In My Opinion

Dita De Boni is a Herald business columnist

Dita De Boni: Airline's weighty call rankles

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Forcing the hefty to pay more is not only an indignity, it's manifestly unfair

Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

As someone who has not been genetically blessed with a sylph-like figure, I know a thing or two about the uphill battle to lose weight.

The first week it's elation, when cutting back on that mid-morning doughnut sees you shed 1kg without even trying. The next few weeks you start doing wholly irrational things, like signing up to a three-year gym membership and filling your freezer with low-calorie lentil lasagne.

But as things grind on, you find it easier to justify eating that one little piece of black forest gateau, then spiral into a frenzy of guilt-induced gluttony that would have left Elvis feeling bloated. I have also known the Weight Watchers chub-reduction system - oh, so well. A good system, but one built largely around spurring you to lose your flab by weighing you publicly.

The whole group doesn't need to know your precise measurements, but the woman with the biro and the all-important record book does. And there's no way of fooling that lady if you've been a very bad, greedy girl since your last weigh-in.

Now we are expected to accept a system of air travel that will see us hefting ourselves on to scales in a public terminal to figure out how much our spare pork will cost us. As if airline travel wasn't indecorous enough: herding us like cattle, demanding we account for every banana peel, making us taste-test baby formula.

This added indignity will be our future if Samoan Airlines sets a trend in extorting extra payment from fat people. The whole thing reeks of class warfare - rich fat people can probably hand over the extra dosh and tell the airline to stuff its weight classifications, while poor fat people will feel every last cent.

Some believe the Samoan Airlines system is fair, reasoning that sitting next to a fat person ruins their in-flight experience.

It's not, of course, that the airlines consistently defy the laws of physics and cram more and more people into the same cubic meterage - oh, no. You may like to take a look around the plane next time your neighbour's lard is causing you discomfort. You will see people with kids who annoy others. You will see people who snore loudly, people who drink too much and make asses of themselves, people who snort with laughter watching in-flight entertainment and people who just have to use the loos every 10 minutes.

Then there are the tall people. They will, in a future scenario, have to pay more because they tend to weigh more. Genetically, there is nothing they can do about their physique (arguably, some fat people can) but they will be penalised anyway, and no one will be any more comfortable because of it.

It's not a system that will make people lose weight (if it was that easy, it would have happened already); it will make flying hugely expensive for the heavy-set Pacific Islanders of South Auckland but cheap for the loaded gym bunnies of Herne Bay, which is manifestly unfair.

And it'll cause a great deal of unnecessary embarrassment. It fits our mindset of demonising fat but won't make flying more enjoyable. And, under the guise of good business, it institutionalises a lack of compassion that runs counter to everything so many of us spend so much time trying to teach our children.

- NZ Herald

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