Decadent Sundae

Decadent Sundae
Portland, Oregon,
April 01
I'm a certified member of Oxymorons Anonymous - a free-thinking rebel working for the Department of the Army, a radical feminist who is very happily married to the best man in the world (or at least, the best for me), and the loving daughter of my mother, the Anti-June, who is somehow turning more and more traditional now that she's retired (isn't it supposed to go the other way around?)


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APRIL 20, 2009 2:29PM

A Fat Broad's View Of United's Policy

Rate: 60 Flag

The issue that I have with United's new stated policy of "if we're sold out, then we'll push you out the door onto the next flight and charge you double, but only if we think you're a fatty" isn't that it's discriminatory, or that I don't think I should have to pay for the space that I take up.  It's that the policy is not applied consistently and makes the whole process a lot more humiliating that it has to be.

 Let's get it out of the way up front - yes, I'm a large woman.  I'm not talking a size 12, or big boned, or pleasingly plump.  I'm huge, and yes, part of it is probably me being weak willed and unable to resist the siren call of the red-velvet cupcake as a child, but mostly at this point, it's medical issues - I have heart and lung issues that make it impossible to even stand for more than a minute at a time.  Travel is not ever going to be easy for me, but even when I was more mobile than I am now, it was still  humiliating, and a lot of it was because of inconsistent airline policies. 

If United et al actually let me buy and use two tickets easily to begin with, I wouldn't have to deal with a) letting the flight attendant know that yes, I realize that I need two seats, and I need to know if I can buy one at the gate; b) watching everyone around me heaving a sigh of relief when they realize that I'm not sitting next to them; c) not knowing if I'm going to be able to make the meeting/training class/funeral I'm trying to get to - trust me, I'm not flying for fun at this point - due to there being no room on the plane for me; or d) dealing with a situation I had several years back where I had bought two tickets, and still ended up almost crippled because of having to fly from Atlanta to Portland with an arm-rest that would not come up all the way and was shoved into my back for 6 freaking hours.   

Southwest Airlines actually has a policy that makes sense (or at least they did last time I flew with them) - if you are large, you will always have to buy two tickets up front, and then if the plane was not full, they'll refund you the price of one of the tickets.  It was applied consistently, you knew what you were getting into before heading for the airport, it was fair for me and for those around me, it worked.  I think that is what United was trying for with this new policy, but unless they're willing to take it all the way, and apply it every single time, it's just going to cause more muddlement and embarassment for everyone.

 At any rate... let the taunting commence, but realize that if you put the words "sweaty" or "stinky" within a paragraph of the word fat in your comments, I will reserve the right to ignore you - my ego can only handle so much.


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If you are okay with buying two tix it makes sense to me to have that be the airline policy. What IS United's policy? What airline wouldn't sell one person two tix? I mean a ticket is a ticket, right? Tell us the policy, please. That would help. No slurs from me. I think everyone should be able to travel comfortably, not that flying is fun for anyone (except those that can afford first class--not me--)these days anyway.
I shall not taunt. I would never taunt. I share your concerns about the application of this policy, and hate the fat-shaming that causes this.

Lisa, in a nutshell the policy states that people who are too large to lower the armrest in a flight seat on a United flight must purchase two seats on a later flight -- they're bumped from the original one.

For more, here's a Reuters article:
Thanks for posting the link, Ash - yes, it's the not knowing until the actual flight whether or not you're going to be able to get on the flight that I object to. Give me an option up front to buy another ticket - don't leave it up to chance.
Ok, I get it. No, that does not seem fair. To anyone.
Rated. You reminded me of something.

Several months I was sitting in the window seat on a US Airways plane and the very large woman approached to sit next to me in the middle seat. She looked so worried. There was an frequent flying middle-manager guy (with attendant cheesy polo) in a the aisle seat. The plane was full. She painfully squeezed in as the aisle seat guy complained to a stewardess about his personal space. The stewardess asked me if there was a problem. Middle seat was in tears at this point, I lifted the arm rest and said no. During this exchange a teeny child-sized forty-something volunteered to take polo-shirt's seat. She took the aisle and lifted the arm rest as well.

It wasn't a problem, but the airline sure as hell made it seem so. I met two very cool women that day. The stewardess exacerbated the issue and seemed to be lording over her power to removed middle seat from the plane. I'll never forget how cruel it was - it reminded me of sixth grade lunch.
I'm up in arms, Sue, and have no idea where to direct my ire. And yes, you did meet very cool people that day.

My dearly beloved Spousal Unit has this problem (with size), and he hates flying anyway. It terrifies him and he starts sweating and panicking -- even with a heavy dose of Dramamine or something else in him. The last flight we were on, we were seated beside a very rude young man who made comments the whole flight, under his breath about my SU. I finally snapped and had the flight attendant move him. She was very kind about the whole thing, but my teeth still ache faintly at the memory of grinding that day.
Thanks for being a nice person, sue!
Thank you all for your wonderful comments - I'm sort of in shock here (was not expecting this to be really read by anyone, let alone make the front page), and I'm grateful for the tone of discourse. (The other comment pages I've seen on this subject have had me wincing and reading between spread fingers, with my puppy on my lap for his calming effect.)
Long term, I just hope that some of that stimulus money goes toward enhancing travel by train. It is so much more civilized period.

