Transcript: Passengers of size & reclining seats

So earlier today I mentioned I’d done a talkback segment discussing the issues related to passengers of size and people who recline their seats in economy.

The team at the APEX Blog have run the audio, and for those who just want to read then here is the transcript.

Audio transcript

Station:                                Radio 882 6PR (FM), Perth, Western Australia
Date:                     Sunday 26 November 2011
Program:             Sunday Session with Jason Jordan.
Topic:                    Air travel – passengers of size, people reclining seats.

Length:                 9min 26sec
              Jason Jordan – Announcer (JJ)
Ray Palmer, Social commentator – Studio Guest (SG)
Michael Harris – Caller (MH)

Transcript by Michael Harris, Errors and Omissions Excepted (E&OE).

Jason Jordan (JJ) Announcer: …Michael from Joondalup joins us now, g’day Michael.

Michael Harris (MH): G’day Jason, pleasure to talk with you guys this afternoon.

JJ: No problem at all. Good to have you on board, what have you got to say about all of this?

MH: Well, there’s a couple of things we need to consider firstly Jason in regards to passengers of size, both in width and in height, which is a couple of legislative things. Now there’s no actual legislation in Australia, either in the Disability Discrimination Act or the Civil Aviation Act which deals with passengers of size.

So, in terms of how the airlines handle it, this is down to a policy issue. So it’s down to them as to how they deal with these sort of passengers.

For me, my view being an aviation enthusiast and industry watcher is that you as a passenger of size have a personal reasonability to your fellow passengers.

If you know that you know that you can’t fit in an airline seat, you might spill over into the seat or say you 6″3′ or 6″4′ and a 31 or 32 inch seat pitch is the norm in Australia, and you can’t fit in to, you need to take a personal responsibility for that situation and come to an arrangement with the airline beforehand.

JJ: Now there are certain seats that don’t have that sort of seat pitch out there like the… what do they call them, row…

MH: the exit row seats

JJ: Exit row seats, yeah

MH: yep, so as a person as a passenger of size, you have a personal responsibility to call the airline to make arrangements for your situation, say I know it’s not easy, you know, you can feel personal shame and embarrassment, piratically if are an obese person, but you do need to admit that to the airline and say “Hey, I’m a very large passenger, I might be able to fit in one seat, how can we work around this, so I can fly and fly comfortably?”.

JJ: So, it’s not fair on you, but it’s even more unfair for the people who have to sit next to you.

MH: And that’s correct. As you said, yes, that’s right the average width of a seat internationally in economy is about 43.8cm, and you buy and air ticket to be comfortable within the confines of the seat you’ve been sold.

MH: I’ve had issues, myself previously, not to do with passengers of size, ar, but at one time I had to fly with a bro, with a fractured rib. Um, regret ably my seat mates were all quite broad shouldered which left me a little squashed against the window bulkhead of the plane. OK, it’s not comfortable, I can deal with it, but I’d still like to comfortable on my flight.

MH: Imagine having that broken rib and being sat next to a passenger of size?

JJ: Humm…

MH: …who was flopping over into your seat basically.

[Laughter in studio]

JJ: Um

MH: It’s not, it’s not comfortable for anyone whose been in that situation. But yeah, the legislative environment in Australia means it’s up to the airlines as a matter of policy. Um, and because if it’s a medically diagnosed condition which is causing their obesity, then the Disability Discrimination Act applies. So, they have to look after you accordingly, because you present a medical certificate and they deal with it how they would any other passenger with a medical need.

But if you’re just a passenger of size because of lifestyle choices, then you need to take that personal responsibility to make sure both you’re comfortable and the people around you can fly comfortable…

JJ: So, what direction do you think the airlines are eventually going to go in? Are they going to force people to buy two seats or they’ll have wider seats eventually for people of size?

MH: Listen, wider seats won’t be an option practically on commercial jetliners, you know anything which is currently in production or planned for production. Seating space is at a premium, practically as they make high yield economy seats so they’re selling as many as they can, and fitting in as many as they can – and if they could they certainly would reduce seat width and pitches but that’s simply not possible.

Ah, um, so that’s not going to happen. We probably have to look towards the US example Jason of where they’ve gone, and a lot of the airlines in the US, practically Southwest and Continential have put in place policies where if you are a passenger of size you will have to buy a second seat or or they can give you a second seat at half price, or if there’s not too many people on the plane they can set it up so they can give a vacant seat next to you to make sure you and your other passengers are comfortable. But it’s a by airline basis.

JJ: I was going to say, what rights have I got? Let’s say I’m just doing the Perth to Sydney hop and you know where only talking four hours there, or just under,

MH: Well

JJ: If I get stuck next to two really, really big people it’s not going to make for a very pleasant flight for me. [undechiphered] do I have any rights there?

MH: Well, that’s where really the Competition and Consumer Act would come in. Um, I mean from a public relations perspective, practically in the age of social media, so let’s say it’s you Jason for example. If in fact let’s use an even more recent example, not related to passengers of size – but where you have famous people tweeting about airlines and problems.

