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United Airlines is the latest one to make a point of saying they will make larger people buy two seats. Southwest is known for doing it, too. At least United claims to be using a consistent policy on this: passengers who are "unable to lower the arm rest and buckle a seat belt with one extension belt." (Southwest doesn't explicitly define their policy, but people report it's to let the passenger on to the first part of their flight and then require them to purchase a second seat at the hub before they can board the second part of their flight.)

Many people respond to these policies with "Yes! Make the fatties pay for the extra space they take up."

I've said this before and I'll say it again:

Airlines are doing this to deflect attention away from the fact that the amount of space they offer is too small for most people. If they provided adequate space, people wouldn't feel so defensive of the amount of space they get and wouldn't be all "OMG fatties in my spaaaaaaace!"

Once people accept this, airlines are going to respond by making their seats even smaller, thus forcing even more people to buy two seats.

When I am traveling alone, I buy two seats. If the flight is full, the flight attendants usually try to lay claim to my second seat to put a passenger in, so I have to tell them I paid for it. Thanks to years in the fat activist movement I'm not embarrassed to do so. In fact I am even looking forward to the day I have to say "I bought that seat because as should be obvious to you I am the size of two ordinary people. I work hard to maintain my enormity, and if you don't leave me and my second seat alone I will have to eat you."

Kate Harding's post on this has some very thoughtful comments:
http://kateharding.net/2009/04/16/funited/

Comments

( 40 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
firecat
Apr. 16th, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC)
So far, they apologize and leave me alone.
(Deleted comment)
cha
Apr. 16th, 2009 09:53 pm (UTC)
When I am traveling alone, I buy two seats. If the flight is full, the flight attendants usually try to lay claim to my second seat to put a passenger in, so I have to tell them I paid for it. Thanks to years in the fat activist movement I'm not embarrassed to do so. In fact I am even looking forward to the day I have to say "I bought that seat because as should be obvious to you I am the size of two ordinary people. I work hard to maintain my enormity, and if you don't leave me and my second seat alone I will have to eat you."

HAHAH I love that - I may have to use it
firecat
Apr. 16th, 2009 11:02 pm (UTC)
Steal away. Great icon!
brooksmoses
Apr. 16th, 2009 10:24 pm (UTC)
FWIW, I noticed that on Virgin America, the armrests don't even fold up all the way. For me, a small and only a little bit annoying annoyance on an otherwise not-complaint-worthy airline. For someone who needs two seats, it may mean they physically can't fit in the seats.
ex_serenejo
Apr. 16th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
The one on my Virgin America flight on Tuesday folded up better than they usually do, but yes, that's a complaint I have. I do fit in their seats, but barely; I stopped fitting into Southwest's about 40 pounds ago, so I've stopped trying, and I fly Virgin now.
firecat
Apr. 16th, 2009 10:57 pm (UTC)
I think this might be a function of the airplane model. I know I've heard that some other airline's seats are like this. This was not the case on my Virgin flight to the UK in 2001.
brooksmoses
Apr. 16th, 2009 11:20 pm (UTC)
Also, Virgin America != Virgin Atlantic; they're entirely separate airlines. The flight to the UK would have been on Virgin Atlantic.

Virgin America is a relatively new limited-service continental-US airline, like JetBlue. I think they currently only have Airbus 319s, and they're pretty much all alike.
okoshun
Apr. 17th, 2009 02:12 am (UTC)
I found the same thing with the armrests on our Air New Zealand flight. Really annoying especially since I was sitting beside someone who I would have liked to not have had an armrest betwixt.
jenk
Apr. 16th, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
When I am traveling alone, I buy two seats. If the flight is full, the flight attendants usually try to lay claim to my second seat to put a passenger in, so I have to tell them I paid for it.

I do that too, unless 2 coach seats are about as much as first class (which on Alaska it often is). What I've often found is the other passenger tries to lay claim to the middle seat, and I point out I paid for it.

I've also learned that if attendants are frantically counting heads and comparing clipboards, they may be worried they're missing a passenger - so I say, "By the way, I purchased two seats". :)
firecat
Apr. 16th, 2009 10:59 pm (UTC)
The one time I had two seats in a three-seat chunk the other passenger and I shared the extra seat; I didn't mind because I had as much of the seat as I wanted to use. Mostly I've been able to snag two seats in a two-seat chunk.
jenk
Apr. 16th, 2009 11:12 pm (UTC)
Ah. I've had businessmen want to unpack their laptop, etc, on the "empty" seat and complain that I've got the armrest up. *eyeroll*
brooksmoses
Apr. 16th, 2009 11:22 pm (UTC)
Gracious. Even if you hadn't purchased the empty seat, that seems a remarkable amount of entitlement to think that they have more claim than you do.