And none of those odious fees for everything under the sun...

It is soooo waaaaay past time for an effective airline passenger's bill of rights.
A passengers' bill of rights sounds like just the, um, ticket!

Good post, Sundae, relevant and enlightening, on practically the last group of people it's still acceptable, and maybe even cool, to discriminate against.
I think this rule is ripe to be used in a discriminatory way, unless it is codified as Southwest has done. Last night I flew with an average sized man in the middle seat. He could lower his arm rest, but his arms were still in my seat. I've also sat next to men who are just large (not fat) and they can barely fit in the seat, too. But I doubt these men would be forced to buy two seats.
while i sympathize with you on the other hand i also a paying ticket holder shouldn't have to share my seat and cherished space; that is already cramped as it is, by having a bigger person raise the arm rest so he can infringe or use the 'extra' space in my seat. this has happened to me several times. it is my space bought and paid for, reserved rented out however you want to phrase it. if you have the need for for another seat to be comfortable you should pay for it not expect the person next to you to share their seat and space.
o, no, nobody's going to complain about this! Not around here anyway....

Maybe out in the "real world", where we are forced to spend time occasionally. That is, we're out there in the forum, or the polis, with our fellow citizens. our neighbors, if we're Christians. Treat thy neighbor as yourself. We imagine ourselves in others' situationsa nd tribulations, and pitch in when we can. Like helping the oversize lady with her luggage, what not. Little neighborly things here & there. They add up to a nice little neighborhood if we're not rude or selfish about it.

Well, maybe i'm simply prognosticating a world. Or building a literary one to "overwrap" the currentsociological changes.As writers we feel the urge to
immemorialize the world
for some damn reason....anyway, that's the
message that comes through
the ether....

My beloved brother-in-law Bo, who was 6'7" and weighed 600 lbs. when he died (much too young), always bought two tickets. When his son, my nephew Jack, was very young, Jack filled up the spare seat, but as Jack grew (and thankfully, he only took after Bo in height), Bo rode the two seats himself.

He was one of the greatest people I've ever had in my life, and I miss him daily. I use expressions of his, I tell his stories, and I feel the pain his weight caused him every day of his short life. Being fat is no fun. Not in this world.

I hope he's having fun in the next, eating, smoking a joint, driving to the lake with the top down at dusk, laughing at me, telling stories, making sure everyone was having a good time, and making us laugh. I loved that fat, fat man.

I actually am far more annoyed with people who monopolize the arm rest. I generally don't even use the arm rest when there is somebody next to me. But there is always some clueless dote who will take up the whole arm rest during the whole flight. I feel like I am sitting next to Larry Craig in a bathroom stall.
Southwest's policy is so...fair and reasonable.

(I love Southwest, not the least because boarding only takes about half the time with their first-come, first-served seating.)
Well-written and reasonable response to a dumb-ass policy. I think United is trying to have their cake and eat it too. "We're not calling you fat- we'll let the SEAT decide! That's why we have to inconvenience and humiliate you by parading you past everyone on the flight twice if you can't fit." God.
Amen and hallelujah! I (until recently) was a very frequent biz traveler. I am a 5'11 woman and I am far from thin. But I fit in my seat - my tiny, tiny seat. My problem is that my shoulders are very broad and I haven't been able to sit comfortably in coach since I was 12.

This issue is in shades of gray. Part of the problem is that very few people fit comfortably into economy seats anymore (find me someone over the age of 15, who finds airline seats enjoyable!) Regardless of weight, my long (and shapely, thanks) legs have no room, my arms are always akimbo. And so it is for most others on the plane!

The airlines are pulling this anti-fat number because they can - just as they pulled the BS with charging for any checked bags. Our airlines are shamefully out of touch with new technology and unabashedly unconcerned with customer satisfaction. The stories I could tell you.

I am so happy I no longer have to travel for a living - it ranged from terrible to absolutely hellish every time. EVERY time. Shame on the airlines for giving anybody grief when they cause so much of it in their own daily operations.
What a terrible policy. Just be consistent. RAted.
I am 6'3 and weigh 185, and I don't fit in most economy seats in either direction. Much, much worse than sitting by people who are large is sitting anywhere near people who are just plain antisocial, sometimes (I suspect) deliberately so. Some are just dumb.

Now when I fly I always make it a point to get to the gate as early as possible and ask for an exit row seat, as I have back problems and a knee that seizes up if I don't move it for long periods. I am usually obliged, as long as it's not too late. Why aren't airline people similarly obliging to people who are big?

