80% travellers want separate zone for overweight flyers: study

Concept Airport industry, made in Adobe Illustrator (vector).

The controversial debate of whether or not overweight passengers should be required to cough up more cash on airfares is back in the spotlight, thanks to an article from The Sun.

The article quoted a new study of travellers in the UK, in which four out of five respondents – or 80 per cent – admitted to wanting overweight travellers to sit in special zones on aircrafts, the study showed.

That’s quite a jump from another study done recently, which showed just 13.6 per cent of travellers’ biggest worries were related to sitting next to an overweight passenger. It was peaked by people with bad coughs and body odour.

Similar to this study regarding overweight passengers, the recent research showed more than half wanted families with kids under 10 to sit in a separate section of the plane.

This new UK study, which comes from travel website Jetcost, indicated respondents felt plus-sized passengers could pay extra to sit in the ‘special zone’, which would feature wider seats and aisles, and more leg room.

Furthermore, one in 10 respondents said they had endured an uncomfortable flight as a result of being seated next to a passenger who was overweight.

Interestingly – and not exactly objectively – Jetcost appeared to support the findings, claiming it wasn’t about segregation, but rather providing more comfortable flying experiences for larger travellers.

It follows on from numerous other fiascos surrounding planes and weight, such as the controversial plans by Finnair to weigh its passengers prior to flying. They claim it’s not about penalising overweight passengers, however, and rather focused on data collection and cutting operating costs.

It’s nothing new in the industry, either, with other airlines in the past called out for decisions including grounding flight attendants for being “too fat“.


Per The Sun Online Travel, they spoke to two obesity experts who both offered very different perspectives.

Steve Miller, from UK TV series Fat Families, told The Sun that smaller passengers shouldn’t suffer because of heavier travellers, while weight loss expert Dr Sally Norton argued the focus should be on helping overweight people shed their excess baggage.

Shockingly, Miller claimed by having separate zones on planes for overweight people would actually help shame passengers into losing weight. Wow.

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“We have to introduce the stick as well as the carrot — so getting people to pay for two seats on an aeroplane is appropriate if they are too fat because there is something they can do about it,” he told Sun Online Travel.

“If you’re morbidly obese then it’s only fair that you pay more money. If someone else has been responsible and looked after their health, why should they subsidise someone else who weighs more?

“And if someone has paid for a seat with their hard earned cash, they don’t want their space invaded by a larger passenger.

“I understand it would trigger emotion but it could trigger an emotion to lose weight, eat better and lose more before they book a seat.”

“Airlines should create a software package where this was calculated when booking tickets, with spot checks later at the airport,” he added to The Sun Online Travel.

“Yes, it may put people off travelling but that’s a small price to pay.”

Meanwhile, Dr Sally Norton, who hails from the UK National Health Service, said these separate zones is the totally wrong approach to support people dealing with obesity.


“I can understand why people might consider these plus size zones from a safety point of view, and it would also be less embarrassing than getting stuck in seats that are too small,” she told The Sun.

“But we should support people to lose weight instead of creating segregation and making people feel ostracised.

“Then you’re faced with a situation where you are herding people into different zones — ‘you go and sit at the back because you’re fat’.

“People struggle with their weight for many different reasons, and it can be very upsetting and difficult trying to travel.”

A good point Norton did make was that these larger seats in a separate zone could actually “normalise obesity”, which was a very dangerous grey area airlines could enter, should they give this study any thought.

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