Here’s an interesting issue I want to approach in a very sensitize way. When does a passenger of size (a large or overweight passenger) on an airplane become a danger such that transport itself places the safety of others in danger?
Should A Passenger Of Size Be Permitted To Block The Aisle On A Flight?
A Live and Let’s Fly reader sent me the following note:
I was on a United flight recently and the passenger across the aisle from me was so huge that he took up not only his seat and the seat next to him, but the entire aisle as well. Flight attendants were unable to move their cart past him and passengers struggled to navigate around him in order to use the lavatory in the front of the economy class cabin. I was scared not only for the passenger, but for those around him. He literally blocked the aisle. What would have happened in the case of an emergency?
The reader sent two pictures as well, which I’ve included above and below because it does not show the gentleman’s face. I post this with caution, because he is a human being and the point of this post is not to mock or denigrate him in any way.
As you can see, the man is indeed blocking the aisle:
I’ve long defended the right of passengers with disabilities, especially young children, to enjoy special accommodations onboard, including exceptions to the mask mandate. In many of these cases, people cannot take care of themselves, which renders them a potential hazard in case of an emergency.
But the only correct answer for those passengers is that they be welcomed onboard with the same dignity as other passengers. So often the trope is that overweight people simply are undisciplined and cannot control themselves. I personally think that is a rather simplistic way to look at the situation and ultimately not helpful in determining who should be allowed or banned from commercial flights.
Regulatory issues of accommodation aside, there is no doubt that this man posed a threat to others by being so large, unable to move easily, and thus created a risk.
But I don’t see any other solution than to let the man fly and accept the risk, just like so many other exceptions we make…
This is a twist on the usual passenger of size issue because the man was blocking the aisle. Without debating personal responsibility versus genetics, I simply don’t see any other path forward except for letting the man travel as he did. Banning him ushers in a whole host of problems…
What are your thoughts on this issue? Insensitive or crude comments will be deleted.
Matthew … here is a question.
What do you do if you are in the middle seat and this person takes 3/4 of your seat and the flight is full and no other seats are available (even 1st class is full) ? Or if you are the passenger on the window and have to get up to go to the bathroom ?? And you can’t hold it !
I have to say I flew last week a d complained to United airlines I purchased 2a and the pax was in 1a the seat leaned all the way back in my lap at an angle. The flight attendant checked on me and we were both nervous about it. She asked him to put seat up and it already was. I had to crawl over the tail to get in my first class seat. United customer rep replied with measurements of six inches of leg room I sent her a picture with 1 inch. If the seat broke I would have had 2 brown legs….. how is this legal …. I even sent a picture
Please email me the picture.
As a person of size myself, I can speak from a unique standpoint. I constantly am very cognizant of the wake that I cause when I walk on board of airplane and pretty much every other place nowadays. There have been times where I have actually decided against doing something simply because I knew other people would be uncomfortable. For example, on a vacation I have opted out of certain tour packages because I would be sharing a seat with someone else. When it comes to the airplane, none of us want to be a burden on those around us. In fact, we want to go invisible. Unfortunately people taking pictures of us on airplanes like this happens way too often. They pretend they are being discreet, they justify their actions for many different things, but despite all that, they just decide that we don’t care and they are in the moral right to take a picture, gawk, complain, and send pictures of us to so they can vent and get something off their chest. I can’t speak for the person in the window seat on this particular situation, but those who sit with me when I buy two seats generally are the happiest human beings because I don’t need the full two seats and generally speaking they end up using that second seat more than I do. Put their extra bags under the seat in the middle, put the table down and put their own items on it, and put all of their belongings on the seat. Now pivoting back to fully on topic. As we are very much aware of our size, we are also very much aware of how other people easily see us as a threat for many different reasons including their own comfort. We rely on those in power to properly inform us when there is problems. It was flash- we have all been told that we are too big, too