“Obese have right to 2 airline seats –Canada court”

by Walter Olson on November 21, 2008

Declining to hear an appeal by airlines: “Obese people have the right to two seats for the price of one on flights within Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on Thursday.” (Reuters, Nov. 20; CBC). We’ve covered the issue for years, including, e.g., here, here, here (U.S.), here, and here. More thoughts: Scott Greenfield, Ann Althouse.

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The Law Is A Fatass: In Canada, The Obsese Are Entitled To Two Seats For the Price of One on Airlines | Popehat
11.21.08 at 7:04 pm

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1 Kevin Brancato 11.21.08 at 9:01 am

I was trying to gauge how many people will get extra room for an attendant or themselves.

According to the CBC article, the lawprof with intervener status was upset that she had to pay more because of her medical condition, polycystic ovary syndrome, caused her to be obese.

Well, Wikipedia tells me that 5% of ALL women have this condition, and that one in two women who have it are obese.

Can this be right? ~1.25% of the Canadian population will qualify for extra room at the same price — just from ONE medical condition?

2 throckmorton 11.21.08 at 9:08 am

Why is that not discrimination, I am thin and should be able to have two seats as well?

3 John Malkoski 11.21.08 at 10:20 am

The next class of suits will be those people who are bumped from full flights because the airline was unable to determine, until boarding, how many obese people would need two seats.

4 Tom T. 11.21.08 at 11:09 am

Others can comment more effectively on the substantive law, but procedurally, it seems less than accurate to describe “declined to review” as a “ruling.” We don’t typically describe cert. denials by the SCotUS as rulings.

5 Mike S 11.21.08 at 12:05 pm

Tom T – its technically a “ruling” but its not considered a ruling with precedential value and is definitely not an endorsement of the ruling in the courts below.

The most correct way to describe it is “Leave to appeal denied by SCC”.

6 OBQuiet 11.21.08 at 12:11 pm

Would it be legal for them to switch to a seat + total ‘shipping’ weight pricing? Your seat costs you $x and you pay for $y/20kg of your combined luggage and person.

As for suing over being ‘bumped’ to accommodate an obese passenger, they would probably get sued again for bumping the ‘double-wide’ even though if you have two on the same full flight, you can either bump one of them or two thinner passengers.

Worst case would be a convention of ‘large’ individuals increasing their rate of booking and random selection for bumps. You could end up with only 1 paying customer for every three seats since letting the the thinner ones back on might still be considered discrimination. Statistically unlikely in the extreme, but imagine having to bump 2/3 of your customers for a flight that is not overbooked by body count.

7 Jim Collins 11.21.08 at 12:29 pm

You need to take a look at what airlines use to define a “normal” passenger. Then take a look at what defines a “seat” as far as space is concerned. For years airlines have sold space as a luxury in the First and/or Business class sections of the plane, while cramming more and more seats into the other sections. If this ruling affects more than an average of 15 people on a 757 or 767 flight, the airline might find it cost effective to reduce the number of seats and increase an individual seat’s space.

8 Jason Barney 11.21.08 at 12:31 pm

Do the obese have a “right” to extra portions at no additional cost at the restaurant of their choosing?

9 Dave Lincoln 11.21.08 at 12:41 pm

Jim Collins – the problem on the 757 is both seat pitch and width (especially of the aisle) though it is a hell of an airplane – one of the best-flying airliners ever made, especially the -200. But, the “huskie” crowd mostly has a problem with width. If you were to go to 3-2 seating in part of the coach cabin, just for this, that is 1/2 way to 1st class, so they may as well pay – only fair!

Question for OBQuiet: Is suing one obese person the same as suing 2 regular people? Why would they have the advantage, just based on the ability to sit on the judge and squeeze the ever-lovin justice out of him? I don’t know myself – a weighty question, indeed. hmmmm

Jason – I will just have to repeat the words of the wise trial lawyer from The Simpsons: “People, does this look like a man who has had all he can eat?”

10 Dave Lincoln 11.21.08 at 12:50 pm

QBQuiet, on your first point, about basically charging shipping rates for people (after all passenger airlines, just ship “boxes with legs”, as the freight guys will tell you ;-) look:

Each passenger has to have a seat belt fastened, that’s what it comes down to – I really don’t think they have to be supplied with a seat (FAA rules, I mean), i.e. like skydivers, however, common sense and business sense says at least one seat per person. So, even a light-weight takes up a seat, with the exception of “babies-in-arms” of their Mom or Dad – under 2 year-old.