(And I say this speaking as a man who has used the middle seat for unpacking laptop etc., while on a business flight.)
firecat
Apr. 16th, 2009 11:24 pm (UTC)
Complain? For fuck's sake.
zpdiduda
Apr. 16th, 2009 10:34 pm (UTC)
I fly for work about every other week. I've been lucky when it comes to the airlines -- I carry all of my weight in my belly and my hips fit in the seat. I can't put the tray table down, but I'm okay with one seat belt extender.

I like Southwest, for one good reason: no assigned seats. If there's one open seat on the plane, it's likely to be next to me. Nobody wants to sit next to the fat lady. Fine by me.
firecat
Apr. 16th, 2009 11:00 pm (UTC)
I only need one seat belt extender, but my hips definitely overflow the seat.

So you've never had to buy two seats on Southwest?
zpdiduda
Apr. 17th, 2009 12:55 am (UTC)
No, not yet.

The recent flare-up of my peripheral neuropathy has coincided with a busy long-distance travel schedule for me. On my last several flights -- all of which have been packed to capacity due to the Easter holidays -- I've asked for pre-boarding due to "some mobility issues". The Southwest agents have given me pre-boarding passes without further question. I look for bulkhead aisle seats. Exit row seats are NOT an option -- you can't be in an exit row if you use a seatbelt extender. It's FAA regulation. Don't ask me why.
firecat
Apr. 17th, 2009 01:47 am (UTC)
It's FAA regulation. Don't ask me why.

Because people who need seatbelt extenders can't possibly be able-bodied enough to throw the doors out of the airplane. Never mind that they probably have much better leverage than the ordinary-sized person.
pameladean
Apr. 17th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
Although your version of their rationale speaks very ill of our culture, it's actually better than my first thought, which was more along the lines of, "Wait, what? What's wrong with the seatbelt extenders? Don't they release easily?"

P.
cassidyrose
Apr. 16th, 2009 10:34 pm (UTC)
The last part of your post made me laugh. I would love it if you threatened eat a flight attendant.
firecat
Apr. 16th, 2009 11:01 pm (UTC)
NOM NOM NOM
baratron
Apr. 16th, 2009 11:45 pm (UTC)
Stef the polar bear!
firecat
Apr. 17th, 2009 12:02 am (UTC)
Yep!
baratron
Apr. 16th, 2009 11:44 pm (UTC)
Airlines are doing this to deflect attention away from the fact that the amount of space they offer is too small for most people.

I totally agree with this. I'm not the thinnest person in the world, but I fit snugly into one seat. Even then, I find it stressful to be so close to people that I don't know for 5 hours or more. And I find the amount of legroom ridiculous - and I am 5'0" /1.56 m with legs that are proportional to the rest of my body! I've been on flights where I've felt squashed and anxious for the entire journey.
innerdoggie
Apr. 16th, 2009 11:52 pm (UTC)
Yeah, those seats are too small. I'm smaller than the average woman (and way smaller than the average man) and the seat fits me somewhat snugly. The seats should fit the average man at least! I think this is just "revenue enhancement".

By the way, I wonder if two people could get 3 seats together. That might help. You'd still need to say grrrr to run off people trying to mooch the middle seat you paid for, though.
fauxklore
Apr. 17th, 2009 01:34 am (UTC)
I know that getting 3 seats for two people is possible, since I have a friend who does that all the time with her husband.

firecat
Apr. 17th, 2009 01:52 am (UTC)
The OH and I do it too, but he can fit into one seat, so technically it's "my" seat.

I guess the question is whether, if each of the people is too large to fit into one seat, United (or any airline that has a policy based strictly on the size of an individual person) would ever make them each buy their own extra seat, rather than allowing them to share the extra space of the third seat.

I could see that happening if the seating got screwed up such that they were not able to sit together but I can't imagine any airline being stupid enough to try to require it at another time.
loracs
Apr. 17th, 2009 12:09 am (UTC)
The question for me has always been what are they selling - transportation from point A to point B or the physical space of those very small (and getting smaller) seats? If it's physical space and they make fat people pay more, then should smaller people and children pay less? If they only take up 3/4's of the seat, should they get a 25% discount? I know it sounds silly, but if they had adjustable seating - imagine a side slide similar to what you find in filing cabinets - then people would pay only for the room they take up. They could charge so much per inch or fraction of. Do you think the number of fat people flying would make up for the lost revenue from the thinner people and children?