small, too wide, too heavy for something in our lives and generally speaking we’re not offended by that. If it is indeed a problem, the flight attendant should be the one to say something and preferably the sooner the better. On the other hand, if we were able to get into the seat, through a narrow aisle, and door, then we can certainly egress an airplane. It’s incumbent upon the staff of the airplane and said airline to tell us whether or not there is a problem. Airline policies already have provisions to address this. If you can’t fit in one seat, buy two. If you can’t fit in two seats, buy three. If you don’t have enough leg room, go first class. The airline staff needs to intervene and in the situation highlighted by your reader above, that’s a failure upon ground staff and air crew to not safely handle the situation. I routinely buy two seats on an airplane. This guy needed three. He also needs a seat that has more leg room. Unfortunately, even if an airline offered it, they wouldn’t offer it to him because they would upsell the extra legroom to somebody who is willing to pay more. Because of that, in order to accommodate a gentleman like this at the gate, the airline would have to force somebody who paid extra for a seat into another seat, generating another complaint. Gate staff and air crews are acutely aware of how people perceive their actions and strive to be as non-confrontational as possible. Generally I agree, but if there’s one thing that is consistent about their roles, safety is the number one priority. They need to have better training, recognition, and understanding on how to handle situations like this so that there is no doubt on what they should do. The best airline policy is to have one that allows me the ability to book a second, or if necessary a third seat with at least a possibility of a refund on the extra seats. Frankly we understand if we cannot get the extra seat for free. We are big. Even the clothes we buy usually has an extra charge for it versus normal size of the same garment. But when you have no policy or even chance to refund the second seat if the plane is empty, people chance it. Having a good policy that is easy to accomplish and generate the possibility of refunding the seat if the plane has extra unused seats what’s more responsibility on the flyer and gives the staff an opportunity to prevent what happened above
Overweight people are ruining a lot of things in society.
They are a burden on the health care system.
They were hugely more like to die of Covid 19 (driving up the death stats, making the disease seem worse than it was).
I think airlines should be a lot more aggressive denying boarding.
If you are over 300lbs, pay for 2 seats. If you are over 400lbs, you should be on a no-fly list.
Being fat is a personal choice due to bad nutrition and lack of exercise.
People should have to fit in a sizer, just like luggage.
Unreal that society thinks this is totally fine.
Being fat is a choice.
And instead of imposing discipline, we just lower the bar for everyone.
Wall-E, here we come
“Insensitive or crude comments will be deleted.”
How about deleting the whole post instead? Sharing pictures of this man on your blog is far more insensitive than anything someone could say in the comments section. Have you no shame?
Can YOU identify him, Karen ??
There’s actually already a very simple solution in place, but airlines very rarely enforce it. On United for example, if a passenger can’t lower both armrests due to their size, they need to buy two seats. It’s a simple solution, but it needs to be enforced
There’s no clear answer, and even less without knowing more in this situation. I’m generally the biggest and tallest guy in the room – nowhere near the size of the guy pictured but like him, my frame has problems fitting in a standard economy seat these days. I scrunch in, a lot more successfully than the man pictured, and try to compact myself into the smallest space possible but ultimately there are limits to what you can do. I feel for the guy, having to keep his head askew at some weird angle to avoid hitting the overhead. I do think that for a passenger who’s that size, a few things might help everyone involved: Good personal hygiene, buying an extra seat where practical, and trying to pick flights with a higher likelihood of empty seats. I’m presuming that if the guy was rich he’d be in first class or flying private.
Some interesting comparisons: a suitcase protruding into the isle would need to to stowed or checked, a child running up and down the isle would be asked to sit down, someone with a pet or service animal blocking the isle would be asked to move it, a disabled passenger with a cane or oxygen tank blocking the isle would be asked to move it. The limit seems to be reached when it’s an adult and their body blocks the isle that there’s nothing to be done. I’m not making a judgement call – just noting that seemingly similar circumstances dictate different outcomes.
“They were hugely more like to die of Covid 19 (driving up the death stats, making the disease seem worse than it was).”
