Nutritionist Fed Up With Secondhand Fat

The BBC reports that John Tickell, a "leading Australian nutritionist," thinks "society should take a more hardline stance against obesity and get tough on fat airline passengers." Specifically, he thinks it's only fair that fat passengers pay more for their seats than thin passengers do, since they contribute disproportionately to fuel costs. "I think we're a bit too nice, we're a bit too precious about minority groups," says Tickell. "I think the majority group must have something to say too."

Scott Stein suggests that Tickell visit a playground, where he could "find plenty of evidence of coddling of fat people—because, as you surely know, fat people are never teased, mocked, and humiliated by their peers." In any case, Stein notes, thin people are no longer "the majority group" in Australia or the United States; two-thirds of adults in both countries are considered "overweight." Then, too, if fuel consumption is the real issue, airlines ought to charge tall people more than short ones. Why focus just on width when height also contributes to weight?

One reason, apparently, is that Tickell wants to "highlight his country's obesity crisis." But the head of the Australasian Society for the Study of Obesity, Tim Gill, objects to Tickell's punitive approach. "It's not fair to single out those people who have a problem, which is already impacting greatly on their life, and make them feel like pariahs," he says.

Why is it that public health types rarely raise similar objections to propaganda that mocks and denigrates smokers, smoking bans that push them into the street, and taxes that punish them for behavior that, according to anti-tobacco activists, they can't really control? Before you say "it's the secondhand smoke," consider Tickell's tirade against fat fellow fliers:

I fly Sydney to Perth—five hours—and being totally disadvantaged by some huge person next to me literally flopping over into my seat. Why should I pay the same as them?

Tickell's proposed solution, of course, does not really address the problem of secondhand fat. It makes more sense to assign obese people two seats, and then the question is whether they should have to pay for the extra seat. Of course they should, Michael Lynch argued on reason onlineback in 2002, when Southwest Airlines announced that it would start enforcing a longstanding policy to that effect. My own view (Mike's too, I think) is that airlines should neither be forbidden to charge people above a certain size for an extra seat (based on anti-discrimination laws, say) nor required to do so (to satisfy social engneers like Tickell). As with smoking rules in bars and restaurants, each airline should have to weigh the negative and positive reactions from its customers in deciding which policy makes the most sense.

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  • ||

    Sullum, NO! How will companies know what to do if the pandering politicians don't enforce uniformity? That lead to smokers seeking out pro-smoking establishments and the thin choosing airlines who charge by weight. What's another name for such a situation? UTTER CHAOS!

  • ed||

    airlines should neither be forbidden to charge people above a certain size for an extra seat (based on anti-discrimination laws, say) nor required to do so

    That's what "should be" of course, but ever-increasing governmental intrusions into private matters makes that point moot. I'd like to see an airline be free to offer fatties big discounts if they'd agree to stand at the rear of the plane, holding hand straps like bus passengers, for the entire flight. Would the obese take 'em up on it for a 50% discount? Should they be free to? I think so.

  • ||

    That would lead...

  • VM||

    "Why should I pay the same as them?"

    you're probably not, anyways, so no worries, mate.

  • ||

    I'd like airlines to adopt guy-girl-guy seating. I hate it when it's me an two other guys with our shoulders jammed together while across the the aisle three women are sitting with their legs curled under them.

    *I'm not a large man by any means- 5'8" 175lbs.

  • ||

    Second-hand fat. That phrase invokes in me a thought: When you see a fat kid, don't you usually see a fat parent or parents nearby? Doesn't the very existence of fat people have a causal relationship with the growth of girth in persons in close proximity to the fat vector? Isn't this "second-hand fat" bad for our children? Could I successfully start my own space program with the money I could make (in conjunction with state attorneys general) in suing all of the people responsible for second-hand fat?

  • jac||

    I think if they are going to base prices on weight they would have to take into account total weight including carry on bags and checked luggage. That would change everything.

  • fyodor||

    Perhaps the reason libertarianism is such a tough sell is that its common sense approach to certain matters can be kinda boring. How much more fun it must be to grapple with such great issues as whether or not airlines should charge fat folk for two seats than it is to simply admit that it's the airlines' business, not yours.

  • ||

    I'd rather charge people more for bags in overhead storage since they're the obnoxious ones getting in the way of boarding passengers, slowing down the de-planing process, constantly up and down to retrieve some worthless item.

    Make wider seats for large people, put them in the rear of the plane.

    And of course, you'd have to charge less for blondes.

  • thoreau||

    How much more fun it must be to grapple with such great issues as whether or not airlines should charge fat folk for two seats than it is to simply admit that it's the airlines' business, not yours.

    Especially since there are "fairness" arguments that can be made for either side. And everybody wants things to be "fair", right? So arguing that no solution should be imposed means you're accepting the risk that an "unfair" situation will emerge. (And that's true no matter which approach one considers "fair.")

    But VM makes the best point: Airline pricing is already so weird that it's not about fat people paying more or the same or whatever. It's about a fat person with a particular credit card and flier program buying his ticket on a particular website at a particular time paying the same price or more as a skinny person in the same program with the same credit card on a particular website at a particular time.

