Fat flight attendants welcomed back to Air India, but only if thinner

The cringe-worthy debate over larger fliers has generally been limited to passengers, and it looks like that’s where it will remain. Over the summer, it looked as though flight attendants were being brought into the cross-hairs, when Air India fired several for being too fat. Well, the carrier is willing to forgive and forget … as long as the ladies have slimmed down a bit.

According to The Globe and Mail, Air India is “inviting them back,” it says of the plus-sized flight attendants, “because of a shortage of cabin crew.” There’s only one catch: they have to have shed some pounds. The airline doesn’t want those who haven’t taken steps to remedy the causes of their termination.

So, the airline’s message seems to be, “We really need your help, but only if you aren’t too fat. The shortage isn’t that bad.”

What I want to know is if Air India is offering a relocation package. There are some hotties in Mexico who are looking for work in the sky.


[photo by BriYYZ via Flickr]

Customer service slams airlines in overweight passenger policy enforcement

Airline rules for passengers who take up more than one seat are neither new nor surprising. Forget about passenger comfort (the airlines already have, of course), it’s a financial issue. A passenger who takes up more than one seat is consuming a scarce resource (in the economic sense): seat 42A on Flight ABC123 on July 29, 2010 can only be sold once. If it doesn’t bring in any revenue, it never will. So, charging bigger passengers extra is a prudent financial move. Yet, this is only part of the problem.

Goodwill on the planes, in an effort to make overweight passengers more comfortable and avoid embarrassing situations, is resulting in uneven policy enforcement, which costs the airlines cash and makes instances of seemingly unfair treatment even worse.

And, the prevailing attitude in the marketplace seems to support this thinking. Even passengers affected by this policy are on board with it, so to speak, as one passenger noted in a letter to USA Today’s “Traveler’s Aide”. The problem is enforcement, which tends to be a tad uneven. The passenger noted in his letter:

The flight attendant had moved another large man to the outside seat in that row so there was a space between us. The agent told me I could either pay for a second seat or get off and wait for the next flight to New Orleans. I opted to pay and go home. The gate person embarrassed me and asked for my credit card, but didn’t require the same from the other large passenger.

The passenger was upset with how the Southwest flight attendant handled the situation. Of course, this airline is no stranger to high-profile gaffes with big passengers. Some passengers are able to get away with spilling into a second seat, while others are stuck shelling out for an extra ticket. And some simply don’t bother, and they invariably are seated right next to you. For the airlines, the challenge is in figuring out who should have to buy an extra seat. According to USA Today, “That means Southwest agents end up eyeballing those arriving passengers and guessing whether they comfortably fit into seats-without actually seeing them seated.” An overweight passenger may slip through the cracks on one flight but could have to pry open his wallet on another.

And, there is a bit of awkwardness involved:

“Without question, approaching a customer with unique seating needs who is unaware of (or has ignored) the policy is incredibly difficult,” says Southwest representative Christi Day. “However, with the use of discretion, tact, and genuine concern for customer comfort, approaching those with a clear need for additional seating is critical for ensuring that another customer is not subjected to an uncomfortable flight.”

Perhaps the greatest problem for the airlines – and I can’t believe I’m actually writing this – is that they’ve been too eager to accommodate. Customer service … good customer service … leads the airlines to give away an extra seat instead of charging when possible, or at least trying to misjudge in favor of the passenger. Or, maybe they just don’t want horror stories winding up in the hands of travel bloggers. Whatever the motivation, trying to help passengers is what leads to uneven enforcement. The inequity, of course, makes the slip-ups look worse than they are.

The solution is simple: stop the goodwill. When in doubt, charge for a second seat. It’s really that simple.

[photo by Willie Lunchmeat via Flickr]

Air France goes prix fixe, not buffet

Starting in April, Air France is going to make you pay for what you consume. If you consume only one seat, that’s all you’ll have to buy. But, if you require more than one seat, expect to whip out your plastic. For some reason, airline spokesman Nicolas Petteau calls it “a question of security,” but I don’t think so. To me, it seems more like a question of getting what you pay for … and asking you to pay for everything you get.

The new policy includes refunded additional fares for obese passengers taking up two seats on a plane that isn’t full. Air France estimates that these refunds will be granted in 90 percent of big-passenger cases. Nonetheless, the airline cites economic factors as behind the decision (aside from the bizarro comment about security), which is not only believable but appropriate.

Air France, which denied the policy in the French media, ran into some trouble over this issue three years ago. A passenger weighing 353 pounds successfully sued the airline, which had to pay him $11,423 in damages and the cost of the second seat from New Delhi to Paris. (Let’s just hope he had an empty seat next to him.)

Other airlines have similar policies, including Southwest and JetBlue — and I applaud them. Forget about everything except the simple fact that the ticket you buy entitles you to one seat on the flight. If one seat does not meet your needs, buy two seats. After all, if I go to a restaurant and buy one entrée and remain hungry, I have to buy a second one.

Should airlines charge you by your weight?

With all of the cutbacks and extra fees in the airline industry over the past few months, it’s difficult not to think about weight on an aircraft per passenger. That’s why airlines unilaterally increased baggage fees earlier this year — more weight requires more fuel which is makes the flight more expensive to operate. If you can encourage passengers to pack lighter or less, the carrier will save money.

But what if airlines charged by not only the weight of the luggage but also by the weight of the passenger? One analyst consulted by the popular world and economics website Bloomberg has ventured into the uncharted territory of charging by passenger weight. Robert Mann, aviation consultant at R.W. Mann & Co suggests that it’s the “next logical step”, given that airlines are basically treating passengers and their luggage alike as freight.

So you would step up to the ticket counter, weigh your checked luggage, send it away then weigh yourself and your carry on to determine your ticket price. You and your luggage weigh 200 lbs? Your ticket is 200$. You and your luggage weigh 300? 300$.

Admittedly, the article speaks with another aviation consultant, David Swierenga, who points out how unrealistic the idea is — and since Bloomberg is a careful media source I imagine they didn’t elaborate on purpose.

Why would this idea never work? America is overweight. We would FLIP OUT if a policy like this was ever adopted, the airline in question would get the pants sued off of it and the carrier would be dead before it even started. It’s not too hard to portray “charging by weight” as “discrimination against overweight people”.

Airlines will just have to keep coming up with other crafty ideas to make profit until jet fuel returns to normal. Stay tuned for the next ridiculous fees that they come up with.