Obesity and flying

Airlines to accommodate obese (November 21, 2008)

Disabled travellers — including the morbidly obese — must be given an extra free seat on domestic flights as of Jan. 10 after the Supreme Court of Canada refused Thursday to hear an appeal by the country’s biggest airlines.

I’d started to post about this back in November when the news first broke. Coming as it did only a few months after my parents forked out well over $1000 to fly me home to Halifax for a weekend family gathering, I was both elated at the news and a little annoyed that it hadn’t come earlier. I wanted to research the idea a little more before commenting on it — it was such a new development that airlines hadn’t quite figured out how they were going to deal with it (what kind of proof  will be required, etc) — so the post languished in my Drafts folder.

Airlines rush to define obesity before ‘one fare’ deadline (Ottawa Citizen, December 26, 2008)

Canada’s two largest airlines are scrambling to craft new policies defining obesity as they prepare to offer disabled passengers two seats for the price of one.

Both WestJet Airlines Ltd. and Air Canada are considering asking disabled travellers, including the morbidly obese, to provide doctors’ notes confirming their conditions instead of giving them extra seats based on the passengers’ own assessments.

CMA rejects MD’s notes for disabled or obese travellers (January 10, 2009)

As of today, Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz and WestJet require medical certification for access to the “one person, one fare” program, which took effect this month after a Canadian Transportation Agency ruling early last year.

(See Westjet’s “One Person One Fare” page and Air Canada’s Special Needs page for more information about their policies requiring medical certificates. As an aside to WestJet, does no one there actually know anyone who is morbidly obese? Requiring measurement of the “Waist at the umbilicus” and “Maximal girth of hip, or buttocks above the glutteal fold” clearly shows that the person who created the form has never actually seen an obese person — I no longer remember where my belly button would be if I were skinny but I can tell you with pretty near 100% certainty that on an obese person, the outer manifestation of the belly button is pretty much at hip level — the same gravity that helps make a panniculus the beauty that it is takes care of that. Now boobs, on the other hand — those I’ll grant you might be at the waist.)

What all that above narrows down to is this: Air Canada and Westjet are going make obese people jump through major hoops before complying with the Supreme Court ruling. Big surprise there. Perhaps they’re hoping that obese people won’t want to go through the hassles.

So, anyhoo, I’m travelling to Toronto in April and have been waffling back and forth between taking the train or flying. There are pros and cons to both. Flying can be more expensive (especially if you have to buy a second seat) and more annoying (what with the advance check-in times and security checkpoints) than taking the train but it’s a shorter trip. And at least you can usually get a second seat if you need one (even if  you do have to pay for it) — the Quebec City-Windsor corridor trains don’t have removable armrests so you can’t buy two seats. (Via Rail has a policy of providing a second seat on those trains where it is possible for 50% off, which isn’t bad if you can get it.) For me, having two seats isn’t just about me being comfortable, it’s about not making anyone sitting next to me uncomfortable as well.

Today I decide to check with Porter Airlines, which flies out of Toronto City Centre Airport (much closer to where I’m going) and has a pretty good seat sale going on. I completely forgot about the news item noted above so I called to see if I could buy two seats. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I would not have to buy a second seat at all but would be able to buy one seat at the sale price and be given an aisle seat with nobody sitting beside me (as long as I booked over the phone). No mention of requiring a medical certificate, no hoops to jump through. (It makes up for the fact that Porter planes do not have gate ramps — you have to walk down stairs at the airport to get to the tarmack and then up stairs again into the plane.) Porter, if you really do come through with this, you will officially and truly rock.


2 thoughts on “Obesity and flying

  1. I blogged about this way back when. Porter is a really nice airline with lots of leg room and pleasant staff and real food. The planes are just very tiny and scary with only like an inch between you and the universe. Personally, though I would take the train every time instead of flying if I possibly could. In April you shouldn’t have too many problems, especially if you go early before universities let out. The trains will be empty.

  2. I like taking the train to Halifax, especially when you can get one of the few remaining sleeper cars that still have those nifty little single-person roomettes. (On most trains between Montreal and Halifax now, lone travellers have to pay for a double room.) Even sitting up in coach isn’t too bad on those trains — the seats are really comfy (because people have to sleep on them) and they have a load of leg room. But I’m not overly fond of travelling between Ottawa and Toronto on the train. I was a lot smaller the last time I did that and I felt really claustrophobic. That’s tolerable for an hour-long plane hop but excruciating in a 5-hour train ride.

    In any case, I booked my flight on Porter. Their customer service reps are incredibly nice, and I know this will be shocker, actually helpful. As far as I know, I’m getting a seat with no one beside me without having to pay for my doctor to fill out a form to attest to the fact that yes, I am obese.

    I like flying (especially take-offs and landings) so, unless we crash, I don’t mind the “one-inch between you and the Universe” thing. At least people don’t commit suicide on a regular basis by jumping in front of planes. Puts a real crimp in your day, that.

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