    When you put it that way, you might as well call it unfair that skinny person A paid less than skinny person B.

  • Steve||

    I prefer flying with fat people, especially if they have a window seat. That way if the window ever blows out there's more of a chance that a fat guy will be able to plug the leak.

  • LarryA||

    Fat is no big deal. I'd a lot rather they double your fare if you didn't shower that morning. Or if you use industrial grade perfume. Or if your videodevice beeps and whistles. Or if you try to strike up a conversation. Or if you ignore my efforts to strike up a conversation. Or...

    We better just pass a "that person pisses me off" surcharge and be done with it.

  • ||

    Steve wins the thread!

  • ||

    I think if they are going to base prices on weight they would have to take into account total weight including carry on bags and checked luggage. That would change everything.

    Last I checked, fat people have larger, more massive clothes. Double whammy.

  • Jozef||

    Since skinny people are in minority now, why not the opposite approach and have airlines hike up the price for everybody and then give discounts to people who weight under a certain amount?

    Or, instead of charging per seat they'd have everybody to step on a scale and charge per pound?

    I'd probably pay above average air fare, but I wouldn't have problems with either approach.

  • ||

    I'm pretty fat and y'know, I don't see any problem with the airline requiring a person to purchase two tickets. But, uh, I don't care how over-booked they are, if I've paid for two seats, I'm oozing into both of 'em and that's that.
    Oh, and I think anyone who travels with babies or young children should be required to purchase say, at least the surrounding 6-12 seats to create a DMZ around their little brats.

  • fyodor||

    So arguing that no solution should be imposed means you're accepting the risk that an "unfair" situation will emerge.

    THAT'S WHY WE'RE SUCH BASTARDS!!!

    Good articulation of that point, thoreau.

    And as far as airline pricing goes, that's very true, and it makes it additionally ironic since it's airline pricing that libertoids sometimes cite as an example where the public accepts differential pricing although it often seeks to impose arbitrary notions of "fairness" on other industries.

  • Episiarch||

    If the airline would just hand out free Valium, painkillers, and booze (they already do that one) everyone could sleep or get well and nobody would care about their seats.

    I would fly a lot more, that's for sure. Oh wait, I already take all that shit when I fly anyway. Never mind.

  • ||

    I concur with the "total weight" approach; passenger and baggage.

    And while we're on the topic of airlines, there was an interesting little post over at Portfolio.com (find it yerself) regarding delays at Kennedy (and everywhere else). Hint: why aren't takeoff and landing slots auctioned to ensure efficient allocation?

  • ed||

    When I am King Of The Airways I will ban the elderly. They appear to be entirely befuddled by modern flight protocols. I will also ban iPods because the sound leaks out of those idiotic earbuds and bothers me. I will allow smoking. Big fat cigars! At quadruple the normal fare. No babies! Ever! All the stewardesses will be hot, and every one will be a blond woman. No prissy stewards! Free Scotch for everyone who checks his bags instead of carrying them on. Strippers on weekend flights! Two restrooms for every five passengers! I'll call this "Heaven Airways." Fly me!

  • ||

    I would like to ban politicians from airplanes as well as every other public place.

  • ||

    Specifically, he thinks it's only fair that fat passengers pay more for their seats than thin passengers do, since they contribute disproportionately to fuel costs.

    Cost is not equal to price.

    'Nuff said.

  • ed||

    And no politicians!

  • Windypundit||

    Charging for the extra room makes sense (if the airlines want to) but the fuel argument is silly. The most popular commercial aircraft in the world, a Boeing 737, weighs 76,000 pounds dead empty. With about 150 passengers, that's 500 pounds per passenger without the actual passenger.

    If the average passenger weighs 150 pounds, then someone carrying even an extra 100 pounds is only adding an extra 15% to his share of the plane's weight. It's even less if the plane isn't full because the allocation per passenger is higher.

    Also, weight is only one factor in fuel consumption. Using a Boeing 737 fuel planner for Microsoft Flight Simulator, a 1000-mile flight at 30000 feet, and a price for jet fuel of $2.70/gal, an extra 100 pounds requires $3.63 worth of extra fuel.

    It's probably not worth the trouble.

  • thoreau||

    Also, weight is only one factor in fuel consumption. Using a Boeing 737 fuel planner for Microsoft Flight Simulator, a 1000-mile flight at 30000 feet, and a price for jet fuel of $2.70/gal, an extra 100 pounds requires $3.63 worth of extra fuel.

    And now we hit on a point that is almost thermodynamic in nature: Information is expensive. If acquiring the information to more efficiently allocate $3.63 requires spending more than $3.63 (or turns people off and thereby loses a customer who would have paid more than $3.63) then it makes more sense to adopt a fee that disregards the information.

  • ||

    I'd like airlines to adopt guy-girl-guy seating. I hate it when it's me an two other guys with our shoulders jammed together while across the the aisle three women are sitting with their legs curled under them.

    *I'm not a large man by any means- 5'8" 175lbs.