So, if you charged shipping rates, the airline would actually make more money on the “big” uns. That, on the other hand would start to mess up the weight/balance requirements, as right now, everyone but young kids (1/2 wts.) weighs 190 lb in the summer and 195 lb in the winter, period. Now, there are exceptions to this for say sports teams, actual weight calculations for a sumo wrestling team, or a women’s ballet group.

Why doesn’t the court just stay the hell out of it; this is wasting my morning.

11 PatW 11.21.08 at 1:14 pm

I think that everyone is overlooking the fact that the ruling didn’t mention pricing- therefore, people of size will be charged for one seat, but it will be a new class- call it seatplus class- where one ticket costs twice as much as coach. That’s how it should be, eh? The court didn’t say they couldn’t charge more, did it? Or did I miss that part?

12 Jim Collins 11.21.08 at 1:52 pm

Dave,
I used to build the seats for those planes. Every so often our production orders would change the seat width an inch or so. As far as the pitch is concerned the only specification is for the seats leading to the window exits.

My point is that if Canada is going to require their airlines to give a large passemger an extra seat for free, it might be more efficient to look into increasing the seating area for each passenger. Unless a passenger is extremely large, two seats is too much space. This might let the airline end up with more revenue generating seats than they would have if they just allowed large people two seats. I’m a pretty big guy and I’ll tell you that an extra 3 or 4 inches in seat width would accomodate me nicely, without my needing an extra seat.

13 Dave Lincoln 11.21.08 at 2:10 pm

I understand what you are saying (from the first post also), Jim, but where is that room coming from? You can’t eliminate the aisle. So, that would mean going to 2-3 seating and taking out 17 % of the coach class capacity. That’s if you did if for all the coach cabin. If you didn’t, you would be creating a medium (1/2 way between 1st and coach, based on width) class.

Either way, these planes can make money due to their capacity, and reducing it 17 % can wipe out profits big time, or conversely raise fares. I’m not knocking the “raising fares” part, but people don’t seem to want to pay more than the cheapest fare they get off expedia, even if they do have to go from Omaha to Chicago to Dulles Field in order to get to Phoenix so as to save 20 bucks – more power to em.

14 Dave Lincoln 11.21.08 at 2:11 pm

PatW, now you are thinking like a good businessman – the way you have to think in a socialist economy.

15 AZFlyer 11.21.08 at 3:32 pm

Dave writes : “I really don’t think they have to be supplied with a seat (FAA rules, I mean), i.e. like skydivers, however, common sense and business sense says at least one seat per person.”

FAA regs require at least a seat and seat belt per passenger (skydivers have a special exemption). I think the problem with charging shipping rates would be the same as the problem that led to this suit. Obese passengers would again claim that they are being discriminated against.

Personally, I’ve given up on airline travel. The poor service combined with the 50/50 chance that you will not get to where you are going on time, has convinced me that it’s not worth it. Being forced to subsidize the two-seats of the obese passenger next to me would just add insult to injury.

16 Dave Lincoln 11.21.08 at 4:41 pm

Arizona, lots of the reason for the poor service is due to FAA regulations and the rest of the hassle is due to the TSA. That organization should be scrapped with extreme prejudice. I can’t blame you on the “giving up on airline travel” thing.

17 Jim Collins 11.21.08 at 4:54 pm

Dave,
The Canadian Government just took those seats out of play. Say you have 20 people on a flight each of whom require an extra seat, right now those seats are gone under this ruling. Now suppose you remove one seat from each row, (I think we are talking 15 rows here) and space out the remaining seats, even if you have to shift the center aisle over a bit. Now every seat on the aircraft can accomodate all but the most extreme case, at a cost of 15 seats.

18 Dave Lincoln 11.21.08 at 6:15 pm

Why do you come up with 15 rows, Jim? Where did you get that number, or what aircraft? The 757-200 has about 26 or 27 rows in coach and the -300 series has 6 more than that, I believe. Even the smallest 737 has more than 15 rows.

