Ryanair mulls 'fat tax' for obese passengers

America has done it and now the UK is considering it: a flying "fat tax" on obese passengers who take up more space and weight than the norm.

Could Australia be next?

United Airlines announced this week that obese passengers who cannot fit in one seat may be charged for an upgrade to wider business-class seats while Irish airline Ryanair is poised to close an online poll which asks its clients what to tax next.

There has already been much fuss about the suggestion Ryanair is considering charging passengers for using its on-board toilets, but according to its poll data, close to half of the 45,000 people polled say they are in favour of charging overweight passengers.

Ryanair's spokesman, Stephen McNamara, told the Times of London he was "surprised" by the poll response.

It may be politically incorrect, but as airlines the world over search for new ways to raise revenue the notion that obese passengers be forced to pay for extra room has gained momentum.

The Chicago-based United Airlines yesterday gave the prospect an extra push.

"Passengers too large to fit comfortably in a coach seat may be required to buy a second ticket or upgrade to business class, where seats are larger - if United's flight attendants can't find two open seats for them," the Chicago Tribune reported.

The airline said it received 700 complaints last year from passengers who endured uncomfortable flights because the person next to them or adjacent took up too much room. United is not alone as five other carriers have already introduced similar charges.

The ranks of obese Americans have skyrocketed in recent decades and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of adults fit the category.

At the same time, airlines desperate to increase profit have jammed more seats onto aircraft than ever, minimizing space between passengers and increasingly over-selling flights.

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