They made the disease worse than it *would have been otherwise*. If these people did die driving up the stats, that would make the disease just as bad as it appeared. People died. Isn’t that a bad thing, regardless of how overweight these people were? Human lives are human lives.
It’s a safety issue. Full stop. No one should ever be allowed to block the aisle.
Perhaps we need a federal law that requires airlines to provide safe seating for large passengers.
Or a federal program in which large people can apply for funding for alternative transportation: private plane, rail car, bus, or limousine.
You cant allow people to endanger others safety. If your body needs more than one seat pay for it. I am entitled to the seat I paid for so are all the other passengers. One person is not entitled to disrupt every other passengers flight. It is certainly reasonable to make reasonable accommodations for a number of issues but this passenger went beyond that standard.
I don’t see a photo of a specific person, rather, an outline of a body type. A body type that does not fit in economy. Their problem, not mine.
Looks like he was manspreading in the photos. Perhaps if airplanes have more legroom he may have been able to place his legs in his row?
I rarely reply, but his weight could be due to an injury or medical condition. We don’t know/you don’t know.
He could be attempting to lose weight.
I’m glad that your perfection in life has granted you complete and total freedom.
Also, it’s been painfully clear that airlines have shrunk the space to capture more $$. Article after article has provided the information.
As a point of fact, I am a). Short (I prefer space efficient) I am stalky,
However I have been on flights where I have limited room. b). My travel companion is 5 ‘ 10 with roughly the same same short legs. He has trouble getting comfortable.
Is mere build a disqualifer? Let’s say 6’5″ and 320. With a 43 waist and 37 inseam
How does the airline accommodate him?
In my humble opinion the same as it does someone with a disability, they should be required to be seated in the front near the bulkhead
They should if it’s a full flight purchase 2 or even 3 seats.
Yeah I agree with Don. Chunks like this should not be able to fly. They are a danger to the whole plane.
Eventually, there will be a plane crash where the obese passenger blocked the exits and slowed everyone down so no one got out alive. The lawyers will have a field day.
I certainly hope you never experience adversity in your life. Real, imagined, self-imposed, an accident/tragedy.
Your empathy and compassion know no bounds — truly staggering!
I am not sure you would fit the definition of “human being.”
Hopefully you’ve limited your contribution to the gene pool.
the point of this post is not to mock or denigrate him in any way.
Which is what some of the commenters did.
Blocking the aisle should not be permitted. How about occupying 3 seats?
Early in the pandemic, I thought there was a business trip that I had to take. It ended up being cancelled. If I flew on the flight, I was willing to buy 8 extra seats (3 in front, 2 in my aisle, and 3 behind me).
There’s no where on the plane for an individual of that size to safely sit without blocking an aisle – unless he bought out the plane so no other pax needed to use the aisle.
Too wide for a first class seat where armrests don’t raise. Same for the bulkhead. Too tall to scoot over to the middle seat in a row of 3, even in Economy Plus, where he’s seated. Exit row possible to fit if he uses all 3 seats but he can’t operate or evacuate, rendering that unsafe.
This is well beyond a typical person of size who doesn’t buy two seats.
At some point safety of the other passengers takes precedence.
If you are going to allow the blocking of the aisle, the aircraft manufactures and air carriers should be required to demonstrate the emergency evacuation time can be met with a person of this size on the test plane. If not possible, something needs to change—either being able to be seated without blocking the aisle, wider aisles with fewer seats per row, or something else.
This is not acceptable. None of us have any God given right to fly. His presence on the plane endangers the safety, comfort and convenience of everyone around him, and maybe even beyond that. I don’t care why he’s that big and a why is actually irrelevant. Unless airplanes are required to and have already installed special seats to accommodate very large people, they should not be allowed to fly with this kind of seating arrangement. Assuming such a person has the means to buy out a row or two, or to fly in a premium class cabin where seating him does not create physical discomfort or safety issues for those around him, that is not OK. And him being OK with doing this is also problematic, doesn’t think about the people next to him or around him.
