There has been much debate following the announcement by Air France that it proposes to charge what really amounts to an obesity tax: the requirement that hefty air travellers buy an extra seat on the plane.

But while I sympathise with people suffering from a glandular disorder, I have no truck with big eaters hoisting the discrimination flag.

It has not been an isolated occasion that I’ve observed obese people, in an airport café, stuffing on burgers with chips and ketchup, washed down with 1600 calorie thick shakes.

And try standing behind a big person at check-in when they sail through, and you pay excess on a few schoolbooks for children out in Africa.

One blogger asks us to imagine the experience of being seated next to a 300 pounder on a 3 hour flight from Vegas to Minneapolis. Well, imagine this on a 22 hour journey from London to Sydney!

But it`s not just the discomfort of someone overflowing into your space: it`s the security aspect when an aircraft must be cleared quickly in an emergency.

I`ve been on a flight when the engines caught fire, and lucky to make it back to the airport, we were ordered to evacuate via the emergency chutes.

If that fat person photographed by the American Airlines flight attendant had been blocking the aisle, lives would have been put at risk. Including his own.

Just as smokers are advised they may not be eligible for medical treatment if they continue the habit, so persons who are overweight must accept, without taking umbrage, that if they wish to fly, it may cost more.

The solution is a weigh-in for everyone at the check-in desk. Scales exist for weighing luggage; why not use similar scales to weigh passengers, and add a height measure for a fair and accurate BMI calculation?

Anyone over a reasonable limit should be required to buy two tickets. And if the flight is not full, which is usually the case, the cost can be refunded at the destination.

The alternative is continuing discomfort: the obese person not being excluded.

About Travels with My Hat

Australian photojournalist and author. Used London as a base for nearly forty years while freelancing in the Middle East, Arabian peninsular, Africa and South Asia. Have written and illustrated more than a dozen books and travel guides. Operates a well regarded religious images stock photo library: Live in Leura in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney.
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  1. AMA says:

    Having experienced myself the ordeal of having to sit next to a grossly overweight man on a flight from London to Sydney (with Etihad Airlines )I am also in favour of the suggestions that they should pay for two seats. I asked the cabin crew to move me to another seat but the flight was full It was the most unpleasant flight I have ever had- not the airlines fault-

  2. Sally Morgan says:

    Yes agree entirely. I have been weighed together with my luggage when doing short hops between game reserves in Namibia and Tanzania, and also on helicoptors in Aus. Fortunately in all cases, the people boarding the planes were of average weight, and there was no problem but it would have been interesting to see what would have happened had 6 obese people tried boarding the plane – there is a limit to the amount of luggage one can leave behind.

  3. Mimi Forsyth says:

    Weight is a critical safety factor for flying.The combined weight of baggage + passengers influences the amount of fuel that can be carried. Do the math.Re unpleasant flights, imagine London-Sydney between a vomiting baby and a psychopath delivering lectures…and no unoccupied seats.

  4. We had a person who was so fat, that the tray could not be lowered for her meal. She had to eat, standing in the galley, while we tried to serve others!

  5. Jenny Woolf says:

    Sure, it is very unplesant to be put next to a huge person, to be sure, but a Mimi says it is as bad or worse with a vomiting baby or a loony tunes – or a drunk. I have sat next to a drunk on a flight to Los Angeles and he spilt stuff all over me, was loud, obnoxious and aggressive. I would far rather have had Oliver Hardy. It may also be dangerous to have fat people blocking up the place, but so isit dangerous to hve people in wheelchairs,or people who panic, or people who are very old and are liable to have heart attacks or lose their balance? Or little kids who may disobey or run away? Or ….. If there are GENUINE MEASURABLE dangers, then the matter is absolutely simple. Get the rules changed to accommodate whatever the experts say. If you're flying in a small plane where a few extra stone are critical, then limit weight on small planes. If it is dangerous to carry disabled people on a particular flight, do not carry them. But in general, I'm afraid this proposal does sound like nasty discrimination and unkindness against people who are grossly fat.Morbid obesity is a horrible thing, just as much of an "illness" as anorexia – it ruins lives and can kill. I don't try to punish very thin people who hardly eat anything, or who madly take exercise with stick like limbs. I am sad for them. They can't just change their ways – they are suffering and caught in a compulsion. The same goes for morbidly fat people.Of course there are fatties who are just greedy, but they aren't usually the ones who are obese enough to cause a real problem.

  6. Mimi Forsyth says:

    Maybe there should be special flights with over-size seats for over-size people. After all, over-size coffins are offered for sale now.Flying just isn't much fun anymore.

  7. Mimi Forsyth says:

    Fat is fat, no matter how it happens. As an ex-pilot, my concerns are technical.

  8. Mike Gerrard says:

    Agree with you, Christine. I spend a lot of time in the USA where it is an even greater problem. Most fat people are fat because they eat too much. We see it with our own eyes, as you've observed. And the safety aspect is very worrying indeed.

