Posts Tagged ‘obesity and air travel’
The ever-increasing number of individuals around the globe who are over-sized for the average airline seat will have a major impact on aircraft interior design. Two separate trends in body types, the larger passenger and the taller passenger, will require that airlines revisit their design approach and focus on people centred innovation to provide solutions.
Obesity, as measured by medical professionals in terms of BMI (Body Mass Index) and the prevalence of taller people are an undeniable part of our future. Trends also show that this very BMI may have a flaw in the future, due to the fact that some people are now growing taller than their ancestors. In some cultures, primarily Asian and South American, there have been dramatic changes that are beginning to be seen by medical professionals.
While there is a lot of discussion around the core reason for these changes, that is not as important to the commercial airline industry as what to do with the changing size and shapes of passengers. Some carriers already have a policy about “obese” passengers, but they are defined by a set of inconsistent factors. One of the more common measurements (and one that got a certain amount of notoriety from actor Kevin Smith while attempting to fly Southwest Airlines) is if a passenger “can comfortably lower the armrest”. I am relatively confident that this will be an issue in years to come.
Airlines and Obese Passengers
Another common policy that airlines follow is to have larger passengers purchase two seats on a flight, or to pay to upgrade their travel to another cabin. As capacity reduction continues to put some pressure on the ability of airlines to deliver these seats on short notice, there will also be a need to identify passengers ahead of the flight. This has some potential legal and social implications that may be unpalatable to most carriers.
Often lost in this discussion is the comfort of other passengers who are sharing the space with the obese passenger. There is a potential customer service issue for airlines as other passengers potentially complain about the loss of personal space already at a premium.
There are potential issues around aircraft safety, as passengers changing shape and sizes may cause some to question if some aircraft emergency exits are even accessible to these individuals.
What can airlines do for Super-size Passengers?
What new innovations are available to carriers to deal with this evolving need in all classes of service? There are some changes with so called “sliding seats” that may allow for airlines to offer slight adaptations to seat size. However, these represent safety challenges with the size of the aisle being potentially reduced.
I believe that there are not commercially available economy seats to deal with this issue, as airlines do not fell that they need or want to invest in this area of development. I believe that a more proactive approach is called for, and developing adjustable seating or even select seating that is truly wider will offer both passengers and airlines a better solution to addressing this emerging “mega-trend”.
At the same time, there are premium seating solutions in forward cabins that do make flying more comfortable for people of all sizes. However, these may be economically unfeasible for many passengers. In this case, I do see a day where additional potential legal challenges may be faced by air carriers in places like the USA by an obese person who may claim that their size is due to a disability and is therefore protected by law. Carriers will need to proactively examine the potential range of solutions that could be available.
Airlines and the Taller Passenger
In a completely separate issue, there is obviously better news for taller passengers and travel on some airlines. Some airlines have a gate control policy that allows them to “gate control” the seats with more legroom for passengers they feel could benefit from the additional space.
There are also a number of carriers offering “extra legroom” or “premium seats” in the economy cabin. That said, some carriers also charge for these seats, which some taller passengers may feel is unfair. In addition, with the increase in Low Cost Carriers (LCCs) over the last decade, there has also been ever so slight erosion in seat pitch (the distance between one row and the next). This presents the taller passenger with comfort challenges, but may give some carriers an advantage with this segment of the traveling public.
What can airlines do for taller passengers?
For this particular trend, most carriers have a product that is already available in their economy class, including on some smaller regional jet services. Overall, while there may be an increase in demand for more legroom in economy class, I do not foresee airline economics allowing for what American Airlines used to refer to as “More Room throughout Coach”- a product that offered the entire cabin more space.
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If you are you interested in knowing more about this subject, here are a few links that talk about the core of the issue and offer additional insight on the causes and social impacts in a broader sense:
Inside Government Workshop on Obesity
US National Institute (NIH) of Health on Obesity