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Are Airplane Seats Safe for Overweight Passengers?

Are Airplane Seats Safe for Overweight Passengers?

The rise of obesity has sparked a lot of discussion about overweight passengers and the confined spaces inside airplanes. Most of the controversy has focused on whether overweight or obese people should be required to purchase two seats if they can’t fit comfortably in one, or whether airlines should include some “extra wide” seats for a premium price. These are largely comfort issues, both for larger people and for the folks sitting near them. But are traditional airplane seats actually safe for overweight passengers? Perhaps not.

Outdated safety requirements

Airplane seats and seat belts are tested with crash dummies designed 20 years ago that project the weight of the average person at 170 pounds. Today, however, the average weight for men is 194 pounds and is 165 pounds for women. The ability of safety implements in airplanes to protect heavier passengers is largely unknown (New York Times).

Many have begun to recognize the issues associated with outdated safety requirements and propose testing airline safety mechanisms with heavier dummies that more accurately reflect the size and weight of today’s airline passengers. Robert Salazar, a scientist at the Center for Applied Biomechanics at the University of Virginia, said, “You’d be amazed at how a large person blasts through that restraint” (New York Times).

The potential consequences of seat belts failing to restrain heavy passengers poses a safety risk for everyone on the aircraft, for the same reason that passengers are required to stow luggage securely in overhead bins or under their seats. Any object (including a person) moving freely about the cabin turns into a potential projectile.

Other airline obesity issues

Overweight and obese passengers can also affect the balance of an airplane by adding excess weight and taking up valuable space — and even heavy flight attendants have drawn criticism. In 2010, 28 flight attendants from Turkish Airlines were grounded and suspended on unpaid leave for being too heavy. This followed a 2009 incident when Air India fired ten flight attendants for being overweight, although they were reportedly fired more because of their appearance than their ability to do their jobs.

Obesity is clearly going to be an issue in the United States for the foreseeable future, and airlines are going to have to implement rules that keep all of their passengers — overweight or not — comfortable and, most importantly, safe.

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Photo credit: Matt Hurst

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5:09AM PDT on Jul 12, 2012


12:37AM PDT on May 14, 2012

Sheri P

You will now get an avalanche of abuse about how cruel you are and how all fat people are mentally ill and have no personal responsibility for being lazy, greedy, lard-arses.

9:50PM PDT on May 13, 2012

obesity is an epidemic in our society and it's sickening. most people don't even try to eat healthfully or exercise...

1:51AM PDT on May 10, 2012

Marie W

"There are those who have weight problems for medical reasons- and since one does not know better to err on safety's side."

I don't think so. The "medical reasons" ones are a tiny minority. 70%, I'll repeat, 70% of Americans are FAT. And most of them are fat from choice, greedy, lazy, self-indulgent choice. They don't cook for themselves or if they do it's fried crap and they eat fast food and don't exercise. Why on earth should anyone cater for people like this who've done it to themselves?

10:28PM PDT on May 9, 2012

Mention fat and all the trolls come out. I am so sick of the human race, I wonder why they even exist. If there is a God He would do well to clear the planet and start over with something better than the self-centered jerk offs called people

10:05PM PDT on May 9, 2012

There are those who have weight problems for medical reasons- and since one does not know better to err on safety's side.

9:55PM PDT on May 9, 2012

what if each passenger had to get on a scale WITH his or her luggage, and then paid extra based on that number? i dunno, just a suggestion...

8:27PM PDT on May 9, 2012

This is a sad situation all around, its not right to be mean to people who are overweight some can't help it..if someone cannot fit in the seat then they need to pay for two seats..

6:35PM PDT on May 9, 2012

Sian R

"As one who's had to sit in front of a kid who repeatedly kicked the back of my seat"

I had that coming out of CMN. I put up with it for 20 minutes, assuming the parents would eventually tell the brat to stop. They didn't so I asked the attendant to speak to the parents. Even so, the kicking continued. I got up, leaned over the back of my seat and screamed "STOP IT" at the little piece of crap. I was shaking with anger. The brat burst into tears, the attendants came running, the parents looked (and were) stunned. I was offered another seat, which I refused as I had the aisle on the emergency exit, pots of legroom. The parents refused to move as they wouldn't be able to all sit together with their little precious Gollum clone - several pasengers refused when asked to move to make room for the family to sit together. The purser wouldn't run the risk of me and the family staying in close proximity, so I got an in-flight upgrade!

Try it next time.

5:36PM PDT on May 9, 2012


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