rolled out to maintain balance and monitor the weight taken in by the aircraft.
Told that the weigh-in requirement for portly passengers is done to ensure flight safety, the two Samoan gentlemen decried what they perceived as discrimination and are reportedly filing a complaint before the US Transportation Department. Sources say the Hawaiian Airlines policy is only applicable for flights going to and from the international airport in Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa (a US territory with a population of 54,194) which has the highest obesity rate in the world according to data from the CIA World Factbook. (In case you’re wondering, the Philippines is ranked 9th in the list of countries with the lowest obesity rate followed by Singapore at number 10, with Vietnam taking the number one spot.)
Samoa Air in fact started the practice of charging passengers according to weight in 2013, with passengers required to declare their personal weight for which they had to pay a certain amount per kilo, along with their baggage. One Italian passenger is actually suing Emirates airline and asking for a refund (to the tune of 2,759.51 euros) for making him suffer by seating him next to an obese passenger, saying the nine-hour flight was “ruined” because the passenger took up most of the space.
According to the Italian, who took photos to show his cramped situation, he tried standing in the aisle and sitting on cabin crew seats whenever they were unoccupied—but gave up in the end and just resigned himself to suffering the “spillover” of the passenger next to him.
It’s a sad reality that hefty passengers are sometimes (or perhaps often) subjected to furtive looks and discriminatory snickers whether they fly on a plane or ride a jeepney or shuttle. An article in independenttraveler.com tackled the issue of airline obesity policies.
“Obesity is a hot-button topic, and many will argue that some big folks simply need to pare back on the super-size fries. But what about passengers who have thyroid disorders that cause them to gain weight—or some other serious health issue?” asked the online article, disclosing that carriers are now imposing certain policies to prevent “space infringement” by “passengers of size.” Among these include asking the (bulky) passenger to pay for two seats (some carriers like Air France offer a 25 percent discount on the second seat) or denied a seat on the plane.
“On a broader level, is it fair or logical for the airlines to keep shrinking airplane seats seats even though more than one-third of American adults are now obese? This makes things awkward for everyone—including the obese passengers themselves,” the article pointed out.
While there are a growing number of complaints from normal-sized passengers—prompting some airlines to issue strict policies including definitions of what is considered obese (“a passenger who does not fit into a seat with both armrests down”), people should also consider the kind of pressure and embarrassment that these plus-size passengers feel whenever they become the subject of scrutiny and yes, ridicule.
An easy solution would be for airlines to reconfigure seating options and make some seats wider to accommodate special size passengers. Meantime, ask about seat and safety belt widths first before booking that ticket if you happen to be one of the weight-challenged passengers to make sure you are not treated like baggage.
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