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Airline Seats Revisited

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Last week I blogged about the recent Supreme Court ruling mandating that airlines accommodate oversized passengers.

This ruling was picked up by international media, especially in the US, where in light of their own obesity epidemic, this ruling attracted substantial attention.

In fact, I was interviewed by MSNBC for my take on this, especially with regard to the question how airlines should determine who would qualify for an extra seat and who would not.

My simple solution, as reported by MSNBC was as follows:

“You can’t bring it down to a BMI. People’s body shapes are different.” Instead, the chair of obesity research at the University of Alberta suggests a solution inspired by the baggage sizers already in place at many airports. Instead, Sharma would like airlines to place an airplane seat in the terminal — “somewhere that offers travelers a bit of privacy.” Then, if it’s not obvious that a traveler won’t fit in one seat, they can sit in the sample seat. “If they don’t fit in the seat, then they’re too big and they’ll need to have that extra seat. At no cost. It’s not rocket science.”

Obviously, other “experts” had other suggestions including bringing in doctors’ notes or simply increasing the seat sizes for everybody. For a full report on this story click here.

If readers of this blog have any other suggestions – I’d love to hear them.

Edmonton, Alberta


  1. Love this article and the feature on MSNBC. Not sure how people will fit into 2 seats, that also sounds uncomfortable, with the armrest pushes on their back. Maybe the bigger seats would make sense. There is no medical treatment for paraplegia, but there are solutions for obesity, I feel that those who have not sought out medical treatment for their condition should be denied seats (imposssible to implement), but worth considering. The genetics and the created environment are not their fault, but their refusal to seek therapy is their fault.

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  2. Dr. Wharton: I am surprised that someone in your line of work would make such a statement (“I feel that those who have not sought out medical treatment for their condition should be denied seats”). As you should know, there are sometimes very good reasons why a person has not sought treatment. And there are people who are, without quite knowing what is wrong with them, trying to seek treatment, without much luck. I was one of them. (Note the word “was”; but it was a long, frustrating journey.) You may wish to read, among others, the book entitled, “Overcoming Binge Eating”, by Dr. Christopher G. Fairburn. It points out that, not only do patients not know they might have an eating disorder (in this case, BED) but more often than not their doctors do not know it. And once you are diagnosed, good luck finding the right treatment, in your hometown, and treatment that you can afford. There is much to be done in the area of obesity education. Blogs like Dr. Sharma’s and Dr. Freedhoff’s (my doctor whom I was so lucky to find) help; comments like yours do not.

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  3. The comment about denying seats to “those who have not sought out medical treatment” bothers me. It is applying a moral judgment to a person’s condition. We don’t make a blind person explain their medical efforts; we simply accommodate the guide dog without question, knowing that it is needed for the blind person to function. And once we start asking whether they’ve sought out medical help, how long until we are judging whether they’ve sought “enough” medical help? Does one trip to the doctor count as seeking out help? Does it have to be effective help? Do we have to see results from the treatment? Why would an obese person be put through this when others with disabilities are not?

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  4. So why is it that the large person who sits down next to you feels that it’s okay for their oversized body to seize part of your “paid for” square footage so that they can sit more comfortably? Do you think me cruel to feel extreme annoyance? If so, let me share that I take no issue with their size whether by choice or physical limitations. But I do take great issue with them booking an economy seat, knowing that the seat will be less than accommodating and then spilling over into my portion of the seating. I’m already not terribly comfortable and my $300 is just as good as their $300. So why, by nature of their size, am I required to donate, relinquish or otherwise fall prey to their seizure of my seating space?

    They may understandably argue they can’t afford two seats. However, I would argue that their lack of financial resources do not entitle them or justify them to taking a portion of what I’ve paid for; Seat 10B!

    Airlines need to give every passenger what they paid for and that includes allowing me to enjoy my entire seating space, no matter how small it is. Therefore, I believe airlines should have rules about people size, just as they do about carry on luggage size. The luggage must be able to fit within an overhead bin while allowing it to close tightly. Passengers should be required to fit in their paid seat without spilling into the arm, shoulder or otherwise space of the passenger(s) seated next to them.

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