  9. C.O. says:

    I understand that only 10% obesity is caused by glandular disorders: the rest is due to greedyeating.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I once flew from Churchill to Winnipeg on a smallish aircraft, and the pilot refused to take off until half a dozen fat people were moved from the back of the plane to the middle. They protested, of course, but the pilot was adamant. He said he was making the request on safety grounds. And pilots know more about flight safety that passengers, so I was with him all the way.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I was in a light aircraft due to fly from Malindi to Lamu, with a group of Germans. Some of whom were not only very sun-tanned, but very large, and sitting at the back. Delayed due to a technical problem, we were told to disembark. When the front passengers went down the steps, the weight in the rear caused the plane to sit back on its tail. The pilot, who was in the control tower, leant out and shouted `Put that fucking plane back on it`s nose!` This is a true story.

  12. Paul Gapper says:

    While I agree with most of what you have said I do think however that it is just one of many new ways for airlines to raise extra revenue. As a person who is over six foot high I always have problems fitting my legs in the space provided and are constantly pushing the person next to me or poking the passenger in front. But now if I want extra leg room i.e. by the emergency exit I have to pay extra, in some cases with BA its £30. As I refuse to pay I can only look with contempt at the rich short person that has in a sense “stolen my seat”. This happened to me on my way back from Cape Verde, the four foot high person had boasted in the airport lounge to all that could hear how well off he was. I spent a lot of the time walking up and down the aisle and pretended to go to the toilet. Thank God I was not on my way to the United Sates were if recent reports are to be believed all passengers have to remain seated one hour before landing.

  13. Mike Gerrard says:

    After reading your post I was reading today's Times and saw a short news item about an extra charge being introduced for cremating fat people. Yes, it will cost more in some places to burn the fat. I tried to find the link to the Times piece but they have just started charging for content, so will have to make do with the Express instead:

  14. The responses to my blog would seem to indicate the following: special flights for overweight people, and people with long legs. Also mothers and screaming baby flights. Come to think of it, perhaps there should also be unique flights for the deaf (who can`t hear safety instructions) for the blind (who can`t see the Exits) for drunks (that would be perpetually overbooked), for people wearing green, for people with ponytails etc. As for the poor `wheelchair` flyers, yes that is a worry. (I`ve been a wheelchair flyer at one stage, so am not unfamiliar with the situation). I have also been on a flight when an old Bedouin came on board with a tent folded on top of his head. The stewardess gently asked him to put it in the overhead locker, but he sat with it on his head obscuring the movie screen. I have also flown with a goat sliding up and down the aisle in SW Ethiopia. It did not have a boarding pass.

  15. Mike Gerrard says:

    Wonderful accounts, Christine. I've never seen a goat in the aisle, not even on Ryanair.

  16. Mimi Forsyth says:

    Sliding goats….how great! How about baskets of chickens in the aisle on the old Burma airline & a few terrified chickens getting loose?! Same flight, "your life vest is under your seat" had been altered to omit "vest". Somehow it all worked out. I don't remember any over-size people involved.

  17. Anonymous says:

    The poor Burmese tend to be slim.

  18. AMA says:

    When I was flying on BA, our Arab passengers used to put the puppies and kittens they`d bought at Harrod`s in the overhead racks. If their kids got bored, they would get them down and throw them about the plane. None of the staff would have considered telling them off- might have spoiled their chances of a nice present at the end of the flight !!(( Those were the days of unbelievable generosity by the Arabs).

  19. 76% of people believe that airlines should charge 'Fat Tax', according to the latest poll on leading travel site Skyscanner. Only 22% of voters disapproved against such a move, with more than 550 people taking part in the poll altogether. Such a ruling would force those who could not comfortably fit into a standard airline seat to purchase a second, normally at a discounted rate. Barry Smith, Skyscanner co-founder and director commented: “So called ‘Fat Tax’ is a very sensitive issue for airlines; they will have to tread carefully so as not to alienate heavier passengers. On one hand, it’s not unreasonable for airlines to charge passengers extra if they occupy more than one seat. On the other, many would argue that it should be the responsibility of airlines to adjust their standard seat size, enabling them to comfortably accommodate all passengers.” The Pacific island of Nauru is currently classified as the world’s fattest country with 94.5% of the population. The UK ranks as the 28th fattest country.Source:

  20. cobweb says:

    How amusing! And what a can of worms, some wonderful tales and images all provocative and stimulating – fat or not, this is surely a vexed issue and with airline travel and seating growing more and more uncomfortable and welcoming over the years I wonder quite frankly how a 'fat' person faces a flight in the sardine cans now called aircrafts, they must find the whole experience daunting, I know I do and I am 178cms and only weight 60 kilos! Loved the debate, thank you all!!!

  21. Jane says:

    Southwest Airlines`guidelines aimed at overweight passengers require anyone unable to lower both armrests, when seated, will be required to book a second seat in response to the number of complaints received by passengers whose flight has been made uncomfortable by obesity…

  22. If an obese person actually occupies more than one space if you must pay another seat besides the convenience for yourself and for others … also enters the plane safety

  23. Air Samoa has announced it will charge a “fat tax” and it is to be hoped that more airlines will follow suit. In terms of cost, it is far more expensive to fly a 200 pounder, than a skinny sausage. I was weighed recently and figured my equivalent in luggage is three suitcases at 20 kilos. But read about this new development in the Backpacker News:

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