Good News for Fat Asses: Airbus Making New Planes With Wider Seats

I know the idea of making fat people more comfortable on planes is pretty terrifying but NOBODY PANIC, all right?

May 25, 2012 at 4:00pm | Leave a comment

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Proof there is sort of no point to my taking Facebook-y pictures on planes, as once we smoosh together for it you can't even tell where we are anyway.

For roughly ten bazillion years now, frequently-flying fatties have suggested an obvious solution to the too-fat-to-fly issues cropping up on a pretty regular basis: Make some of the seats on the plane bigger.

Traditionally, airlines with stated "passenger of size" (LOLZ, sorry, but I find such euphemisms charmingly absurd) policies, most notably employed by Southwest and AirTran, have required fat passengers to purchase a second seat, ostensibly to accomodate their fattery. Unfortunately, this is a lousy solution in most cases.

For one thing, many of the people to whom these policies are (incredibly inconsistently) applied don't need a whole additional seat -- they could probably use a few extra inches at most, for both their own comfort and that of the person beside them. Having to go all-in for a whole second seat can make those few inches outrageously expensive. For another, if you've ever tried to sit across two seats just for a lark, you'll know it's mad uncomfortable. Also it can be tricky to work out the seatbelt situation, a necessity given safety regulations.

Many consumer groups have also disparaged the second-seat policy on the basis that an airline should provide reasonable accommodations to its passengers without an additional charge, citing the Americans With Disabilities Act -- an iffy connection at best, as universally associating obesity with disability presents a whole world of problems on its own, given that not all obese folks have disabilities connected to their size. A couple years ago, Canada actually passed a law making it illegal for Canadian airlines to charge for a second seat, identifying the practice as discriminatory.

Of course, the laws of physics persist, and as a frequent fat flyer myself, I've long said that whatever airline takes up the banner and tries introducing larger seats on its planes will reap a pretty profit for it.

It seems Airbus has been listening, because their new line of A320 aircraft will offer the option of wider seats in economy class. The standard economy seat on an A320 is eighteen inches wide; the XL versions will be twenty inches wide. Ostensibly airlines that order these planes will be able to choose how many XL seats and how many standard-size seats they would like, and will be able to upcharge accordingly for the more spacious ass accommodations.

 "These seats are not meant just for overweight passengers," Airbus' aircraft interiors director Zuzana Hrnkova told journalists, before adding, "Mothers with children may be ready to pay a little more in order to be able to keep their babies in their lap, and large football players may be interested."

Two unnamed American airlines have expressed interest in the bigger seats so far, and I'm hoping one of them is my beloved JetBlue.

I am happy to pay extra for more space on a plane, so long as that space is actually useable, comfortable and safe, unlike the current second-seat policies. I already do. JetBlue charges an additional fee for their "extra room" seats, which also come with such swell perks as a quicker line through security and first crack at overhead bin space, and it's a fee I happily pay, even though the "room" that is extra is in depth and not width -- the extra room rows simply have more space between them. 

(I'll admit that I am a grossly gushing-prone JetBlue enthusiast, as my experiences with them have always been excellent compared to other airlines. It helps that their amazing Twitter people never fail to respond to my questions, comments and praise, and once even quoted lyrics from Bronski Beat's "Smalltown Boy" at me when I complimented their choice of music in the epic JFK JetBlue terminal -- and that is a surefire route to my heart for EVER.)

Of course, paying for extras is a privilege not everyone can afford, and while I can still fit in a standard seat, I wonder at the fairness of making someone who physically requires additional space pay extra, not because they prefer it, but because they can't use the service in question any other way. Culturally, the issue of accomodations for fat people is a touchy one, because conventional wisdom dictates that fat people are fat because of choice -- an assumption that is not always true -- and therefore if paying extra feels like a burden, it's their own fault and so they deserve it.

But in most cases the need for reasonable accomodation isn't about punishment; it's about access. Flying is not the great privilege it once was, and people need to fly for lots of reasons unrelated to leisure or vacation, but rather for work, for medical treatment, or for family emergencies. Either way, whether the additional seats are used as gratis accommodations for some and pay-extra bonuses for others, I'm pretty stoked that Airbus is giving this idea a shot, especially having talked about it with fat-flying friends for years and years.

Now the seats just need to show up on JetBlue so I can start paying for them.