It’s just the luck of the draw to end up seated next to a fat person. In my observation most of them try to accommodate for the ‘overhang’ as much as they can, and seem acutely aware of any discomfort or inconvenience they may be causing to those around them. On a short flight it’s never much of an issue.
On the other hand, it is disgraceful that some people think it’s OK to take pictures of others without consent. It’s unbelievably rude, insensitive, thoughtless and completely unacceptable, regardless of motive, unless it’s a matter of overwhelming significance, like a threat to life and limb.
Passenger of size? All passengers have size – some small, some medium, some large, some extra large. It benefits no one from using unclear, sanitized language. Such language does not get the point across clearly. I understand you don’t want to offend fat or obese people, and that is fine. However, large passengers, rather than passengers of size, is a much better choice of words. One can be blocked from aisle access by a large passenger. That is the simple truth. It is not offensive to be clear. And since airlines are disciplined about keeping the access to aisles clear from material things such as handbags and other carry-ons, they should be equal diligent in preventing people from blocking access to the aisle. Access to the aisle in case of an emergency is either important or it isn’t. It doesn’t depend on the nature of any blockage.
Ever notice that sometimes reserved seats for disabled at a movie theater, or ballpark are sometimes better than yours? It seems to me the airlines should try “accommodate” all persons whether due to laws or common decency. Accommodations across the spectrum of society take many forms. Some buildings have ramps, some elevators, some automatic doors, some doormen. With the exception of Southwest, mainstream airlines typically have 2 or more seat sizes and 2 or more seat pitches. A man of this stature should be required to purchase a seat in which he fits. If a subsidy to upgrade a traveler to economy plus or first class was necessary, would it be so terrible? Maybe the subsidy comes from the FAA, HHS, or DOT, FTA, or an airline fund? Wouldn’t that be a human way to deal with an issue like this? If SpaceX can catch a rocket on a drone ship, surely airlines can install seats that can be “flipped” up for more leg room even in coach (for a cost). So many creative possibilities; so many judgements.
It’s so tiring to to the constant drivel of the “you don’t know their situation” nonsense trotted out by apologists that can’t see the facts of this safety issue for what I they are. STFU already. This isn’t about how they became (morbidly) obese or “big and tall with broad shoulders but not ‘obese’”. That’s completely immaterial and should never factor into the equation. The pure fact of the matter is that someone is near NOW, at this exact moment of the flight. Nobody should even discuss why they’re of size or if they’re working on it. Again, immaterial. If the facts of the situation are that you:
A. Pose a safety risk due to your size, as in the pic, then you simply should be forced to purchase a seating arrangement that WILL accommodate you. If that simply isn’t possible, you do not board the plane.
B. Occupy so much seating real estate outside their own that other passengers are unable to sit comfortably in their own seat or are unable to exit the row in a timely manner in an emergency or for their own personal needs.
I come from a fat family. My parents routinely fly First or buy the entire row. But not everyone can afford that. And those who can’t afford to do so aren’t likely to just drive instead. No, they’ll wedge themselves into the seat like this person.
Airlines need to be held accountable to enforce this and we, as a society/air-traveling society need to dispense with the PC garbage about hurting someone’s feelings by pulling them aside to discuss their seating arrangement, or inability to be seated. This can be done privately and efficiently. But people need to toughen up.
80% of the patients admitted to the hospital with covid were obese or overweight. How did this guy make it through that? Good lord, what did the pilots do for weight and balance on that plane? I’m all for warning that size of person.
Please take the first picture down. The second picture is more discreet and proves your point.
I have to agree that the first picture looks photoshopped; compare the visible portions of the man’s seat with the one in front of him. What happened to the arm rest?
The arm rest is obviously up. I feel bad for him. You don’t know the situation for why he flew or whether he bought two or three seats. Maybe he never flies but had to attend a funeral? Imagine if the guy in front of him reclined.