I am still amazed how little the other airlines do to emulate Southwest. After 9/11 when other airlines were laying people off, SW were hiring.
I agree that it should be like Southwest--you know ahead of time, and there is no shame.
If you take up two seats. pay for them. If you want one seat with extra room, pay for first class. If you don't like it, take an alternative form of transportation.

I am glad United is doing this. Those who take up two seats need to pay for them. If those people don't like it, well, fly someone else, or drive, or pay for first class.

It's not my problem.
Hey, I've got some of the same problem. I only have to buy one plane ticket, but airline seats are notoriously uncomfortable. The food is lousy--or was, since they don't even have the decency to serve an inflight meal anymore. But those are unpleasantnesses that are common to all air travelers, even those lucky enough to be svelte. And let's not even get into the drag that is now security. (I know, we have to have it, but the procedure is inefficient, nad time cosuming.)

Humiliating any passenger on top of everything they've already had to put up with is bad business practice. Some consistency of application of policy and courtesy would be nice, instead. Airlines are in trouble, and you're contributing a lot for the dubious honor of flying on one of their planes. You deserve decent treatment while they get you where you need to be.

And well... I know the siren call of the cupcake, too. I don't sit in judgement on you for loving them. If something is bad for me, I'm pretty sure to like it.
I am 6'4" and 270 pounds (formerly 340). I have lost most of the weight and no longer look fat, but I still can't fit on airline seats. Like many/most tall people I go for exit row due to the extra knee room, but my big thing are my shoulders. I wear a 52 shoulder jacket. That doesn't shrink no matter how much weight I lose.

I would love to pay extra (even up to about half of a ticket) to get some shoulder AND knee room. There are always lots of others who are the same way.

They way they do this just pissed people off and humiliates them and still leaves them uncomfortable. if they actually offered "big and tall coach seats" they would sell like hotcakes and would generate good will. The answer "go first class" just doesn't cut it.
No comments from me either. I really think the airlines are going to have to cave on their seat size sooner rather than later, and not because of any weight issues.

There are a lot of people out there who are not overweight but still do a pretty good job of invading personal space on seats. That bodybuilder I was squeezed next to on my last flight would be a good example. I don't think anyone suggested he buy a double seat even though it was obvious he was going to end up bruising whoever he sat next to. The fact that he was a nice guy and tried to make himself smaller the entire flight actually made it worse because there was really nothing he could do.

If you want to get your mind in the right frame though, go to the Slate posting board about this issue. After reading the comments of those freaks, most people would come to the conclusion that the only thing "normal" weight people are good for is kindling.
As I pointed out on another post, the solution here is simple:

Have a "seat divider" that is available upon request. It is a vertical panel that attaches to the armrest and creates a mini-wall from the seat to about a foot above the armrest that prevents one person from encroaching on the other's space.

The large person will feel a bit squeezed in (but they could have bought an extra seat or booked a seat in first class) but they won't be bothering the person beside them.
I don't blame United for having this policy, but I hope they figure out how to organize it. Although I can fit in a seat without too much trouble, it's uncomfortable. A few years back, I bought two seats on the plane. I was told by the ticket agent that having two seats for one person was "impossible". I was hassled at security because "every ticket has to have a person with it". Then once I got on the plane, they put someone in the seat next to me, even though I showed the gate attendant and flight attendant my paperwork showing that I bought two seats. (They said "the computer doesn't recognize two seats for one person, so we have to put one of the standby passengers in that seat.") When I finally got home, the airline refused to refund my money for the second seat that I didn't get, until I'd made about half a dozen phone calls and written two letters. After that, I decided it was pointless to buy two seats.
I assume this means that if two people are small enough to fit into a single seat, they will only have to buy one ticket. I mean, fair is fair, right?
I've had similar experiences with trying to buy two tickets ahead of time, Karen. It's particularly frustrating - by trying to avoid embarrassment, you end up being spotlighted by security or the flight attendants. (Another reason I appreciate Southwest's blanket application of their policy - it's not an unusual event, so it goes smoothly, without having to bring attention to me.)

Fins, are you just trying to stir the pot, or did you not realize that I'm not mad about having to buy two tickets, I'm mad about not being able to do it with any kind of grace or fairness? I can live with either case, but I just want to make sure I've made my point clear...

And again, thank you all for the wonderful comments and support - I'm blown away by the nice comments on my writing and the outpouring of welcome. (I hate to admit it, but I called some friends and gushed about getting an editor's pick - they had no idea what I was talking about, but were very nice about listening anyway.)
Buying two tickets seems extremely reasonable to me- I can't see how the airline would have a problem with it. I would personally have a beef if the airline would'nt refund one for a flight that is not sold out. As for any negative comments- people, especially people who can remain anonymous, can be cruel.
My spouse isn't quite big enough to fall into the category--she can make a seat extender work--but I do sympathize with you, truly. This is one are where flying with a kid will actually work to our advantage--we have to buy a seat for our son, since he turned two in January, but he's small enough that both Mrs. Cynic and I can borrow some of his space.

