United to Charge Overweight Passengers Double

Posted April 16, 2009 by Nicki Krawczyk

Two seats In a prime example of virtually inviting people to kill the messenger, United Airlines has instructed its employees not to allow overweight passengers (those who cannot sit in one seat with the arm rests down and/or cannot use the safety belt with a single extender) to board unless they purchase an extra seat.

Furthermore, according to United’s newly posted policy, if no extra seats are available, passengers will have to either pay to get upgraded (if there’s room in that section) or wait for the next flight with two available seats.

Now, other airlines already have similar policies; both American and Southwest are on the books as having the right to require purchase of a second ticket. But unlike both of these airlines, if there is an empty seat available on a plane, United won’t switch the affected passenger to a seat next to the empty one so that he or she won’t have to pay double. Perhaps this is to avoid inconveniencing another passenger already seated next to this empty seat? But doesn’t it also inconvenience (and cost) the affected passenger? And wouldn’t there have to be switching anyway, if they’re going to place this passenger next to an empty seat to charge him/her?

Obviously, this is a tricky issue no matter which airline is involved. Does forcing a passenger to pay double penalize them for being overweight? Or do charges like these accommodate (also-paying) customers’ rights to comfort? It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It’s easy to imagine people thinking they’re getting last minute deals and then not actually being able to board the plane for lack of an extra seat. You can’t really plan a 3-day weekend vacation if you don’t know when you’ll get a chance to board. It’s also easy to imagine passengers being very displeased with the front-line employees who have to enforce this policy.

It’s worth pointing out, I think, that seats are already so closely grouped that airlines are actually able to charge more for seats that have more legroom. Could part of the problem be that seats are just too small to accommodate enough people nowadays? I have no answers at all. However, I can tell you that I’ll be watching very closely to see exactly how this plays out.

(As always, we welcome your thoughtful, insightful, and respectful comments.)

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Reader Comments

Maybe they should create extra-narrow seats for especially skinny people. These would cost less than regular seats, of course.

Posted on April 16, 2009 at 03:36 PM by Bob Forappilz

I'm glad for this consideration....I have sat by overweight people on flights and their bodies are touching you because of the space that they take up. I did not pay for my seat to have someone else also partially take up or encroach in my space. It is only fair that if they need two seats that they pay for two seats.

Posted on April 16, 2009 at 05:33 PM by Donna Bridges

for years I have dealt with increasing taxes on tabacco. everyone says if you want to quit you can. easier said than done, but i continue to pay the taxes. If you are fat than you can quit eating. Im sorry but what is the difference why should we be the only one to feel it I applaude united for taking the stand

Posted on April 16, 2009 at 11:12 PM by mim

Some people can't help themselves because of medical conditions. Have consideration and perhaps charge half price for the extra seat.

Posted on April 17, 2009 at 08:42 AM by Catherine Trahan

I am disgusted by the greed of the airlines right now. I am also disgusted with people who applaud the disservice that they provide. What is wrong with this society that they think it's okay to judge other people for obesity ... or color... or cancer... or even genetic inclinations? Shame on you!!!

Posted on April 17, 2009 at 11:46 AM by margie

I am glad to see some of the airlines charge the FAT people for the space they use. If one is FAT they can get rid of the pounds if they WANT to do so. The same goes for those who smoke or drink too much. The key is you must WANT to do so. I am one who smoked 3 packs a day, consumed 6 to 8 beers or a 1/2 bottle of boozes per day and hit the scales at 290 plus
Today I am 6'1" hit the scales at 160, haven't smoke in 23 yrs nor had a drink in 15 years. Was it easy..NO? Did I WANT to change my life? YES, and I am glad I did. You canh and I wish you luck.

Posted on April 18, 2009 at 08:01 AM by Ididit

I agree with Donna, it is very uncomfortable to sit "under" an overweight person, also I have been "climbed over" by someone to go to the restroom. I know there are some who cannot help their wt because of medical condition, but I can't help feeling "pressed upon" by them. I need the space I paid for. let them pay for the space they need or drive.

