United: Heavy passengers must buy two seats

United Airlines is implementing a new policy that significantly overweight passengers will have to buy two seats if there aren't two empty seats together on the flight.

The story was originally reported this morning by WBBM, a news/talk radio station in Chicago. But the story said United would double charge people, whether there were extra empty seats or not. United received a deluge of calls from reporters and posted the policy on its website to clarify that if there is an extra empty seat somewhere, the person won't be charged twice:

If no unused seats are available on the ticketed flight, then the customer must either purchase an upgrade to a cabin with available seats that address the above-listed scenarios, or change his or her ticket to the next available flight and purchase a second seat in addition to the one already purchased.

United says the policy pertains to people who can't fit into a single seat, can't fasten their seatbelt with one seatbelt extender or can't put the seat's armrests down.

A spokesperson said United was responding to complaints from passengers and noted that the double charge has become common practice in the industry. It's just practiced quietly. An American representative says she doesn't remember the airline ever having to impose such a charge.

Based on some of the comments I've read on this blog and others, a lot of people seem to approve of a tougher policy on this.

With so many flights full these days, I can't imagine they'll be too many circumstances where the person in question won't be required to pay for two seats, as pointed out on Marketplace PM this evening.

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