On Friday, Southwest Airlines announced its decision to more strictly enforce a 22-year-old policy of charging obese passengers for a second seat. The airline says this is necessary to ensure that all passengers receive the space they pay for, but it is a discriminatory policy,that will only help to further stigmatize an already heavily insulted – though growing – population of Americans.
Southwest Airlines is not the only airline to have such a policy in place. Both Continental and American have similar rules. While the airlines identify the rising population of obese people in the United States as an indicator of how necessary this policy is, it seems only detrimental in the long run.
How will the airlines enforce this rule? Will ticket and booking agents ask passengers for their height and weight over the phone? Or will they ask for their hip and waist measurements when people call to make reservations?
Just as no employer can ask these types of questions, no airline should be able to either; the principle is the same, discrimination.
Southwest does allow passengers to receive a refund on the second seat if the flight is not sold out, but with fewer flights being offered, this is less of an option and more of a wet cloth used to stymie the anger over this sensitive issue.
While overweight people may feel uncomfortable traveling in small airline seats, it should be their choice whether they purchase an extra seat.
Air travel is expensive enough, and people should not have to pay twice the amount of money a “skinny” person does just to take a flight.
Southwest Airlines should seriously reconsider its stance on this issue. With the airlines in trouble since Sept. 11, they don’t need to be alienating anyone, overweight or not.