Just plane fatBusiness decisions and personal responsibility are in the midst of a mid-air collision over the “plane fat” laws.
By: Bonnie Erbe, The Dickinson Press
Business decisions and personal responsibility are in the midst of a mid-air collision over the “plane fat” laws.
“Director Kevin Smith’s dispute with Southwest Airlines after his removal from a plane over the weekend in Oakland touches on what for years has been a hot-button issue in the airline world: Should obese passengers be required to purchase two seats?”
My answer, and I speak as one who is 30 pounds overweight while not morbidly obese is, yes, when people suffer from conditions where other people are imposed upon, then they should have to pay for the privilege of imposing.
For example, I’m all for taxing smokers or requiring them to pay much higher health insurance premiums, than nonsmokers. First, those of us who do not smoke cost the health insurance pool a while lot less in health care costs. Second, it’s a disgusting habit that hurts us nonsmokers, frequently, in the form of second-hand smoke. Lastly, any measure, no matter how draconian, that encourages people to behave in a way that is less costly to society, should be imposed if it is a condition that can be changed through behavioral management.
Clearly, most overweight people are going to cry discrimination and claim weight control is out of their control. Losing weight is not easy and I’ve lived a lifetime attesting to that truth.
There certainly are many aspects of today’s society and culture that are just as responsible for the obesity epidemic as are obese people themselves. For example, every corporation that produces and markets unhealthy foods is in part to blame. As such, they should be forced to kick in part of their profits to help obese people lose weight, just as the tobacco industry has already been taxed to the hilt and has paid out billions in legal judgments to fund anti-smoking campaigns. But the sooner tobacco companies and junk food producers find it too costly to operate in the United States, the better off all of us will be (except perhaps those companies’ employees.)
Smoking, alcohol and drugs are every bit as addictive as carbohydrates, and it’s only fair to blame the producers as much as the consumers. But the fact is, with bariatric surgery, cosmetic surgery and diet centers galore, an obese person determined to shed pounds can now do so.
So back to the question of airlines penalizing morbidly obese persons for taking up more than one seat. Is it discrimination? Yes, but it’s also a necessary business decision. If someone takes up one-and-a-half seats, it’s unfair to the person that is made uncomfortable and inconvenienced to have to squeeze themselves into a half-seat.
It also costs way more in fuel to transport someone weighing in at 400 pounds, than someone weighing 180. If the airlines just give away that second seat to an obese person, then everyone else (you and I) end up paying for that second seat. We all know almost every flight goes out filled to capacity these days.
Lastly, if a small plane is carrying a handful of morbidly obese people without putting them in two seats, overloading the plane’s weight capacity becomes a major safety issue.
So all factors considered, it seems to me to be fair to allow people to live the way they want to, yet make them pay for personal habits that cost everyone else additional money. The obesity epidemic hikes the cost of a lot more than airfare: health insurance, example number one. Will other overweight persons be upset? I guess so, I hope not. I hope instead they will direct the anger toward getting in shape, as I am now motivated to do.
— Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail her at bonnieerbe@CompuServe.com.