I myself am 6'6" and broad-shouldered, so flying can be an ordeal for me. Let's face it, it sucks to fly unless you fit into the narrow band of body types that can sit in an airline seat without discomfort.
United lost my business awhile back...this just confirms we made the right decision.
I'm 5'6" and 130 pounds, which makes me relatively small... I fly a lot and I don't feel like *I* fit into an airplane seat very well. So how is someone who's on the other end of the scale going to feel trying to fit? I can't even imagine. So if someone's willing to buy two tickets to have two seats to be comfortable, well, jeez, why on earth would the airline have a problem with that? Seems like a reasonable solution to me.

DecSun... you're really brave to write about this. As others have said, fat people are the last group it's seemingly OK to be prejudiced against, now that gays and lesbians are finally off the table. I admire your strength... and congrats on the EP. cool isn't it? :)
Oh the people that have commented here that didn't read for comprehension ::cough:: Tony ::cough:: cough::

I always tell the person that I'm sitting next to that I will attempt to make myself as small as possible. Then I remind them that it would be worse if I was a petite woman with a screaming baby in my lap.

...and while we're on the subject, can we talk about the average guy that feels the need to have maximum leg spread? Mister, your junk doesn't need that much breathing space.
It looks to me like a number of people didn't read the article. I didn't see a complaint about the policy, only about its inconsistent application.

A lot of people think fat is a kind of person, rather than a state of being. Often their behavior reveals a sense that it could never be them who was like that because they're not “that kind of person.” But often people's situations change and later they'll learn to regret having made that assumption. When it's too late to avoid the same fate for themselves, they realize how a little compassion by others might have helped a lot. Some of them are reading my words right now and saying “Well, maybe other people. But not me.”
United probably figured the benefit of appeasing those who complain about overweight passengers encroaching on their space was worth the cost of pissing off overweight passengers on full flights--except, of course, it isn't just the overweight passengers they're pissing off. They're also pissing off those passengers' friends, family and/or traveling companions.

If a friend or relative gets off a flight and complains about having had to put up with an overweight neighbor, crying baby, or that seemingly omnipresent kid-who-kicks-the-back-of-your-seat, I won't boycott the airline. That sort of thing happens to everyone.

On the other hand, if the flight staff single out my friend or relative, embarrass them in public, try to charge twice what the traveler originally expected to pay for the flight, and then boot my buddy off the plane, you better believe they won't be getting my business.

More than half of Americans are overweight, so chances are good that most "normal sized" passengers have at least one overweight relative or friend whose well-being they care about enough to boycott businesses that treat their loved ones poorly. I have several. So long United, you've just given me yet another reason to love Southwest.
viciousbaglady, they don't call you "vicious" for nothing.
Well, rats. I thought I left a comment but I must have pushed the wrong button.

What did I say? Okay, I think that airline seats are outrageously small. A ten year old who is super thin can barely fit in one. If you pay for the two seats, they should be yours, period. I mean, I'm afraid to fly and the airline always makes sure that, if I have family, they sit next to me. So, they're being ridiculous.

You could tell them you're afraid to fly, of course. Then, they let you on the plane early in any case. That's the policy of most airlines. That said, however, I wouldn't fly with them anymore, if at all possible. It sounds like Southwest has the right idea. The policies are discriminatory. Not right.
A lot of people are throwing around the term "discriminatory." And the policy IS, but in a legal way.

Those who require more room will be required to pay for it. It's no different than an airline charging you extra money for a checked bag over the limit.

If you don't like it, well, there's first class. Fly that. You'll get a bigger seat so you've got options.

This is no more discriminatory than a grocery store charging you for two heads of lettuce if that's what you go into the checkout line with. Use two of the product, pay for it.
Business class on long haul flights has bigger seats (and costs about the same as two economy class tickets).

I was once stuck between two very overweight people in a middle seat on a long haul flight. I spent most of the flight in the aisle. There just wasn't room for the three of us in our three seats.

Sitting next to my kids, free to use some of their leg room and monopolize the armrest and maybe even get an inch or two more space if I lift the armrest, economy class seats are hideously uncomfortable on a long haul flight. I'm an average size.

Business class costs $1000 more per ticket. Four our family of 4, that's an additional $4,0000. And even with better seats and a better TV, ten hours of being in a plane is not comfortable.
Tony Wang, it IS discriminatory if you tell an overweight woman she has to buy two seats, but allow a 6'2 body builder who is HUGE to spill over into the adjacent seats with no comment, because "he is not fat."
Who's going to judge who is too big for one seat? If you're going to make overweight people buy two seats, then you need to make the really big guys who are not fat to buy two seats, too.
United is notorious for making foolish and unaccountable decisions that just stagger the mind.

There are too many employees lined up to fly Space-A, for one thing, and I'll bet that they are raising hell.

