herald

Sunday 19 August 2018

Sinead Ryan: Air rage? Next time i have to turf out my shoes at baggage check and there's a 20 stone fatty in front, you'll see air rage

I CAN totally understand the frustration of the 100 or so students off-loaded from a Ryanair flight in Lanzarote after one of them got annoyed at being charged for an overweight bag at the gate.

I was (almost) charged a similar fat fee last summer after my bag turned out to be slightly obese. After removing a pair of shoes I'd bought and wearing them instead, I got away with it, but ended up feeling intensely annoyed at the, ahem, elephant in the room which was being ignored: the obese passenger behind me who was well over twice my size, was let through with a wave and a smile.

Squishing

Check in staff, so pedantic at making sure your cabin baggage isn't overweight -- to within a pound, completely ignore the massively over-sized passenger who weighs hundreds of times as much, who uses up extra fuel and most likely sits with the armrest up, squishing the life out of their neighbour for the flight.

Southwest Airlines call them "Customers of Size"; Air France, "Passengers with high body mass", while Delta just lump them under "Special Needs", but the uncomfortable truth is that many airlines are beginning to charge extra for outsize passengers, rather than just outsize baggage.

The general rule for single seat purchase is that you must be able to lower both armrests (a legal requirement) and sit with one seatbelt extender. The captain can chuck you off if not, or Jumbo jetters have to pay for two seats.

On Aer Lingus and Ryanair, however, they're getting away with taking up their own seat, and half of yours. There's nothing worse than being in the middle seat of a row and seeing a great big hulking mass lumbering towards you down the aisle. You hope he doesn't have the seat next to you, and your heart sinks when you realise you're going to be squashed beside him for several hours, cutting off your circulation and making a simple trip to the loo an arduous event.

Of course you have to feel sorry for someone whose weight makes it uncomfortable for them to fly, but hey, that's no reason to make it my problem too -- and being squished by someone else's bulk for hours on end is enough to make you vow to take the ferry next time.

Virgin Atlantic was cut down to size (sorry) after a holidaymaker was crushed by an obese woman sitting next to her on a transatlantic flight. Barbara Hewson suffered serious injuries including a blood clot and torn muscle after finding herself pinned in her seat by the 23 stone passenger. She successfully sued the airline for €20,500.

Aer Lingus and Ryanair currently have no policy on over-size people. A poll carried out last year by Michael O'Leary's airline showed 29pc of passengers in favour of a tax on obese passengers. Ryanair said, "a 'fat tax' will only apply to those really large passengers who invade the space of the passengers sitting beside them", but to date they haven't implemented the charge. If we no longer allow smokers on planes because their habit affects other passengers, or drunks because they are disruptive, then why should I have the enjoyment of my flight hampered by someone who is hugely overweight?

There's an argument for asking airlines to provide some bigger seats for such passengers, but this is unlikely in the viciously competitive sector. And we'd all love if every seat was bigger, but that ain't going to happen either.

Banned

In 2008 Canada's Supreme Court banned overweight charging for its flag carrier, stating that it had to provide a second seat free of charge to obese travellers. So, who's likely to win? The PC brigade or the profit makers? As a passenger, I don't care about either -- but I do know I don't want to arrive at my destination black and blue. Who knows? Maybe a fat tax will be a motivator to get fit before you fly.

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