Also, from an evolutionary point of view, humans are getting bigger and if you believe even a small portion of the "obesity epidemic" then we are also getting fatter. At what point will airlines' single seats ONLY fit children? Does everyone need to buy two seats then?
firecat
Apr. 17th, 2009 12:22 am (UTC)
if they had adjustable seating - imagine a side slide similar to what you find in filing cabinets

I was thinking about this. If they had this, people might be able to choose to buy more room than they took up, for their own comfort. How many people would do that? (Currently you can pay extra to sit in first class and get more room, but it's so much more money that most people can't afford it.)
eveningstartwo
Apr. 17th, 2009 01:17 am (UTC)
Southwest *does* define their policy, see

http://www.southwest.com/travel_center/cos_qa.html

I was required to buy a seat on *one* flight and got rather pissed off at them. So I looked it up and wrote a letter to the company that defining needing a second seat by hip size and specifically stating that shoulder size was not an issue was sexual discrimination. They admitted nothing but gave a $100 gift certificate. BTW, I can put down the armrest and have enough flights to get a freebie and this was the only time they pulled this. Now that I know the policy, it won't happen again.
firecat
Apr. 17th, 2009 01:49 am (UTC)
Yes, they define *a* policy but from what I've heard it's not their actual policy.

And absolutely about the sex discrimination.
betonica
Apr. 17th, 2009 01:28 am (UTC)
re: Airlines who make larger people buy two seats
"I work hard to maintain my enormity, and if you don't leave me and my second seat alone I will have to eat you."

This is delightful, and has got to be the funniest thing I've read all week!
firecat
Apr. 17th, 2009 01:50 am (UTC)
Re: Airlines who make larger people buy two seats
I am glad to spread amusement, thanks!
clever_doberman
Apr. 17th, 2009 02:27 am (UTC)
the fucked up thing about United's plan is that they do not refund if the plane is not fully booked like Southwest does.

I have a friend who likes the Southwest plan for that reason, and has seldom NOT gotten her refund sent to her after she files the simple paperwork.

I have been flying United to Chicago for 37 years since Chicago is their hub and I'm pissed at this rule. I need an extender, and I am wider than their single seat, and most of the time they have accomodated me or seated me next to a very small adult or a child, and I haven't had to pay more.

Next time I go to Chicago, I won't fly United, until they roll their rule back at least to the point of offering the refund like Southwest.


I once had a short flight from SFO to Phoenix and the plane was jam packed and I sat in the aisle seat next to 2 people. the woman in the middle was maybe a size 12. I acknowledged that we were snug and started to apologize for the squish, and she said "nonsense, it's not a problem and we will all sit closely together for a while" or something equally as delightful and accepting. and ya know what? she wasn't dead at the end of the flight, nor was the person in the window seat. We survived. and actually, she and I chatted up a storm the whole time, she was so delightful.
firecat
Apr. 17th, 2009 03:15 am (UTC)
I'm flying to Chicago in May and I'm using Alaska this time.
keryx
Apr. 17th, 2009 05:59 am (UTC)
I bought that seat because as should be obvious to you I am the size of two ordinary people. I work hard to maintain my enormity, and if you don't leave me and my second seat alone I will have to eat you.

I love you. That is awesome in every way.
tanteterri
Apr. 18th, 2009 02:07 pm (UTC)
I don't mind if they charge me for the room I take up - IF they apply this to everyone who takes up more than their (admittedly inadequate) allotted space. I.e., if you want to put your seat back - you have to buy the seat behind you - because you are taking up someone else's space; if your shoulders do not fit within the seat space allotted - you need to buy a second seat; if you are traveling with a small child - you need to buy a second seat - it's not safe for you, your child or the passengers to hold the child - it's not safe in a car, it's not safe on a plane.
firecat
Apr. 18th, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)
They won't, because if they did that, especially measuring shoulders or putting your seat back, it would end up targeting more men. And men would not stand for it.

This is also why they don't target weight, even though as far as the airlines are concerned, weight is what costs them, not volume.
stewardess
Apr. 21st, 2009 10:30 pm (UTC)
When two average-sized people are sitting next to each other on a plane, they can't even move their arms (their actual arms, not arm rests) without whacking each other.

I am old enough (47) to remember when plane travel was comfortable.
( 40 comments — Leave a comment )

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