United to charge more for wide bodies

The tail of a United aircraft

TEXT OF STORY

Bob Moon: The skies just got more unfriendly for anybody who can't fit into their assigned seat on United Airlines. United is now cracking down on what it considers over-sized human cargo, which means it's insisting on -- yes -- yet another fee. Plus-size passengers will have to pay for a second ticket, or an upgrade. And even if there happens to be an empty seat, there's still no wiggle room: Don't expect United to waive the extra charge. Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson explains.


JEREMY HOBSON: Chalk this up to the current state of the airline industry. With demand in a tailspin, hundreds of aircraft have been taken out of circulation, which means the planes in the air are full.

ROBERT MANN: What that means is on many, many flights there simply are no empty seats into which one might allow a large customer to overflow.

That delicate statement comes from airline industry consultant Robert Mann. He says United is following Southwest by charging larger passengers, but it's taking an even harder line. And Mann says others may soon follow.

MANN: Certainly you aren't going to make friends with an individual that is confronted with that sort of policy. The question will be is if that individual is confronted with that sort of policy industrywide. Do they just choose to not fly or do they choose to pay up>

In Canada, airlines treat obesity as a medical issue and provide an extra seat free of charge. There's no such legal requirement here. Still, most U.S. airlines try to work with passengers without swiping the credit card. But, says Seth Kaplan of Airline Weekly...

SETH KAPLAN: United has obviously determined that this is going to please more people than it's going to anger.

In New York's Grand Central Station, travelers had mixed opinions. Adrian Miller thinks on a full flight, United's policy makes sense.

ADRIAN MILLER: It makes it uncomfortable for me to be sitting in a seat where I'm having to shrink down my own body size and my own comfort level just to let this space be taken.

Sally Lee disagrees.

SALLY LEE: We can't all be the same size zero like the poshies of this world, you know, and I think it's very unfair to expect people to pay for two seats.

In a nod to its larger passengers, United says they do have the option to refund their ticket with no penalty.

In New York, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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