Jewish World Review June 21, 2002 /11 Tamuz, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Southwest Airlines may have bit off more than it can chew.
Last week, the company said larger passengers ("people of size") must purchase tickets for two seats instead of one. That's when the large people's lobby went berserk.
"We find this policy to be outrageous, discriminatory and mean-spirited," Morgan Downey, Executive Director of the American Obesity Association (AOA), told me. "It capitalizes on the prejudice and stigma against obese people."
Downey said there is a stigma against the obese because people figure they got that way by their own hand, which is a fallacy. He says there are three reasons for the disease: 1) Some people have bad genes and gain weight easily; 2) Our society is saturated in energy-rich food, but we don't promote physical activity; and 3) Some folks have bad eating habits.
I'll say some folks have bad eating habits. I'm certain that was the case for the two "landscapers of size" I sat between on a flight back from New Orleans - the worst flight of my life.
How big were these two fellows? Let me put it this way: When these guys step on a talking scale, borrowing from Rodney Dangerfield, the scale says, "One at a time!" The Dolly Madison people have these guys on speed dial. When the landscapers waited in line to board their plane, three confused passengers attempted to board THEM.
And I was squashed by these two bruisers like a sack of coffee grinds between two trash-compactor plates. As their giant lungs heaved in and out, I heaved in and out with them. I felt like the large intestine that connected two halves of the same mammoth beast.
It was damn uncomfortable. But was my discomfort a result of their "disease" or their free choice to obsess over the New England Patriots, while sucking down barrels of Boston lager and buckets of Buffalo wings? These guys shouldn't have been required to purchase two seats each, they should have been told to buy two separate rows.
And I'll tell you why. If 61% of adults are overweight or obese, as AOA says, I don't swallow that they got that way because they suffer from a disease. Implicit in the word disease is "hey, it ain't my fault."
But it likely is for a lot of people. Don't most people who eat excessive amounts of food do so of their own free will, fully aware of the consequences? In that case, why should I suffer on a plane because Buster and Billy Bob have their accomplishments displayed on brass plates above the Big Boy's buffet?
Another example: Some people are alcoholics - they are addicted with that first drink - but what about other people who simply prefer to drink a lot? What do we call these people? We call them my friends, which reminds me: I forgot to pick up the tab for that last round.
But I also have to admit I'm sitting on both sides of the table on this issue.
Downey told me 5% of Americans are morbidly obese. Such folks do suffer from genuine weight problems that aren't of their own making. We're just beginning to research the causes of this disorder now. So why should they be punished by the airlines for their malady?
After all, in a compassionate and civilized country, we give special consideration to pregnant women, the elderly and people in wheelchairs, even though it places a little bit of burden on the rest of us. So why not to people of size who also have genuine challenges?
The trouble is, how do we decipher between the genuinely obese and those who refuse to accept the consequences of their own actions? I don't know the answer to that. Maybe we should just treat people of size with a little more understanding and compassion. (But not certain landscapers of size; I saw their truck parked in front of a fast-food outlet.)
And that goes for the airlines, too. Downey told me Southwest doesn't even have procedures in place to decide who is and isn't too large to pay for double seats. They're winging it. In fact, he says, this whole "large-people" issue is the airlines' fault anyway. They keep making cabin spaces smaller at the same time Americans keep getting bigger and bigger.
That sounds good to me: let's turn our anger toward the airlines. I'm still mad at them, anyhow. They don't think twice about
squaring off against people of size, but pit a couple of people with peanut allergies against them ("people NOT of peanuts?") and
they snatch our peanuts away faster than you can say "wimp."
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