Um, if you might recall, um a British comedian Stephen Fry left his wallet on a plane after it was diverted to Dubai. Now that gets a lot of traction with followers.

Let’s say you Jason were in that actual scenario. So there’s a public relations aspect to that for the airline, so the bad publicity. In terms of your rights, you could, you know, easily ask the airline for a refund or some consideration for the inconvenience caused, or you could reasonably say I wasn’t provided the service I paid for, as in I wasn’t given a seat where I was able to enjoy my flights.

Studio Guest (SG): Mike, Mike, can I just interject there for just one sec. What you’re saying is extremely clarifying and articulate about the airline industry and I’ve learned some stuff listening to you. But what about the safety risks of an obese person on a plane, who say struggles to fit into the toilet. And um..

MH: Ok

SG: And, are, how does that work?

MH: Ok, well that’s where the Civil Aviation regulations kick in. Um, now airlines have to make sure that any person boarding the plane, um, is able to have appropriate assistance to look after themselves, from obviously a toiletry perspective and a medical perspective. Um, airlines staff are actually prohibited by CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) from assisting you to go to the toilet or to administer medication – needle or what other stuff.

So, yeah, it’s a bit more personal responsibility.

SG: What about the, OK, forget seating arrangements then, what about this. If I want to fly to China tomorrow, and I want to bring my luggage and it’s overweight by 20kgs I gotta spend ridiculous amounts of money to get that there.

MH: [Indecipherable]

SG: So a human being that weighs an extra 100kgs, why is it that he can just get on there? Why shouldn’t he have to pay more of a premium ’cause of the added weight that he’s going to be putting on?

MH: Its not that he has to pay more of a premium, [indechiperable]

SG: But I’m saying he should Mick, because at the end of the day, he’s, he’s, let’s say he’s got a, he weighs 180 [kgs], I weigh 100 [kgs], and I’ve got an 80kg suitcase. We’re exactly the same weight on, but I’m paying more. Why is that?

MH: I understand that. Um, there’s really no hard and fast thing on it. It’s really the airline take the policy [decision] they choose – if they feel that the passenger isn’t going to be able to fit in – they apply their policies to make sure that that passenger and others are comfortable as possible. There’s no hard and fast published policies from Australian airlines practically on this issue, so they deal with it on a case by case basis.

JJ: Michael, before I let you go

MH: Yep

JJ: And we’ve got a little bit of echo happening on the line now. But before I let you go, what’s your thoughts on people slamming their seats back and taking up some of my space?

MH: [chuckles] Um, yeah that’s an interesting one. Just quickly before we divert off that Jason – um, there is a legal issue where you have to look towards Canada on the passengers of size, a similar legal system to Australia, um where they have looked at this issue and it was actually ruled against the airlines that by charging passengers of size more they were actually proclivity discriminating them. So the airlines have had to come up with processes to look after them.

In terms of slamming seat backs, um, that’s actually inspired a bit of a cottage industry, um practically within the frequent flyer communities. I know of at least one product in the US where they’ve developed a more molded plastic piece which is a jam to stop someone reclining.

JJ: I know the one,

MH: That’s the one. You’ve got people who will also use water bottles or something of a similar size to stop that. Um, four hours is actually a long flight Jason, so even though you see it as domestic short haul – I mean don’t forget that it’s five hours coming back from the east coast in Australia. Um, Yeah, it’s still a long flight and some people need to stretch. One or two hours is probably closer to shorthaul.

Yes, OK, people have a right to recline that seat, that comes with what they pay for – but they should do it responsibly.

Don’t thrust your seat back instantly; only go back as far as you need to. Or if you do need to recline the seat, don’t do it close to a meal service or just let the passenger behind you that hey “I’m about to recline my seat, is it going to cause you any discomfort”. You know, it’s not hard.

SG: These seats should have reverse beepers..

[laughter from studio and caller]

MH: Ah, if they had reverse beepers, I fly Qantas practically myself, they have that practically on the flight to Sydney, practically if you’re flying a red eye – those reverse beepers would be constantly. It would become more of a nuisance…

JJ: Oh it would be a nightmare, wouldn’t it.

MH: More of a nuisance than the PA announcements from the wonderful cabin crews which all our Australian airlines have. So really, again, same [indechipherable] if you’re a passenger of size – be it you’re quite wide, or you’re quite tall, or if you want to recline your seat – it comes down to personal responsibility.

JJ: I hear ya.

MH: Be considerate of those people around you, if you can – make arrangements with your airline, or even if you’re travelling on public transport like a schedule bus service or something – make arrangements with them. Tell them your issues and work with them so you and everyone else can be as comfortable as possible.

JJ: Far too much common sense there Michael. Thank you so much for joining us.

MH: Pleasure to talk to you both today.

SG: See you Michael.

JJ: Michael from Joondalup there, and are…


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