AirTran is to force fat passengers on its planes to buy a second seat.
The new policy will bring the carrier into line with its parent company Southwest Airlines, which already requires its ‘customers of size’ to shell out two-fold.
The airline’s revised stance comes as obesity levels hit record proportions, with more than a third, 33.8 per cent, of American adults now obese.
Starting from March flight attendants and check-in staff will identify those who can’t sit in a single seat with the armrest lowered and require them to buy a second place.
Equality campaigners have denounced the policy as ‘humiliating’.
Peggy Howell, a spokeswoman for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution some passengers end up ’embarrassed and humiliated’ when they’re asked to buy a second seat at the airport.
‘I’m sorry to hear that they’re now going to be passing on their bad policy to another airline,’ Howell said. ‘We are paying customers.’
Howell also raised concerns that there are few guidelines for the enforcement of the policy, rather it is to be left to the judgement and discretion of staff.
The new policy follows the carrier’s acquisition of Air Tran in May this year.
Economy seats are 18 inches wide in Air Tran’s economy class according to SeatGuru.com, the website which gives details of airline seating plans and sizing.
Previously, the airline did not have a definitive ‘customers of size’ policy, but employees at the airport gate usually offered a second seat or an upgrade for a fee to passengers considered larger than average, Southwest said.
Southwest’s policy had been standing for 30 years but affects ‘less than half on one percent of customers, the airline said.
The policy states: ‘Customers of size,’ are those ‘who encroach upon any part of the neighbouring seat[s]. … The armrest is considered to be the definitive boundary between seats.’
If there are remaining seats on the plane, plus-size passengers who have been charged for an extra seat will be entitled apply for a refund.
Southwest introduced the policy following an increase in the number of complaints from passengers whose seat had been infringed upon by a large person, their website said.
‘We could no longer ignore complaints from customers who travelled without full access to their seat due to encroachment by a large seat-mate whose body extended into the neighbouring seat. These customers had uncomfortable [and sometimes painful] travel experiences,’ Southwest said.
Excess baggage fees on AirTran will also increase from $50 to $110 per item from April as part of the merger.