You can’t move the seats around ad hoc (per flight) without causing a 1/2 day delay, and seeing as the planes fly 12 or 15 hours per day, I mean what?? The center aisle doesn’t just shift over, you would need whole new seat rails intalled, most likely, so the plane would have to go to the hangar for a day or a week.

Maybe you are talking about taking out, 17 % (1 seat out of 6) of capacity ahead of time. Well, before the airline goes into bancruptcy, what if 25 fat sumbitches show up last minute?

Ludicrous! Business is business. You want real comfort, you ought to pay for first class, and those “big” people could do the same.

19 K 11.21.08 at 6:49 pm

I’m with Jason. I have a big appetite and want two orders of lobster for the price of one.

My large SUV needs two gallons of gasoline, your Prius needs one. I want the second gallon free.

20 John Rohan 11.22.08 at 4:14 am

Even if you are not obese, what’s to stop a thin person from putting loads of padding under their clothes and claiming they need an extra seat?

This ruling absurd in the extreme, because it requires airline clerks to act like medical professionals and determine who is really obese and who isn’t. Otherwise, they will have to just give out two seats to everyone, regardless. Then what happens when a really, really obese person requires three seats?

21 David Schwartz 11.22.08 at 7:09 am

How is it discrimination if a business charges based on their actual cost to provide a service? And how is it not discrimination if you are entitled to two seats for the price of one if you are obese and not if you are thin? Has the world gone completely bonkers or is it just Canada?

22 Dave Lincoln 11.22.08 at 8:42 am

The whole world except for China. You’re still allowed common sense over there.

(the sad part is, I’m not joking.)

23 John Burgess 11.22.08 at 10:15 am

Under the court’s theory, car makers are in for a big surprise, assuming car makers exist in the future, of course.

An obese person is offset from the steering wheel of a standard auto. That means that they are unable to use the controls in an optimally safe manner. Driving with only your left hand on the steering wheel, for instance, does not comply with the 10/2 hand positioning taught in safety classes. Clearly, auto designers need to make the front seat for one person only, situated in the middle of the driver’s compartment. Surely a court will look favorably on my argument.

I won’t even get into the issue of the unfairness of compact and sub-compact cars and the way they disadvantage the large, compelling them to spend extra money on large vehicles The unfairness should be obvious.

24 Richard Nieporent 11.22.08 at 12:01 pm

This decision makes me fear that in the not too distant future we will be living in the world of “Harrison Bergeron”.

25 Todd Rogers 11.22.08 at 12:21 pm

Of course, the airlines, (like the USP, FedEx, etc…) could charge passengers according to their weight. To be sure, the heavier the gross weight of the aircraft, the more fuel it needs to move from A to B. Thus, they incur higher costs. Let the “heavies” have three seats if they need them. Premium rates apply, of course. I’m also a proponent of heavies getting special handicapped parking spaces at the furthest possible point from their destination.

26 jeff nolan 11.23.08 at 2:36 pm

but what I really want to know is whether they are entitled to extra snacks on board as well? How about a full can of soda instead of just a cup (mostly ice btw)? In all seriousness, I think most people support the theory of public accommodation but when it crosses the line to become absurd what happens is all sympathy and accommodation evaporates.

27 Frank Sandman 11.23.08 at 5:45 pm

I totally support the idea of providing two seats for fat people who need more than one. It is a matter of human right. However, Airlines are not to be
published by a law that encourages self-inflicted physical impairment caused by overeating. Those fat people applying for additional free seat should be subject to an interview and rightful justification.

28 Chris 11.24.08 at 10:01 am

I hate to say that I agree with this ruling half-way. If a flight is not 100% booked, I do not think an obese person should have to pay extra simply because they require two seats. But if the plane is 100% booked, they should have to pay for the extra seat, because at that point they are cutting into the bottom line of the airline. Airlines should attempt to accomadiate the obese passengar if possible, but not be able to just charge them extra for an extra seat if it’s not being used.

29 Dave Lincoln 11.24.08 at 3:22 pm

Of course, Chris, that goes without saying, but I guess I’ve got to say it. The flight attendants don’t want passengers to be uncomfortable. They would try to put the “big guy” next to either an empty seat or a kid. The bad situation occurs with a full flight.

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