I would think that you should get a refund if there is an empty seat...but...ohhh...we're talking about United.
Tony will you please read the post again? I think you just skimmed this post and decided it was a rant about having to buy two seats.
Tony - I don't think you quite understood my point. I am willing to buy two seats, if that's the policy and it is enforced consistently. The problem is that United does not have a way up front for me to buy two seats at the time that I purchase my initial ticket - their policy is that if *at the time I am at the gate, ready to depart* the plane is full, they will kick me off the plane, make me take a later flight and make me buy a second ticket. This does not let me plan ahead for expenditures, does not let me know for sure that I'm going to be able to make it to my destination on time in the first place, and does not make sure that everyone is treated exactly the same way. THIS is what I'm objecting to. (Although I'm also still muttering under my breath about the fact that they design their seating for Munchkins, but I'm not up in arms about that part, just annoyed.)
I'm not skinny and I feel your outrage as well. The unfortunate fact is this policy must seem like a win-win for the asshole bean counters at United. If it truly affects a minority of fliers, well that minority (being the righteously oppressed weak-willed freaks they are) will remain silent or slink away. OTOH, as the number of people affected approach a median or majority (not out of the question given weight stats in the US) the policy will achieve a "sense" of normalcy regardless of how shoddily it's implemented. Either way, I expect Lou F'ing Ferrigno to pony up as well. Fair is fair.
I'm with you. This policy discriminates against heavy people. Last time I checked sitting next to a professional basketball player wasn't comfortable. Or any other tall person. There is so little leg space that they are forced to sit spread eagle intruding into my space. And football players. And body builders. Why don't they have to buy an extra ticket? They are space hogs, too.

What burns my butt is that no one can sit comfortably on an airplane. Impossible. Unless you're in first class. Regardless of your size, passengers are treated like cattle. They charge you for being comfortable. Say what?! Aren't you supposed to make me comfortable so I will fly your airline? Hmmm. Funny how that happened.
There is never any excuse to humiliate any person in public, much less a paying customer. I wasn't aware of Southwest's more enlightened policy, but am not surprised. They see to be so far ahead of their competition in every aspect. Other airlines, including United, need to adopt their policies. Have to "ditto" all the other comments about how ridiculously small the seats are - I struggle with my weight and while I have never gotten quite so big as to require a seat extender, currently at 5'5" and 170 lb. am still uncomfortable - plane trips are much more uncomfortable for my 6" sweetie. The only place I've run into smaller seats and even less leg room is the SF Opera - I have two friends who love music and cannot accompany me for that reason. Kudos for such a courageous post! Rated.
You're only shocked because you are fairly new to OS. This is pretty much how operate.

The problem, as I see it, isn't obese people. It's failure to properly accommodate fellow human beings in a dignified way.
Mean people suck
If its such an issue for United, et al, why don't they simply use their own corporate luxury executive jets, which I'm certain have more than ample room, to ferry about their "special needs" passengers-- since after all, no self-respecting corporate exec in in this economy would get caught dead flying in them, right?
Considering the nature of his post, I don't think it's a coincidence that Tony's last name is "Wang." If his first name were Richard... well, that would be priceless.

Having been screwed royally by airlines during my time as a travel coordinator for a college athletic program, I have very little patience for the arbitrary nature with which they (the airlines) inconvenience the lives of travelers.

Put simply -- United's policy sucks Wang. Rated.
United seems to be operating the way credit card companies do - making up and changing their policies as they go along with any regard for the people who are effected by them.
I'm sorry you (or anyone else) who flies United is at the mercy of what happens at the gate. This makes no sense at all.
I'm one of the lucky few that fit into an airline seat without too much discomfort - somewhat petite with short legs and narrow shoulders. As you can imagine, I've had the pleasure of being the middle seat passenger more times than I can count. I've rarely been uncomfortable sitting next to an overweight passenger because there's typically an awareness and willingness for accomodation. That doesn't exist for my nightmare seatmate - the taller, broad-chested male who has no clue that the shoulder pads in his suit jacket have been firmly planted in my ear. I spend these flights hunched down in my seat, unable to compete for "vertical airspace" in my own seat, much less claiming any armrests or legspace for myself. I feel like Lily Tomlin doing her Edith Ann routine.

So for all of the airline policies regarding the armrest or seatbelts, I think there would be a lot to gain from focusing on the totality of infringement on the plane of another passenger's seat. I mean, armrests can be used to hold some things in place - there's no equivalent for anything above the waist. If the airlines were forced to admit that the average human doesn't fit within the vertical plane of the seat, maybe they could find more ways to expand the horizontal space for seating instead of touting the latest 1/2" gain in legroom.

