The Obesity Epidemic Isn't Solved With Bigger Airline Seats

Last year, Kenlie Tiggeman was trying to take a simple flight on Southwest Airlines when a gate agent told her she was "too fat to fly." Understandably, she was furious and humiliated and now she is suing the airline for that public humiliation, not because she wants them to totally amend their policy, but because she wants the policy to be more clearly laid out. She has a good point.

Her story is one of public humiliation. The gate agents came up to her and asked her how much she weighed and publicly humiliated Tiggeman who was close to 300 pounds at the time (she has since lost 120 pounds). She has said that this was a discussion for "point of purchase" rather than at the gate. And I agree with her there. There is no case for public humiliation. Ever.

But this is part of a larger problem that is growing exponentially (no pun intended) as the girth of our population also grows.


The reality is, this is an honest discussion that needs to happen, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.

Yesterday I flew in coach and, though I am a small-ish person at 5'5" and about a size 4, I was squashed in the middle and not all that comfortable. If I were any taller or wider, I would have been downright uncomfortable. So how could anyone expect a person who was larger to sit comfortably in one seat?

It's not fair, but it's the way planes are built. Now there is talk of expanding seats to accommodate larger people, and while it's the reality right now, this seems like the wrong direction.

Obesity is sometimes the result of a condition or an illness, but it's also very often a result of lifestyle choices. Sure, losing weight is hard. I would never pretend otherwise. But you don't fix an underlying societal problem by building larger seats. You do it by addressing the health issues that make people obese.

We need better food choices and more education about that. We need help building activity into our daily lives and we need support for weight loss. The fact is, we can say with no judgement or mean spirit that obesity is not healthy. Tiggeman obviously knows this, too; otherwise, she wouldn't be losing weight.

Obviously treating people with weight problems like they aren't human or not entitled to their feelings is beyond wrong, but it's also wrong to slap a Band-Aid on a huge health problem because we are afraid of hurting feelings.

By all means, Tiggeman is right about public humiliation. But the answer isn't two seats or bigger seats. It's about helping people get healthy and lose weight so they can do more.

Do you think bigger seats will solve these problems?


Image via Glutnix/Flickr

Read More >