Air travel might not be a god given right but ultimately it’s a right to not be discriminated against and I would like to see a discriminatory lawsuit brought about if airlines started denying boarding. As someone mentioned, why he’s that size is immaterial. Instead, airlines should be required to provide adequate seating for people of size. Maybe the back two rows if needed? That person isn’t a safety hazard. Forcing that person to sit in cramped conditions is. Ultimately I would think it’s up to the airlines to accommodate them in a reasonable manner.
It’s likely he’s overweight from overeating but he could have another condition contributing. Thyroid issues, pituitary issues. Instead of judging treat people with kindness. Everyone has a cross to bear. His unfortunately is transparent to everyone.
I agree that there’s a safely issue due to him blocking the aisle. But this is a slippery slope. What next? People 65+ years aren’t allowed to have aisle seats due to their age/ability to evacuate quickly? We wouldn’t want someone to perish because granny couldn’t move fast enough and trapped someone in their window seat.
Easy solution: eat less, exercise more.
It’s a math problem: burn more calories then you take in and you will lose weight.
I have been an aircraft mechanic for over 45 years and own and operate many aircraft under FAA Part 135 which is charter but basically equivalent to FAA Part 121 which determines the operating parameters of the airline. Under these rules, the aircraft must be able to be completely evacuated in the event of an emergency within 90 seconds, as we are all aware with the advent of carry on baggage, smaller seats with larger people occupying them, disabled passengers, etc., no one that travels today (and I fly an average of 125,000 miles per year on the airlines) could say that this would be possible. This is a major concern, so much so that the FAA has been chastised for its recent test of this action as they used healthy, young and normal sized, non-disabled people to conduct the tests. The FAA has been ordered to conduct more tests with a more normal passenger mix as realized on todays’s flights. Also, there are specifics for how much a seat, and the seat rails on the floor, are rated for in weight and it is unlikely that the gentleman shown falls within those weight limits. I realize that most might think this is silly, but it has real world impact in the event of an emergency or accident. These limits are in the basic Airworthiness Limitations published in what is called the Type Certificate Data Sheet for the specific aircraft.
Another example is on Southwest, where the disabled (God bless them but this is reality) are boarded first and typically take the seats in the front several rows. I was on a flight last week where 12 passengers in wheelchairs were boarded. I have written to Southwest and the FAA regarding this practice as it would be difficult in the event of an incident or accident that required a fast exit of the aircraft to leave via the forward emergency exits (which is one reason I typically sit in the rear of the aircraft). The boarding agent at the gate makes a big deal out of announcing that those pre-board passengers cannot sit next to an exit door, but the potential blockage of the aisle leading to the 2 forward exits would likely be blocked by people who may not be very mobile and it would be a problem to get out quickly, interesting.
I have been an expert witness in legal cases where the aircraft seat or limitations were exceeded either by large individuals, cargo or heavy baggage and in every case the defendant has lost the case and in some cases there was no insurance coverage as it was determined that the aircraft was being operated beyond the manufacturers limits and therefore was not operated legally and within the parameters of the manufacturer or FAA Part 121 or 135, so coverage was void.
These are real life scenarios that most of the flying public do not realize are in place, the airlines often ignore these limitations as fortunately it is unlikely that an incident or accident will occur.
He should have been put in a row by himself. And if that wasn’t available then he has to wait for the next flight that would be available for this.
The passenger needed to buy two seats. This is not acceptable in any way for safety reasons by blocking the aisle, as well as the other passengers that were seated in the row.
No matter what the disability is – this is jeopardizing the entire plane.
I’m surprised to see no mention of the Southwest policy, where (the last time I read about it) a “customer of size” buys multiple seats but are ultimately refunded the price above one seat. Of course this is simplified by Southwest only having three fare buckets. I think it’s a compassionate and thoughtful approach to what is clearly a safety hazard in the case of the UA flight noted above. This plane should never have taken off with the passenger blocking the aisle. Surely the accountants and lawyers would find a way for carriers to eventually get a tax deduction for offering free seats under the ADA.