And there's no excuse for United's half-assed approach discussed here. Purchasing two seats in advance is perfectly reasonable and should not be difficult for them to manage in their reservations system.
Thank you for writing this with such honesty and good humor. If I were you, I'd probably be a lot more pissed off.
I fly quite a bit and flashed on a recent experience where a very, very large man was next to me on a puddle jumper commuter plane. I am pretty thin and small-framed, but even I was literally pressed flat against the window the whole (hour long) flight. I admit, I was very annoyed, but took a deep breath, said a prayer, and remembered to think of the other guy - it wasn't his fault, and I doubt he liked the situation much either. However, I thought about my husband - if it had been him instead of me. He's average sized, tallish, and terrified of small planes. Being penned in like that would've given him a full blown panic attack. They would've had to carry him off the plane. That wouldn't have been fair, either.
I fit into pretty much any small place but have the advantage of being able to travel first class a lot per my professional contracts. I would imagine first class seats are large enough to hold any size person (though on some airlines they are now probably the size of coach seats in the 1960's!). At least there is a buffer between seat A and seat B, so you're not getting your personal space invaded by a random stranger. What about a reduced first class rate for people with certain physical handicaps (severe weight?) Yeah, I can already hear the snobbier first class flyers screaming about that suggestion - "What? They get to use MY bathroom?" Okay, okay, how about this - a full row at the back of coach with wider seats with dividers in between? Those can be priced somewhat higher than coach but not quite as much as two full seats; four seats like that on any flight should cover a variety of problems, including weight and some other handicaps.
At the very least, you should be able to purchase your two seats in advance - the idea they would foist upon you the embarrassment of having to leave a flight is barbaric and cruel.
Obesity can have many causes, and lack of self control is not always one of them, despite the fact that the rest of the world tends to judge it that way. Even if that is part of the cause, the horse has left the barn once an overweight person gets out into the world...we're only part of the problem if we force others with more poundage than we have to hide in the shadows and live in a cave. IMHO.
Hells bells! Why don't we just weigh everyone along with the luggage at the check-in counter and charge by the pound? That's how the commercial trucking companies do it for long hauls. I suspect that we ALL will be coming out ahead on this deal. I fly SWA every chance I get, their on-time service and professionalism sets the standard for the industry.
Rated & Cheers! (Free drink coupons on SWA)...WooHoo!
My take on this subject is that the airlines should bill for the total amount of weight that you are transporting, person and baggage combined. A scale that would allow for a person to weigh themselves and their bags would privately produce an amount, scan your card and off you go. It may make sense to have a flat rate, but the service provided is to move a combination of people and things from one place to another and the cost of doing that is most related to weight and volume.
Another comment about those fees for bags...

It requires a lot of gall to require people to pay for checking bags when you cannot even guarantee that they are going to be there at the end of the trip!

Last couple of times I've flown, I've shipped my bag ahead of time via FedEx. If you do it early enough, it's not quite as expensive as overnight, and hotels are very accommodating (so far)...

It probably does cost more than the airline's fee, but I derive a lot of satisfaction by denying them that fee, and paying FedEx instead.

Anyway... next time I travel by air (hopefully not anytime soon), if I see something like this going on, I might just have to get involved.
@Readerreader "I'm one of the lucky few that fit into an airline seat without too much discomfort"

So you're actually due a REFUND for the half-a-set you DIDN'T use...

If its good one way, then it must be good the other, right?
I agree entirely with Decadent Sundae:

I am willing to buy two seats, if that's the policy and it is enforced consistently. The problem is that United does not have a way up front for me to buy two seats at the time that I purchase my initial ticket - their policy is that if *at the time I am at the gate, ready to depart* the plane is full, they will kick me off the plane, make me take a later flight and make me buy a second ticket.

That's a policy that's not very well thought out; on the surface it might sound great, because if the plane isn't full, larger passengers don't have to pay for the extra ticket, but United seems not to have recognized the human side of the situation when the plane is full.

Now onto another issue that some commenters have addressed: More room for passengers. It's not going to happen, at least not soon or easily. Let's consider two things: space and economics. I just took a look at a popular airplane, the Boeing MD-80, to see what would be involved in giving coach passengers more room. You can't do it (in my humble opinion, not being an airframe designer) without getting rid of a seat in every row of coach or building a wider airplane. The latter means replacing most of the current fleet of airplanes. Way too expensive. The former? It reduces the number of seats from 140 to 112. There's just no extra space to spread out into. If we make some natural assumptions about costs, this means that every passenger is going to have to pay 25% more for one of those wider seats. Let's look at the economic side, now. It turns out that when people buy airplane tickets for leisure travel, the vast majority of them pay no attention to anything but price. Some airlines have tried doing things like increasing the space (pitch) between seats, and they just don't seem to be able to make money at it. You can imagine how well a 25% price hike would go over. "I think I can tolerate a bit of discomfort for a few hours if it's going to cost that much..." How about just a few rows having more room? Well, you can't really say, "Only people who weigh more than x pounds can use these seats," because they're attractive to everyone, and everyone else would complain. Not to mention putting larger passengers in an even bigger spotlight...

