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Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Fat Tax - Taking to the Skies

Major airlines have, for a year or so now, been considering charging a "fat tax" — an additional fee for overweight passengers who require extra fuel to ferry them around the world.

Since I heard this, my mind has been on overload, trying to figure out how this could be implemented.

A ‘pay by weight’ system sounds fine in theory but how on earth would this work in practice?

One possible suggestion comes from Southwest Airlines with its "Customers of Size" policy which requires passengers who do not fit between the armrests to purchase another seat.  

This sounds fair enough, but if I have purchased something then I am not going home without it.  So will my extra seat arrive by post or will I be presented with it when I get on board? And if so will it fit in the overhead locker or under the seat in front of me?  If it is a fixed seat, which one will my additional seat be? Will it be next to the first one I purchased, or down the other end of the plane?  Not much good to me there is it.  If they are next to each other that is fine, provided the arm rest lifts up; otherwise I do not relish the thought of a transatlantic crossing with an armrest up my bum crack! Although it would negate having to wear a seat belt if one clenched hard enough. 

And if I have bought two seats then I should get twice as much food right? Excellent!

Instead of this, how about having oversized seats made for these ‘Customers of Size’?  Again, sounds great in theory but how would this work in practice?  How would these oversized seats be dispersed through the plane? You can’t have them all on one side or you wouldn’t get to your destinations because you would fly around in a circle. (This would be great for tourist flights over London or Paris. The pilot could sit back and relax and let the oversized ‘autopilot’ section on board do all the work for him). You couldn’t have them at the front of the plane or it couldn’t take off and you couldn’t have them all in the rear, or you couldn’t land! So do you have entire ‘C of S’ rows- 3 customers of size together? # cosy.  What if you are a family with both C of S and C of AS members? 

Having the C of S rows at the front AND back could work, but even better, what if you kept the front rows empty for take-off, and then when you come into land there would be this announcement – ‘the pilot has just turned on the fasten seat belt sign as we are begin our descent into Boston.  Please ensure your seat back is in the upright position, that your tray table is put away and that all your hand luggage is stowed in the overhead lockers or under the seat in front of you.  And can passengers in rows 37 – 40 please make their way slowly to the front of the plane and take up your seats in rows 1 – 4.’   A few minutes later.  ‘Row 1, go back , go back, we are descending too quickly..........arghhhh.’

So we have solved the logistics of C of S seating once you are on the plane, but the problems will start long before this...

Online booking!  One assumes we would have to put in our body weight as well as our expected luggage weight.  Like that’s going to work!  You book your flight 6 months in advance for a start.  So you first of all put in the weight that you would like to think you are, which is probably 5 kilos out,  then you kid yourself you are going to lose at least another 5 kilos by the time you check in for the flight.  Imagine the conversation at the dinner table.  ‘Johnny, darling, leave your sister’s chips alone, or you won’t be able to come to Disney with us in the summer.’  ‘Ed, I wouldn’t have another beer if I was you, or our romantic trip to Rome is going to become a girls’ weekend.’

And what about the ‘Customers of Acceptable Size,’ when they come to book their seats? The seat plan is going to show normal size and oversized seats.  Which are you going to book? The seat in the C of AS row, or the one C of AS seat in the C of S row? That would be a difficult decision wouldn’t it!!   With this scenario we end up with a plane that is half empty because no-one wants to sit for 6 hours sandwiched between people of unacceptable size!

And I can’t help but think of the poor woman that books her holiday before she realises she is pregnant with twins.  She arrives at check in 6 months later and is met by a stern faced member of staff...

‘Please could you put your luggage on the conveyor belt. OK, that’s fine.’ 

‘Please could YOU step on the scales now Madam?’

‘Oh. I am sorry Madam but your weight doesn’t correspond to the weight you booked at, so you are going to have to pay £300 in excess baggage.’

‘I am not prepared to pay any excess baggage.’

‘Well is there anything you can take out and leave behind...’

‘I should have taken something out 6 months ago, but it’s a bit late for that now....’

Glossary of terms:
C of S – customers of size
C of AS – customers of acceptable size

© Claire Pryce and Pushing 50 in a 40 Zone, October 2013 to date.

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  1. You can simplify the whole process. Just like some airlines are getting a bit tougher with the size of hand luggage and the testing cage you get at check in there should be a testing cage for people who are too big. Firstly there's a seat check - can you squeeze yourself into a standard seat and do the seat belt up. Then there's an escape door test, where you have to get up from your seat, run down a narrow aisle the size of an aircraft aisle and get yourself out of an escape door sized hole. If you fail on either of these tests then clearly you are too fat and you get put in the hold.

  2. I like this idea! But I think it would be far more fun if the escape door test included at least a dozen average sized, more nimble passengers as I would love to witness the melee when they all reach the door and are trying to push past the customer of size :)