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OPINION - Fat guy on a plane

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  It was a zinger of a complaint letter. An airline passenger from Australia paid $25 for a “preferred” coach seat in the exit row. But a very fat man did the same thing, also wanted the extra leg room. The two had to sit next to each other. The skinny passenger asked to be moved, wasn’t, and then began typing.

Here’s what he wrote :

The complaining-passenger, blogger Rich Wiskin, referred to his seatmate as “a hippopotamus” and “a fleshy boulder”. He said that the man sitting next to him smelled like certain types of cheese and a Mumbai slum. He claimed to be pinned into his seat by “side boob” and cellulite during his four-and-a-half hour flight.

The complaint appears to be made worse because there were other seats available at the rear or the plane, and the flight attendants declined to move him. He demands a refund.

So, what’s right?

First, airline seats have been getting smaller at a time when passengers have been getting larger. Take away 4-inches of legroom in economy class, and on a standard 737 you can add two additional rows – three across – or six more seats on the plane. That represents big bucks for the airline, but much less room for full-size passengers.

I believe if you can’t fit into your seat, the airline is entirely correct to insist that you by two tickets.

But this too is a minefield. Right now most airlines leave it up to their gate crew to decide who is and who isn’t too fat to fit into a seat. Imagine squeezing into your seat on your originating flight, but being told you’d need a second seat on your connecting flight. Apparently that happens frequently. What happens when an airline that used to fly full-size planes begins using more small jets with small(er) seats?

When I travel by train, I’m often a single passenger. That means in coach I’m seated next to a stranger. Sometimes my seatmates are great company. (On one trip I sat next to the retired mayor of Meridian, Mississippi… a flight attendant with an ear infection on another trip.) If I don’t want to be sitting next to someone the size of a football linebacker, I can buy a private compartment where I can sit by myself and literally close the door to the outside world.

Rich Wiskin is incredibly mean-spirited. It’s public transportation. That means you’re travelling with, and sitting next to, other members of the public. Even the fat ones. There will be no airline industry for any of us if we all wish the plane was half-empty every time we fly.

Chris Conley

Image: by Douglas Paul Perkins (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Airplain cabin