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.