Posted on April 18, 2009 at 09:47 AM by Gwen

Heavy people get too many complaints against them. You should welcome all people.

Posted on April 18, 2009 at 10:27 PM by Shirley Roskelley

the airlines are just bonafide greedy. first it was the elimination of food, now it its the cost of an extra seat. I think that we should all boycott airlines that do these austracties to people and refuse to fly them in future flights.
United, you had best believe that I wont fly you, and no, I am not even fat!

Posted on April 19, 2009 at 06:13 PM by happyi

So if I travel with my 7 year old son who weighs only 50 pounds, are they going to give me a refund for him, since he is UNDERWEIGHT? They are already charging full adult fare. Yeah, when pigs fly(only baby ones).

Posted on April 19, 2009 at 09:43 PM by *****

So sad but unfortunately necessary. As Americans get wider unfortunately the airline seats aren't. Is it the airlines fault that we in America have become so grossly overweight? And is it the fault of the passenger who is stuffed beside that person, NO. So if you unfortunately need two seats to fill your bulk and you have not been able to successfully loss weight then you must pay. A smoker can't smoke on board, they pay the same as everyone else on board. Are airlines greedy, it is a business people, they have to pay their employee's. Those employee's have families and like you and I, they want raises. So, all things relative rates go up. What I find so sad is look around, myself included we as a nation are grossly overweight, not only adults but far too many children. That's what needs to end and until it does then you will have to pay for two seats to be comfortable, embarrassed possibly but more comfortable for sure!

Posted on April 20, 2009 at 08:17 AM by Linda

I'm glad "idiot" is so perfect.

The key to the fat ban on airlines is greed. United has very small space for even the most svelte of bodies. I hope that a lawsuit follows and that the case reaches the highest courts of the land. I am overweight. I don't encroach on other's space. I've had people push me aside in New York theaters, not to say anything of oafs in airlines. Lighten up. Make seats widers for Americans; we aren't tiny Malaysians or orientals.

Posted on April 20, 2009 at 09:36 PM by Robert Esch

The funniest thing is I was in the process of booking airline tickets for my vacation when I ran across this. Now I know that I will not be flying this airline, And here I was about to book 5 round trip tickets. Thanks for the info. I don't fly an airline that is greedy and senseless.

Posted on April 21, 2009 at 03:03 AM by Elizabeth

I am a UA flight attendant of 35 years! I am appalled and disgusted at UA for this policy. I am so ashamed to be a UA employee lately. If someone is of galant size, why should they be penalized for their girth! A person has the right to self expression and human rights. Why should they be humilated to buy an extra seat. They should be complimentary accomodated to a extra seat or put in First Class. The next time they fly they will remember UA fondly and book, bookperhaps a F class seat after they see the comfort. In these days I treasured passenger is gold compare to the nasty passenger who will be lost revenue and bad mouth UA, hence could lose more than one revenue passenger by remarks made! For one, I am glad that UA has been mentioned as one the airline carriers not to be in business by 2010 as predicted by Wall Street! At one time I was proud of UA now not so much. Shame, shame, shame on you UNITED AIRLINES corporate personnel, your a embarrassement to the industry!

Posted on April 21, 2009 at 12:44 PM by NoName

Oh yeah,

Are they going to have a scale or a measuring tape?
I can just see that play out.

Are they nuts?

Posted on April 21, 2009 at 06:38 PM by Christine

I am utterly sickened by this we are a nation of equal rights we might as well go back to the days of segregation and segregate fat people , totally sickening... and for those who say you can change being fat well I believe you can but what about those who have medical conditions they going to discriminate against you for that reason too.... i will not fly UA....

