Sunday, March 22, 2009

The case of the XXXL passenger

For an early-morning flight to Mumbai last week, I had done a tele-check in and had managed to get my favourite seat - Aisle seat in the front row- 10C. I was looking forward to catching up on an hour of sleep, when a man of size XXXL, high BMI and high diameter-to-height ratio shoehorned himself into the middle seat- 10B. The rest of the journey was fairly uneventful, with me pressed against the armrest of the aisle seat, and barely managing to breathe.

Now, I am a fairly seasoned traveler, and know that the law of averages determines one’s fate. If you are a frequent traveler, you must put up with such minor inconveniences, every now and then. You must accept the situation philosophically and with equanimity. After all, you can’t choose your fellow travelers. And, as lightning does not strike the same place twice, the odds of getting an XXXL person next to you on the next flight are pretty slim. In fact, the odds of sitting next to a pretty, slim girl on a subsequent flight improve dramatically .

So, imagine my dismay, when I got into the evening flight to return to Chennai, and find the same ‘high BMI’, XXL individual firmly ensconced in same seat 10B. And I had thoughtfully telechecked into the same seat 10C.

What are the odds of getting as one’s co-passenger the same person on more than one flight? And, why does it have to happen to me?

Ok, I am being mean and inconsiderate. I am sure that many others have suffered the same fate. When I googled, I found quite a few complaints on the same subject. Here is a case of an irate passenger writing to Southwest Airlines. He managed to get a full refund.

Another blog which calls itself, “The view from the window seat”, asked its readers this question:

Just saw a piece from Aviation (via that lists the various airline policies for dealing with overweight passengers. Some, like Southwest, have clear policies in place while others, like United, have no policy at all. Most airlines fall somewhere in the middle with hard-to-enforce informal policies.

I am really curious to know what you all think about this topic and what YOU think the airlines should to accommodate overweight passengers (or not accommodate as the case may be). I am aware of the sensitive nature of this topic but think it is a valid one, especially considering that having an empty seat next to you seems to be, for the most part, a thing of the past.

One of the comments received was:

I have sent inquiries to both American and United asking what their policy is for dealing with passengers who buy only one coach seat but cannot fit into that seat. Both said that they will not discriminate against any passenger, and that an obese passenger would not be asked to deplane. I asked what my recourse was if I was seated next to them and could not fit into whatever remained of my seat. I was informed that I could purchase an upgrade, if available, or ask to be put on the next flight, although there was no guarantee of getting to my destination on the same day. So apparently you cannot discriminate against an obese passenger, but it’s OK to discriminate against a normal size passenger. For the life of me I cannot understand why it is OK to buy one seat and expect 1.5 seats, if you are fat, but if you are normal size and buy one seat, you cannot necessarily expect only 1 seat.

If only I had found a slim, pretty girl in the adjacent seat on the return flight, I needn’t have engaged in such painstaking research on the subject of overweight travellers and their overhanging flesh. Sigh.


Mambalam Mani said...

hey.what about irritatingly talkative co-passengers, especially the ones who ask lot of questions? i am sure you would have seen a bit of them too.

Rachna said...

What an ordeal? I would just keep giving dirty looks to the passenger. It's not only obese passengers but even pretty big-size ones like 6'2" muscular American men who create a lot of distress by being all sprawled out into other people's spaces. I guess with more and more people getting obese, the airlines might need to build a smaller section towards the rear for oversized passengers who should pay more for being fat.

Balajisblog said...

Raj - I have not undergone an ordeal similar to this yet. But, have undergone a far more vicious one - once a person seated next to me on a flight from Delhi - Kol, farted loudly, too many times, and that too by lifting his leg and positioning his rear toward me. I had done nothing to deserve that kind of treatment - had not even demanded any seat, and it was allotted by the system to me. After the first 2, I looked him in the eye and gave him a look asking him " WTF"...all I got in reply was another loud one, and a sheepish grin. The charlie was well dressed, and looked the typical corporate type. People seated in rows behind me, and nearby rows could not suppress their grin and giggles, when I finally got up and started moving toward the rear of the craft to spend my time peacefully standing was a full flight, and I could not switch seats either.

There are not many occassions in life when I have contemplated physical violence, but, that eventful flight to Kol was one when I came very close to it.

As for my fantasies, no starlet has ever sat within 2 rows of me ! So much for my luck.

Raj said...

Mambalam Mani, and also the bawling kids...

Rachna, maybe they should charge by weight and volume, as they do for freight.

Balaji: My trouble pales before yours!

Balajisblog said...

Raj...and what about "high decibel" snorers in an AC compartment in a train ? ! The perils a "travelling" salesman has to face....

Anonymous said...

missing your blogs on your old favourite Mr Kalam !!

Hawkeye said...

/*And, as lightning does not strike the same place twice, the odds of getting an XXXL person next to you on the next flight are pretty slim. */

please don't say things like this :-). It is very painful for people who run a blog surrounding it. lightning is very pointed and can strike the exact point on a person's body several times.

Raj said...

balaji : Not just the snores!

Amish 1411: Will set right the situation very soon,

Hawkeye: Oops, sorry!