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

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nonmember avatar Lyde

If you accommodate obesity, where is the incentive to lose weight?

nonmember avatar Lilac

I would like bigger seats anyway because its very tight as it is right now and flying is not very fun.

KenneMaw KenneMaw

I heard on the news today that by 2030, over 85% of the population will be overweight.   Yeah, extra large airline seats aren't the answer.   I know I am going to soundl like a jerk right now, but that lady KNEW she was obese.  There is too many stories about overweight/obese people needing to buy 2 seats on a plane.   No, that doesnt' give anyone the right to be unkind, but seriously, what did she expect??  She is 300 lbs - even 288 (with the 12 lbs weight loss)...she had to know she couldn't fit into a single seat.  

PonyC... PonyChaser

You are talking about two COMPLETELY different issues, here. You admit to being a small person, at 5'5" and a size 4, and STILL being squished in an airline seat. Making seats larger to accomodate people of average size (12/14 for women) DOES sound like a logical answer, to me.

We're not talking about the 300+ lb people, here, we're talking AVERAGE. You are not "average". You are smaller than average, and yet, even though you were uncomfortable in the seat, you want the rest of the population to size down? Because your issue here is airline seats, not the overall health of the population.

Airlines are shoving more rows into planes, too. Should "overly tall" people, say, those above 5'7", have some sort of surgery to make them shorter? Feed coffee to their children to 'stunt their growth'?

Perhaps the time has come for the balance to shift. For years and years, passengers (airline CUSTOMERS) have had to twist and turn, and adapt to ever-more restrictive airline policies, and now the airlines are expecting us to make major lifestyle changes so that we may fly. Perhaps the airlines should make some concessions and provide a little more leg room, and seats to fit the average American.

Marja Panetta

so what your going to give any one a gastric bypass??? you cant make people loose pounds im 200 and seats are hard to fit in as  they were when i was 150!  this is a world were all people are diffrent! and sometimes you need to be flexible! 

Mandago Mandago

KenneMaw, she's lost 120 pounds, not 12. That being said, at my heaviest I weighed 289 pounds and still fit comfortably in an airplane seat - and by comfortably, I mean that not only was I comfortable, but people on either side of me were comfortable too. Nobody has claimed that she didn't fit in a single seat; they didn't even let her try.

To expand on what PonyChaser said, I want to point out that people of all sizes are at risk for blood clots when flying because there is so little leg room. To me this says that we are afforded too little space on airplanes, and it's a health issue. Whether they want to accommodate obese passengers or not, people shouldn't be crammed into planes like sardines.

nonmember avatar kaerae

I've never been overweight, but if this is what it takes for them to finally give us ALL a little more space, I'm all for it! I would gladly pay a bit more for some extra leg room and not having to smell my neighbor's breath...

libby261 libby261

Yes, the seats should be wider and there should be more leg room!  I am not a big person and it is just too damn uncomfortable to fly these days with no leg room and being packed in so close that you're practically shoulder to shoulder with your seat mate.  It didn't used to be like this before Regean de-regulated the airline industry.  

nonmember avatar kaerae

@Mandango - Actually, the article DID origninally say 12 pounds. They always change them when someone points out a mistake, but never note that it has been corrected. Use a little common sense!

the4m... the4mutts

Airline seats are far too small as it is. I would gladly pay like 15-20$ more per ticket for a year or two if they would use it to accomidate everyone of average height/weight.

At size 9, my seat was too small for comfort. I'm an 11 now. Sooo... yah. They need to accomidate average. Maybe even have some "obese" seats on each plane, that cost more. Less than buying 2 seats, but more than 1 seat, ya know?

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