I fully agree that passengers of size deserved to be treated with dignity and respect (sadly a precious commodity in today’s world).
Perhaps the US could a version of the EU (I believe) safety rules regarding disabled people that require them to be seated next to the window. Then the safety problem is largely solved (they can still buy 2-3 seats as needed). A bit macabre perhaps but not without reason as we can plainly see.
“But I don’t see any other solution than to let the man fly and accept the risk…”
Flying is not a right – don’t businesses have options to set common sense rules, like the armrest down rule?
Geez, there are a lot of 1930’s style ‘good Germans” posting here. Many justifications to shame and humiliate people of size. Sure, some of them are where they are because of poor life choices. But many are not; they have genetic traits or medical conditions that lead to this. It’s not for us to judge. As far as accommodation on an aircraft, when someone is bigger than could fit in a single seat, they should have to purchase the number of seats that they need to occupy – as a practical matter. I’m tall and have a big frame (though not obese as being discussed here) and am familiar with paying extra for 3XLT clothes, these are things you have to accept.
But trying to stain an entire group of people for ruining things for others, like the health care system (looking at you Don), is incredibly intolerant and nasty. Yet I’d bet big money that Don voted for the so-called “party of tolerance” (i.e. the ones now dictating behavior) in the last election. Admittedly, this last paragraph is gratuitous, but the nastiness of many people does piss me off.
I think all the public transportation industries should be required to accommodate all passengers. The photos are evidence of the airline’s failure to safely seat various sized customers AND to ensure the safety of other passengers (comfort is never guaranteed unfortunately). If airlines can figure out how routinely to keep planes aloft they ought to be able to figure this out. That the crew allowed the plane to take off under these unsafe circumstances seems criminal to me and says nothing about the person who’s picture was surreptitiously taken.
Definitely don’t put them near emergency exits as they can block them in an emergency. Rides have height and weight requirements. Some rides have height restrictions (kid rides). It’s sensible for planes to have them. Seats and aisles are only so big. It
Definitely don’t put them near emergency exits as they can block them in an emergency. Rides have height and weight requirements. Some rides have height restrictions (kid rides). It’s sensible for planes to have them. Seats and aisles are only so big. It’s bogus that fat people can claim to be disabled to get disability protections. Even disability protections are excessive and unwarranted. Businesses and service operators can’t be expected to accommodate everyone with every peculiarity and condition. If you have problem, get a special charter.
Fat people above 300 pounds shouldn’t be allowed to fly. If you are 310, then lose weight.
Did something change to the rule that you MUST buy 2 seats if “oversized”? Was it ever enacted? That would solve the problem that the passenger could sit comfortably and would not a hazard or inconvenience for fellow passengers if god forbid an emergency occurs or access to aisle. And I will say it…morbidly obese individuals should not expect the world to operate around them in sharing space and safety. Let the hate comments begin!
@ Matthew — Answer: about 300 pounds before that picture was taken…
The right to swing your fist doesn’t just end at my face, it ends well before you cause me to fear you’re threatening to punch me. In an emergency (and aren’t all the inconveniences, rules, and restrictions airlines and airports impose all about safety in a worst case scenario), these severely obese people pose a risk to passengers’ ability to evacuate, their chairs could crush and deform causing injuries to others around them, their seatbelts could snap and turn them into 500-lb. projectiles that crush everyone around them. It’s time to just acknowledge some people are simply too huge to be safely permitted on airplanes.
From a comfort standpoint, why should we care about the embarrassment or additional costs of someone buying a second seat, when they think nothing of the inconvenience and discomfort they choose by raising their armrest to spill into their seatmate’s seat? Better that their seatmate suffer in silence?
The airlines need to have the fortitude to just say, “I’m sorry, but no, you may not board the plane.”