So we're kind of stuck. (This is just some off-hand musing on my part. Feel free to correct any misconceptions I have or mistakes I've made.)
I am an average-sized man (5' 11", 175#) but I find airplane seats terribly cramped and uncomfortable. I appreciate that they are designed to diminish costs by fitting as many people as possible onto the plane, but ignoring the encyclopedic variability in the size of the human form is not very effective when you consider that we must be crowbarred into our seats for many hours at a time. I'm so happy you submitted this brave essay to bring awareness to the issue.
I don't pay less because I take up 1/2 a seat, you shouldn't pay more if take up 1 1/2 seats. On second thought, I don't want to be crammed in with another bag of skin and bones, so maybe their policy (cruel as it may be) is OK.

Not one comment extolling the wonder of flight. Hasn't anyone ever been on a 12 hour Greyhound ride?

I love to fly, even cramped in coach. Flying is a miraculous, futuristic experience that was science fiction 100 years ago. I'm sick of people slagging it! God! Listen to yourselves!

Try getting there by foot and see if you mind flying the next time.

Hopefully, United will revisit this policy. Especially, since you are willing to pay for your comfort. Too bad airlines don't designate a child free section. I'm certain many frequent flyers would consider paying a premium for that privilege.
I myself am constantly wondering why the airlines waste all that space. Consider chairs, for example, there are only so many ways they can be arranged, redesigned, twisted and compacted and ultimately the chairs themselves take up one the largest percentage of interior cabin space, apart from people.

Secondly, consider the space between the top of the chairs and the bottom of the luggage compartment. On every plane I've ever been on that space is pretty much just written off.

I really don't understand this incredible waste of space, from the people, to the chairs, to the enormous _unused and wasted_ space, it all adds up. Now here's how *I* would do it if I ran the airline:

First, I would begin by completely removing the chairs. They're simply taking up space and adding unnecessary deadweight to the aircraft.

Next load the people. Beginning from the back of the aircraft and proceeding to the front in the following manner:

Have them lie down in rows where the number in the row varies according to the width of the aircraft at that row position. Proceed to fill the plane having everyone lie down in front of the preceding row such that heads meet toes.

Then finally, when everyone is all comfortably arranged lying there in rows, bring in the next group of people and begin the next layer. I estimate for most typical commercial aircraft, you can get at least six layers, and likely as not for the larger aircraft even as many as twelve or sixteen layers.

All in all this particular stacking ("cordwood") process will permit eight to ten (or more) times the number of people to board the aircraft, thus permitting the airline to gain an even higher margin of profitability. And it would also probably make it easier to end the obligatory cokes and peanuts, which just add yet more weight, and probably the removal of the restroom facilities as well. Thereby, utilizing this method, the airlines stand to gain considerably at little to no extra discomfort for the average member of the flying public as they're already used to being wedged into their seats, the only difference is the position.

And as a bonus, the airlines will be able to charge even more with respect to "fat" and "skinny" patrons. In fact, it could even be possible that these particular segments of the traveling community could end up flying for free. Since depending upon exactly where they are positioned in the overall stacking arrangement, they could either be a source of extra comfort (on top of a "fat" person or underneath a "skinny" person) or discomfort (simply reverse the previous example).

So there you see how just simply sitting back and calmly reasoning through the problem you can solve just about any situation with style, grace and elegance, and develop a classic "win-win" solution for everyone.
1. Since when is size 12 large enough to need two seats? I know plenty of size 12 women and that is not that large.

2. It's not okay to make overweight people buy 2 seats. Airplane seats are too small to begin with, and it's placing an unfair economic burden on larger people. Flying can be just as uncomfortable when sitting next to someone rude, stinky, a child, etc..

3. Airlines should be required to have at least 4 seats or so for larger people, taller people, or otherwise physically in need for whatever reason of a larger seat. Think about common human decency and stop worrying about how to pack people in to increase profits.

4. Southwest is evil too - for the above reason - and I also believe they have (or had at one point) a policy not hiring overweight workers as well. You had to be a certain size, even to work at the counter in the airport.
The airlines are asinine. SW may be the sole exception to the rule, someone with brains is running the company and their attendants are cheerful and reasonable people. They also charge a lowered ticket price for infants under one if you don't feel safe just holding them on your lap the whole flight.

This past winter, we flew on Continental with our one and two year olds and brought their car seats. On a connecting flight home, we were on a puddle jumper and so, the seats were two side by side, and on the opposite aisle, one in front of the other. Their rule is the child couldn't be in a car seat without an adjacent adult. So although I was a forearms' length from my daughter across the aisle and my husband was right behind her, she couldn't sit in her carseat and had to sit with the normal seatbelt. If that isn't a safe enough configurement for a two year old in a car crash, why would it be in a (presumably survivable) plane crash?

I was so angry I could just spit at that dumb as a brick stewardess.
DecadentSundae, you should consider forwarding this post to "Ask the Pilot." It would be interesting to hear Patrick's perspective.

