Precedent Established For A Tax On Overweight Passengers – Is It OK To Charge Them Extra?

The discussions regarding overweight passengers started a while ago. Companies want to charge them extra for they sometimes occupy 2 seats instead of one. Next to them someone cannot stay comfortably.

Now, I think we should also consider the facts. There are more and more people overweight. Many say it’s due to fast food, but even if there are some cases where this is true, there are many more cases where people get fatter simply due to meds, health issues, metabolism changes, way of life etc. I don’t think there are people who really want to be obese (except, maybe, sumo fighters). Deep down everyone knows that overweight and fat affects their health in so many ways. Some people cannot do any type of sport – and I know, I’m one of them. I’m not obese, it is true, but I’ve gain some extra weight during my pregnancy last year and in the months that followed. I want to go back to my figure, but eating correctly doesn’t help and I cannot do any type of sport. I don’t believe also in staying hungry. But the post today is on another topic, so let’s get back to it.

The statistics show that the average size in clothing is increasing. 12 I think in UK.

There are also many “normal” weight people.
Sometimes, yes, an overweight person can make uncomfortable the person/s next to him/her. It’s not intended, it’s just space. But that normal people has the right to stay comfortably in his chair and enjoy the ride. He/She paid the same price.

A company cannot afford to have unoccupied seats only because there are some overweight passengers and therefore they cannot use some seats. Moreover, if the reservations are made online or in advance, no transport services provider can know which passenger weights how much. Therefore no arrangement can be made. Unoccupied seats mean no money which leads to problems in cash flow and lose of profit and so on.

If a company needs to travel with empty seats because of someone’s weight, it seems that that person should also pay for those unoccupied seats next to him/her.

On the other hand, more and more companies are announcing more and more seats in their means of transportation (mainly airplanes) in order to be able to offer a lower price. More seats in the same space means narrower seats and smaller space between the rows and so on. But people are not getting smaller, but bigger – in weight and sizes.

So how could these two things be reconciled? Shouldn’t any company come to meet its customers’ expectations? Do you think in this case the companies really managed to do just that?

I’m writing this article for I’m really curious to hear opinions from you, dear traveler friends and also because I read some news today mentioning that “Court of Appeal in the UK ruled that passengers cannot sue for embarrassing treatment”. So, overweight people cannot say they are subjected to a discriminatory or embarrassing treatment.

In a world where being obese is recognized as a sickness, what do you think is the best way to handle the situation? Should obese passengers be treated different and made to pay extra charge? Should companies adapt to the new sizes of the passengers? Did you have any experience during your travels – from one angle or another?

I’m inviting you all to a discussion – I really hope we’ll have an interesting one.


I’m offering public relations, communications and image counseling in everyday life and I have a PR agency – PRwave INTERNATIONAL. I am passionate about reading, blogging (I also have a blog in Romanian) and traveling. Follow me on Twitter - @violetaloredana (Romanian) and @TravelMoments.

15 thoughts on “Precedent Established For A Tax On Overweight Passengers – Is It OK To Charge Them Extra?

  • 9 February, 2012 at 20:44

    I guess this is one of the topics that will raise heated conversations when not polemics. Finding the right balance between airlines profitability and customer service is becoming increasingly difficult. Over the last years, many airlines have introduced ‘additional fees’ and tightened the restrictions on baggage allowance, etc.

    I know I will disappoint a few people, but I personally agree on the extra charge for overweight (where I mean strongly overweight) passengers. Why?

    For example, a kid of 6 pays a full ticket price but occupies half a seat. Every excess baggage has become very expensive, while many airlines have decreased the allowance and become very strict on luggage weight. As you pointed out, every passenger has the same right of having a minimum level of comfort, which is virtually impossible sitting beside a person occupying 1 1/2 seat when not more.

    I don’t think it’s a matter of discrimination, otherwise a lot of other practices could be defined discriminating. It’s a matter of good sense. You can’t expect to squeeze an obese person in a normal plane seat. And he can’t expect it either.

