Obesity is a growing problem and since I'm not a health professional I take no stand on whether it's sometimes a medical condition that is beyond the control of the obese. I've fought the battle of the bulge all my life and I weigh myself every day; as soon as that scale heads northward, I take note and do something about it, as this mother and daughter did when they both discovered that they needed a seatbelt extender in order to fly.
But there's no question that obesity causes problems when flying commercially. Economy class airplane seats measure about 17 inches wide and that's not enough for some extra-large passengers, or even for body builders with unusually wide shoulders. These passengers encroach onto other passengers' space, causing discomfort for everyone.
I've long advocated for what I think is an amicable solution: one or two rows of "economy class wide" seats in every plane. We already have economy class "comfort," "main cabin extra," and other economy class rows with extra legroom. These seats are given free to frequent flyers with "status" or to those willing to pay $25-$75 or more each way depending on the route. But these seats don't solve the width issue.
So why not install one or two rows—just 4 or 8 economy seats—in a two-by-two configuration with the standard amount of legroom. No extra perks—no priority boarding, no free snacks, just extra width, and charge the same that airlines now charge for extra legroom.
These seats would be about 8 inches wider. If no "passengers of size" needed or reserved them, then the airlines could give them to their frequent flyers at check in or to lucky passengers by the luck of the draw. This would be a great status perk and solve the "spill over" issue.
The obesity problem, not just in the U.S. but worldwide, isn't going away any time soon. Airlines do have policies to deal with large passengers — usually requiring them to buy a second seat-- but they frequently ignore their own rules. This modest proposal would solve a weighty issue.
Above image via Shutterstock