    That reminds of my most recent flight to Phoenix. On a plane full of retirees, most of whom were small women, the airline managed to seat three 20-something guys together. I was the smallest of the three, and I'm 6'2" with fairly broad shoulders. Not the most comfortable flight I've ever had.

  • R C Dean||

    So arguing that no solution should be imposed means you're accepting the risk that an "unfair" situation will emerge.

    Imposed solutions are by their nature arbitrary, and hence "unfair" in at least some situations. If you think "fairness" is relevant to a given set of circumstnaces, then question is whether the imposed solution is more likely to result in unfairness than the natural unfolding of events.

  • ||

    Since skinny people are in minority now, why not the opposite approach and have airlines hike up the price for everybody and then give discounts to people who weight under a certain amount?

    Then we'd start hearing news reports about a soaring epidemic of eating disorders among young women who are trying to conform to society's unrealistic expectations of beauty and save on airfare.

  • Anvilwyrm||

    I fly a huge amount, and my issue is that I frequently do not get what I have purchased, i.e. a full seat. One memorable occasionI have sat next to a woman who needed both armrests up, and then basically "spread" onto the seats on either side. I got about 1/2 of my seat.

    I don't care what you charge other people, but I deserve to get what I paid for. I wich there was a way to put a hard division between the seats, to keep everyone on their own side.

  • ||

    Then we'd start hearing news reports about a soaring epidemic of eating disorders among young women who are trying to conform to society's unrealistic expectations of beauty and save on airfare.

    Good. Fat women are digusting.

  • ||

    Digusting? Don't you mean "digesting"? ☺

  • Reformed Republican\'s Dad||

    NOW APOLOGIZE TO YOUR MOTHER RIGHT NOW, YOUNG MAN. THE REFORMED REPUBLICAN SHALL BE SENT TO BED WITHOUT DINNER UNLESS YOU APOLOGIZE!!

  • ||

    "Then, too, if fuel consumption is the real issue, airlines ought to charge tall people more than short ones. Why focus just on width when height also contributes to weight?"

    This is stupid and u know it. A silly joke that undermines the article. Was your editor asleep?

  • ||

    To begin with, I believe that all people should be allowed to do whatever they want to their own bodies, whether it is taking drugs, getting tattoos, or becoming obese. It's your body, your life. It is the only thing you truly have any control over, apart from getting ill and eventually dying.

    On the other hand, that supposed right comes with social responsibilities. If you take drugs, or drink alcohol, then you must avoid [potentially] harming others in the process, e.g. driving.

    As for obesity, get as fat as you want. I don't care. But like the above, it does require some social responsibility. If I pay for an already cramped airline seat, then I quite rightly expect to have that seat all to myself. I don't want someone encroaching my personal space, which I paid for. I've already been treated like a criminal before I even boarded the plane, and the last thing I want is someone's arms and legs in my 10 inches of seat making me rather uncomfortable. It's inconsiderate and socially reprehensible.

    Actual flight story: Flying from London to Sydney (with a stopover in Hong Kong, thankfully, otherwise the 23-hour flight would have killed me), I'm in the middle seat with a 300-pound woman in the aisle seat next to me. Behind me, some kid with ADD is constantly kicking my seat, and slamming his tray table, too.

    The woman next to me smells terrible, like she's soiled herself. I begin to wonder if it's possible that she's so fat that she is unable reach behind and wipe herself. This seems likely. She's reading a newspaper; she can't read it without holding it over my seat space. Meanwhile, *kick* *kick* *kick* from behind (do the parents say anything to their kid? No. When I turn around in my seat -- no easy feat, mind you -- and tell them what is happening, they glare at me as if it's my fault). I need to get up or else I'm going to be arrested for murder. I ask the massive woman if I can get by. She grumbles about it. It takes her 5 minutes to extract herself from the seat. But I'm finally free.

    I approach a stewardess (see, it used to be stewardess, and it was good then, because you would know immediately that I was talking about a woman, not a man, and I don't need to add any further adjectives to describe the person -- it was never meant as derogatory or demeaning to someone's gender), and ask if I can please be seated elsewhere after explaining the situation. "The plane is full," she said rudely. *Turbulence* -- the seat belt light goes on, and the captain makes announcement. I begin to panic.

    "Please take your assigned seat, now," said the stewardess.

    "Yes, but, see..."

    "There's nothing I can do," she said, and she turns away, already forgetting about me.

    "Look, I'd like to upgrade. Here's my credit card. There must be a seat in Business or First Class. I'll pay any amount of money. Please," I said, with genuine tears streaming down my face.

    "We cannot do that." No apologies. "You must take your seat right now."

    Left with no choice, I go back to my seat, wait for 5 minutes so stinky fat woman can let me pass, and have my seat kicked for the next 10 hours.

    So while you have every right to get as obese as you want, if you're obesity affects anyone else, such as what happened to me, then you're an inconsiderate bastard. I don't care about fuel costs and weight limits. What I care about is getting what I paid for in the first place, which should have been only a cramped seat and really crappy airline food.

    I will now only fly in Business class or higher. I can't afford it, but it's the only way I can guarantee that all of the passengers will arrive safely at their destinations.

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