    I’m not as optimistic as you are regarding obesity, and I don’t believe in obesity as a sickness per se, only for its consequences on people’s health. I don’t mean that people want to become obese but once they are, too often they don’t want to change. As for me, who am a smoker and still can’t decide myself to quit. Everyone has to take the responsibility of his own choices. If you are double sized,you can’t pretend to be considered a single size while traveling.

  • 9 February, 2012 at 20:52

    That’s such a sticky situation! Neither side seems fair. I feel so bad for someone who doesn’t sit in the seat — that must be so embarrassing. But something must be done so that a fully paying customer can fit in HIS own seat. There’s no right answer!!

  • 9 February, 2012 at 22:08

    I too believe it is very hard to pick a side. I mean, as I tried to point in the post, there are indeed pro’s and con’s from everyone’s point of view. The companies shouldn’t lose money; the people with an average weight shouldn’t feel uncomfortable during their travels (regardless of the means of transportation). The overweight people shouldn’t be all put to a corner and throw stones at them: there are indeed various causes one gets overweight and not all the overweight people want to remain like that. Also, we should keep in mind that in many places fast-food is the cheapest food (in Romania KFC has the best prices for a complete meal for instance and I saw it was the same in Austria and Germany – of course I’m not saying I know all the restaurants there!).

    But I work in PR and I do some marketing for some of my clients too. And a golden rule is to always adapt your offer to the clients’ needs (or to anticipate them).

    Or, now the companies are making smaller seats in stead of thinking of bigger seats. Its the profit and fight for surviving, but on the other part, is this OK for an overweight person that now has to fit in a smaller seat?

    I was wondering: isn’t there any solutions? You know, for instance, they say women are worst drivers. And there are some parkings (mainly at hypermarkets or malls – in Romania at least) with larger bands, especially for women. They’ve adapted to the clients needs. Shouldn’t that be the case here?

    What could be the possible solutions in order to keep everyone happy?

  • 10 February, 2012 at 01:02

    If seats were actually right-sized to begin with, then I’d say yes, obese people who spill over into the neighboring seat should have to pay for both. But airline seats are a pretty tight squeeze to begin with–I’m not a large person by any means, but even I’ve been uncomfortable in some seats, especially on longhaul flights. If airlines keep shrinking the size of seats, pretty soon none of us will fit in them.

    • 10 February, 2012 at 17:15

      Yes, that’s the strange “coincidence”: smaller seats – though people are getting bigger. But you are right: even normal sized people won’t fit in those seats – and I think that when traveling – especially on long distances – you have to be comfortable.

  • 10 February, 2012 at 10:24

    I don’t think people should be charged more based on weight, but maybe certain seats could be designated for people who need seat belt extenders. These would be slightly larger like the premium coach seats some airlines offer. They are slightly more expensive, but not as much as having to buy an entire second ticket. It’s hard to say if I groan inwardly more if a very large person sits next to me or if a kid with ADHD sits behind me and kicks the back of my seat for hours while also whining. OK. Now I’m whining. Truth is, I’ll tolerate a lot to be able to go places to which I have to fly.

    • 10 February, 2012 at 17:17

      Special rows with seats for overweight people I think it’s a great idea. But companies will see it as a losing money idea – bigger seats means less seats…

      But someone on Twitter also pointed out that if overweight passengers are charged extra, then why shouldn’t people that are really “thin” and kids – that don’t occupy a chair/seat – receive money for the space unoccupied?

  • 10 February, 2012 at 20:43

    For real? Where would the measurement of “overweight” begin? And where does the gouging of customers stop? This idea is just begging to open pandora’s box. People being ridiculed and feeling embarrassed. Would they have to step on a scale? I’m 10 lbs over weight. That 10 lbs bothers the hell out of me, so I wouldn’t want to be subjected to scales and extra fees as airlines make ENOUGH money in other ways as it is. Scales, xray machines, pat downs… no fun to travel anymore.. regardless of weight or size.

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