Don’t Debate If You Haven’t Read This: Where We Stand On Obese Passengers

Posted on June 11, 2010


Don’t Debate If You Haven’t Read This is a new feature of The Debating News that selects debate-worthy articles or news everyday for their readers. A motion would also be worded at the end of the article or news and included in the motion bank.


by Ginny Light Edward Trippier
Published by: The Times
Date: June 08, 2010

Air France earlier this year softened its stance on overweight passengers by effectively offering a free second seat to most of the obese passengers who fly with the carrier.

Until the policy change, passengers travelling with Air France who have been unable to fit in a normal single seat have been charged 75 per cent of the fare for the second seat. The new policy means passengers requiring two seats will still pay the excess, but will be refunded the second seat fare if economy class is not fully booked, and the seat would otherwise have been unsold.

In practice, it means that a refund will be available most of the time, an Air France spokesman told Times Paris correspondent Charles Bremner at the time of the announcement. The spokesman also said that airline policy remains that the captain can refuse to let an obese passenger fly if safety is in question.

Air France was forced to clarify its position after it was widely reported that it planned to join the likes of easyJet and Virgin Atlantic in charging for a second seat (see below).

The issue hit the headlines recently when film director Kevin Smith was removed from his seat on a Southwest Airlines flight in the US because of the crew’s concern about safety. Southwest, like many other US carriers, has had its stringent policy on overweight passengers in place for some time.

European carriers are less clear on the issue: Ryanair, Lufthansa and Jet 2 have no specific policy in place regarding obese passengers, preferring to examine each case on it’s merit.

Passengers are less divided. Flight comparison website polled customers on the issue in January of this year and found that 76 per cent of users supported a “fat tax” on overweight passengers. Meanwhile, when polled 2,800 British travwellers, 69 per cent said they believed overweight passengers should pay for two airline seats.

Back in 2002, Virgin Atlantic passenger Barbara Hewson won a £13,000 settlement after sustaining injuries consistent with Deep Vein Thrombosis when she was crushed by an overweight passenger sitting next to her. The Swansea resident spent 11 hours squashed into her seat on a flight between London and Los Angeles.

In the face of widespread public support for charges on second seats for overweight passengers, the California-based National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (Naafa), is campaigning to have them abolished. It claims that airlines that charge for a second seat are guilty of discrimination. It is urging overweight passengers to boycott Southwest, among other airlines.

Airline policies on overweight passengers

Air France and KLM

It is not compulsory for obese passengers to purchase a second seat. However, the airline has offered this as an option since 2005, at a 25 per cent discount, to allow passengers to travel in comfort. Air France will now refund the cost of a second seat purchased by obese passengers in economy class if the cabin is not fully book. It also reserves the right to turn away passengers for safety reasons.

Virgin Atlantic

If you are unable to sit with the armrests down and/or compromise any part of the adjacent seat, you need to book an extra seat. The cost of an extra seat will be calculated at the lowest available applicable fare at the time of booking, and will not include passenger taxes, fees, charges or surcharges.

British Airways

The policy on overweight passengers is not clear cut. BA states that it does not discriminate against passengers for any reason, but would provide the option to purchase an extra seat to anyone who contacts the carrier with concerns about seat width.

American Airlines

Customers are encouraged to purchase a second seat if they are unable to fit into a single seat, unable to properly buckle their seatbelt using a single seatbelt extender (available on request from a flight attendant) or unable to lower both armrests without encroaching on the adjacent seat space or another passengers. The second seat is charged at the same rate as the first.

If the seat has not been booked in advance, and a second adjacent seat is not available (the carrier will not downgrade or unseat another customer to accommodate this), the customer must take an alternative flight on which two adjacent seats are available. The fare for the second seat will be the same as the original seat.


Passengers who are unable to fit in a single seat will be required to purchase an extra seat. Further to this, obese people cannot sit in emergency exit rows.


Ryanair has no specific policy on overweight passengers. A spokesman said that people will not be turned away at check-in, but added that it can raise safety and comfort issues for the overweight person in question as well as other passengers.


No policy in place.


No hard or fast policy. If passengers are booking online or through the call centre, they have an option to book an extra seat. However, it states that if there is room on the plane, the passenger will be sat next to an empty seat they will not have to pay for. It adds, that if safety is compromised and the plane is full, the carrier would consider rebooking the passenger.


The issue arises very rarely, according to the airline, so it has no specific policy, or discounts for a second seat in that eventuality. “We would not stop passengers at check-in, feeling that passengers know what they require for their own comfort”, a spokesman added.


The passenger decides weather he or she wants to buy an extra seat. If this is the case, there are no taxes to pay on the second seat. A spokesman added: “We have not had any complaint of passengers regarding this situation and we have had very few cases of passengers buying an extra seat.”



This House Believes That Airlines That Charge For A Second Seat Are Guilty Of Discrimination.