Larger-bodied airline passengers forced to pay for two seats prompts calls for clearer anti-discrimination laws | Airline industry #Largerbodied #airline #passengers #forced #pay #seats #prompts #calls #clearer #antidiscrimination #laws #Airline #industry

Larger-bodied passengers are being forced to buy two seats to fly on some airlines, raising discrimination concerns from advocacy groups who argue scientific understanding of obesity has evolved beyond viewing the condition as a lifestyle choice.

Budget international carrier Scoot has added a note about its policy to its website’s booking page, warning that “if you are a guest of size who requires 2 seats … fares and fees for 2 guests apply”. The note says: “Failure to do so may result in you being denied transportation.” But the airline does not state who would be considered a “guest of size”.

Guests are forced to pay more than just the cost of two full-priced seats, as Scoot also requires guests of size pay for advance seat assignment for both tickets – something not included in a standard fare and which can cost in excess of $40 Singapore dollars (A$45) a seat.

While Scoot’s warning is prominent on its booking page, many airlines have similar rules. Emirates, United Airlines and Jetstar are among those requiring some passengers to pay for two seats.

Various carriers have attempted additional charges for larger passengers in recent years, however laws are unclear as to whether this type of price discrimination is unlawful. United Airlines insists it is legal in the US, where other carriers also charge for two seats.

In Canada, people with obesity have the right to two seats for the price of one for flights within the country after its supreme court made a ruling against airlines including Air Canada in 2008.

In Australia, advocacy group The Obesity Collective argues rules for “passengers of size” are vague and inconsistent across the industry, which in turn generates anxiety, embarrassment and unfair costs for those affected.

The practice has prompted calls for more robust laws in Australian aviation, as the government develops its white paper for the sector.

The Obesity Collective is calling for a mandatory code to deal with the issue that eliminates discrimination against those with the condition and provides clear rules for all airlines that would provide consistency for passengers.

The director of The Obesity Collective, Tiffany Petre, said it was crucial to have clear laws to ensure airlines didn’t discriminate against passengers, “especially as seats seem to be getting smaller in recent decades despite the trend in Australia of our body sizes going in the other direction”.

“If there were clear rules it would level the playing field for airlines,” she said.

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Scoot. In addition to buying a second seat, Scoot requires guests of size book three days in advance and pay for advance seat assignment for both tickets – something not included in a standard fare.

The airline does not state who would be considered a guest of size. A Scoot spokesperson said: “Should we determine that a customer is unable to be seated on a flight without compromising his own safety, or those around him, our check-in staff or cabin crew will work to amend the customer’s seating to ensure that he can travel safely.”

The airline’s policy states that if a passenger is deemed a guest of size but refuses to pay for two seats, “your fare and all associated fees and charges may be forfeited without refund.” Many airlines offer seatbelt extenders, including Scoot which does this for free, but the rules are unclear for when a customer is not able to rely on an extender and must purchase another seat.

Singapore Airlines, of which Scoot is a subsidiary, appears to have a more relaxed policy. A spokesperson said if staff “determine that a customer is unable to be seated without impacting on their own safety, or those around them, they will work to amend the passenger’s seating so as to ensure a spare seat is allocated next to them for their journey”. If no seat is available they will try to help the customer “travel safely at another time”.

Emirates’s spokesperson said “if a customer is unable to be safely seated and belted up for the flight, we will require that they purchase an extra adjacent seat ahead of their flight or at time of check-in, or purchase an upgrade to premium economy or business class (if available), or defer their travel.”

United Airlines’ policy requires customers who cannot “sit safely and comfortably in a single seat” to purchase an additional one – which applies to anyone who cannot properly wear a seatbelt with one extension and stay seated with the armrests down while not significantly encroaching on the adjacent seating space. But the airline appears to make this determination before a passenger has taken their seat.

Qantas views it as the customer’s decision as to whether they buy an additional or larger seat but says it tries “to put passengers next to an empty seat if needed”.

Jetstar’s website says “you must be able to lower both armrests and not compromise any part of adjacent seats to ensure safe and comfortable seating during travel.” Those who need more room must buy an extra seat.

Virgin Australia and Rex did not send responses by time of publication.

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Petre said she believes price discrimination occurs because the mindset around obesity in Australia has not kept up with the scientific understanding. Research in recent years has consistently found genetic and biological factors can determine an individual’s body fat composition and metabolism, not just diet.

“People think adjustments to rules shouldn’t be made because obesity is a personal choice,” she said.

“Everyone has a role to play in their health but when it comes to obesity everyone that understands the scientific evidence and recent research developments knows that it is so much more complicated than just a conversation of personal responsibility.”

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Petre was also critical of the lack of clarity in airlines’ passenger of size rules, some of which reserve the right to move a passenger to a flight on another date if there are no spare seats on the day of travel.

“A ‘guest of size’ description is difficult to understand,” she said. “Who falls into that? It leaves a real risk that on the day someone is going to be questioned in a way that is going to be very uncomfortable and humiliating.”

The Australian Human Rights Commission has previously stated that a person with obesity who is made to pay more to fly may have grounds to allege unlawful disability discrimination. Several legal and disability rights groups contacted by Guardian Australia said the existing laws were unclear.

The potential for airlines to be violating discrimination laws in how they charge passengers requiring more space “underscores the lack of consumer protection standards in aviation”, according to the chair of the Consumers Federation of Australia, Gerard Brody.

The federation has made a submission to the aviation white paper development process calling for the establishment of a travel and tourism industry ombudsman to consider and resolve complaints, including those about discrimination, customer service, or terms and conditions of air fares.

“An ombudsman could also identify systemic issues, that is, where a complaint raises an issue affecting more than just the complainant,” Brody said. “It could then seek to resolve the matter for all affected, and refer matters to a regulator including bodies responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination legislation.

“It could also highlight gaps in consumer protection or the need for industry to improve practices to better meet community needs.”

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