And as far as seat pitch goes...JetBlue offers me sufficient leg room if I am willing to sit toward the back of the plane--which I am only too happy to do. And it doesn't charge you extra. Southwest also does well by its fliers (though I disagree with their recent decision to end pre-boarding for passengers flying with children under 5), so it's the main reason I prefer to fly SWA or JetBlue when I possibly can.
Really sorry to hear about your situation, although as a frequent United flyer I'm not surprised. Their customer service is horrible. I won't bore you but I could tell some stories here. Ironically, the masochist in me continues to fly United, if only because of my frequent flyer status. Shame on those people who degrade with simple stares and impatient puffs of breath. I try to make a point of smiling at larger folks when they sit next to me and give them a robust "Hi, how are you?" That generally relieves the tension and we go on to talk about home towns and how we miss our families like everyone else on board. I mean really, what good is achieved by being crappy? It's not like there's anywhere else to go.
Yeah, Patrick really needs to weigh in on this. So far there has been exactly 0.1% of the online population that sees the slightest bit of nuance in the situation. Everyone is either vehemently opposed or strongly in favor - and it appears to have to do with their weight. EVERYONE seems united (hah!) in their hatred of the airlines.

Flying is safe, fast, and cheap. You want it to be comfortable, too? Are you prepared to give up on one of those criteria?

I have been flying since I was a child. I recently made an Atlantic crossing, and it was MORE comfortable and entertaining than it was when I was younger (and, certainly, smaller).

The modern airliner is one of the few real triumphs of the 20th century. I'm pretty sick of all the whining from people who don't even understand how they work, and have zero appreciation for their incredible safety record and unbelievable convenience.

"Boo-hoo, I'm so put upon, I have to fly places!" You know what? Perhaps you could learn something about the miracle of heavier-than-air flight, and you might change your attitude.
Some serious hating going on here.

Southwest's sounds like a solid policy.
Deprogram - Actually, I'm absolutely in awe of the wonder of flight. In fact, my husband happens to be a helicopter electrical mechanic and my mother was an air-traffic controller at one point in her life. I'm a little more familiar with what a miracle it is that these machines stay up in the air than you might have assumed.

And yes, I agree that this seems to be a subject that brings out a strong reaction in people. I admire your search for nuance. However, please do me a favor and re-read my initial post. I don't hate "the airlines". I don't like this particular implementation of this particular airline's policy. I've stated my reasons why, and I've provided a way that it could be fixed, with an example of an airline that I think does a better job of it. Please let me know if you would like to discuss why you think that their current policy is the correct one to hold, and I'd be happy to debate you.

Or did you just want a chance to try to make me feel like a whiney, ungrateful wretch? If so, may I refer you to my taglines - specifically the second one. I can go either way on this - it's entirely your call.
This issue is no laughing matter. Consider this story.
I had a window seat for a 2.5 hour flight, with an empty middle seat next to me. A flight attendant escorted a passenger of excessive weight to sit in that seat. There was no way that the arm rest could have come down, nor could I even untie my shoes. Forget about the bathroom. I tried to cooperated and be the nice guy and not complain. How was I effected?

Aside for limping off the plane with a numb leg, which quickly went away, I was left wondering how it was that I had had to give up 25% of my seat paying full fare. That was the least of it.

10 days later I developed chest pain, as sore and tender spot under my left arm pit. Being a physician, I chalked it off to a bruised rib from ice hockey, though I could not recall any impact to that area. 10 days after that I developed leg cramps that would come and go. A few days later, the pain got much worse, and I could hardly breath. My wife took me to the ER, where I expected the be told I had a rib fracture. Nope, it was multiple pulmonary ebolism from several blood clots in my legs. Blood thinners relieved the pain and halted the process. My blood tests showed no markers for blood clotting susceptibility. The only risk factor was the immobility during the flight. Reseaching the net, I found this web site: /

My experience is not a rare event. The importance of this discussion about obese travelers should be seen in this light. I thought that I was only being made physically uncomfortable by not complaining about the seating arrangement. Turns out it could have killed me. This is more than an issue of blaming the obese, or being prejudice against obesity. It is about a threat to the lives of others. Finding a policy which respects the rights of normal and obese passengers should take the risk of pulmonary embolism into account. Nothing about this is simple or easy.

Garrett Sullivan
Rated. Thank you for writing it, and welcome.

When I first heard about the new policy, I thought, Are we all going to be weighed, along with the bags? There has to be a better way than all this. Human-size seats would be a nice start. (I'm 5'3" and if someone leans back I'm squished.) Employee training and customer service would help. I'm also glad to read that Southwest at least lets you buy the seats you think you need and truly don't understand why United doesn't, unless it's because the airline is run and staffed by bots. While we're going pie-in-the-sky, I'll add to the list: Reasonable prices so people who need it can just buy the extra seat.

(Also, Sueinaz, thank you for that story. It's always good to read about kindness.)