Posted on April 21, 2009 at 09:06 PM by a

I agree that it may seem "greedy" of the airlines to do this and it probably is, but I also have been that person who has had her space invaded by an overweight person on more than one occasion. It makes me so uncomfortable and annoyed. Perhaps, instead of charging double these airlines could be more accommodating and make their seats larger or offer overweight passengers alternative seating for 50% more.

Posted on April 22, 2009 at 01:42 AM by Gabrielle

This extra charge is totally unfair. The seats have become smaller and smaller to cram more people into the planes.
Yes it is uncomfortable to be next to someone over weight but it is the airlines fault not the passenger.

Posted on April 22, 2009 at 12:13 PM by Marylou

As many have said, it is uncomfortable and unfair to have a larger person encroach onto your seat/armrest. For those who argue medical conditions make them that large, there is such a small % of people affected by this--the vast majority are large because they choose to eat and not exercise. Plain and simple. If you make those choices, you should not infringe on others by taking up their seats. I was on a flight where they sat a large person in first class and proceeded to feed her first class meals even though she paid for coach. Seeing as how I paid for first class, I didn't think that was very fair. On top of which, her very obnoxious daughter ran rampant in first class, opening/shutting window shades loudly and constantly. And no one said a thing while most of us were trying to sleep. I'm so tired of making concessions for others who put themselves in these situations in the first place. How about some accountability?

Posted on April 22, 2009 at 02:10 PM by Shirley

Orientals? The correct term is "Asians."

Posted on April 22, 2009 at 02:14 PM by Shirley

We seem to have no issues with the fact that it costs more to ship a large, heavy package than a small light one, or that there is a minimum charge for any package shipped. How is this any different?

And the selection could be made when ticketing to avoid embarrassment at the airplane: Is your waist less than X? Are your shoulders more than Y inches across? Airlines could even capitalize on the issue by providing wider seats at a 50% higher price.

I, for one, would pay a little extra to an airline that guaranteed me the full width of my seat with no encroachment, whether from a body-builder or an obese person.

Posted on April 22, 2009 at 08:42 PM by Fishman

If you take a few letters out of "ididit"'s name and add a zero for their IQ, you get "IDIOT". Why do people always assume that if someone is large enough to take up more than one seat it is because they are "FAT"? I am 6'6" and have less body fat than most people on the planet. I'm large. Fools like gwen & mim show their true colors on issues like this when they jump to ignorant conclusions.

I've paid extra for suits because I need more cloth. I've paid extra to supersize my fastfood. I don't mind paying extra for a seat that I can be comfortable in. The airlines have overlooked larger clients for years. What other industry do you know that doesn't make accomodations for large people's needs? It's time they stepped up to offer us BIGGER SEATS!

Posted on April 23, 2009 at 03:36 PM by Bruce

"No Name" is NOT a flight attendant for UAL. I worked for United for many years and I know we didn't hire people that are so ridiculous and uneducated. Her grammar and spelling are atrocious! PUH- LEASE!! ALSO, most major airlines have held this policy about charging for a second seat for several decades but it was rarely enforced. UAL is the first to step up to enforce this policy but they certainly won't be the last. Chalk it up to decades of fliers complaining about sharing the flight hip-to-hip with a stranger. As for greedy airlines, I could personally pay to retro-fit the airline with bigger seats if I had a dime for every time someone complained...about the food, or a smelly passenger, or a screaming baby or a kicking toddler or a large passenger or a flight delay or a bumpy ride or lousy movie selection... Suck it up people! It's PUBLIC transportation! If you don't like it, go buy your own plane!

Posted on April 23, 2009 at 03:48 PM by Anna

This was never applied. And couldn't be applied! There are a lot of issues that the airline should have considered before announcing that. The law suits would be queued...

Posted on October 19, 2009 at 06:00 AM by ξενοδοχεία

eww and ick. Personally tired of folks sitting half in my seat, or those that snore and spit when they sleep or those that won't bathe (or wear perfume to hide their odor). C'mon people!! Drive!!

Posted on June 17, 2010 at 09:39 PM by laural

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