www.redeyechicago.com/news/ct-met-kass-0404-20130404,0,3578789.column

redeyechicago.com

Samoa Air obesity policy weighs heavy on some

John Kass

April 4, 2013

Advertisement

Mr. Puni weighs about 440 pounds, and these days he's one big angry Samoan.

Like many others of great girth — Samoans and non-Samoans — he's peeved at Samoa Air's new policy to base the price of airline tickets on the weight of the passenger.

"Pay by weight is a bad business decision," Mr. Puni told the New Zealand Herald, which has a large Samoan readership that includes Mr. Puni, a boxing promoter.

"Many people, including tourists, will find the new payment system excessive and will seek alternative travel, like catching the ferry … instead," he said.

Boats don't fly, they float. But planes have this one irritating quirk: to get up into the air they must defy gravity. And more weight equals more fuel and so on.

By the time you read this, the new policy may be adopted by airlines everywhere. Heavyset people are now the one group that it's OK to pick on. The Body Fascists and Non-Carbists and others have poke-down privileges on us. Thanks, Michelle.

It reminds me of an idea I had years ago, when I was at least 40 pounds lighter. I'd hoped to promote sensitivity to the big-people-on-airplanes-issue with a politically correct acronym:

BEFIS: Big Fat Behinds in the Skies.

The first BEFIS policy came out in 2002, when Southwest Airlines cracked down on big folk who couldn't help but overflow into adjoining seats.

Skinny little people were thrilled, and big folk were horrified. But Southwest pursued the policy. According to its website, if you can't fit between the armrests of their tiny little baby chairs, you "may proactively purchase the needed number of seats prior to travel."

I've never met Mr. Puni, though I might like to go to the fights with him someday. But if he's ever on a Southwest jet, he'll have to proactively reach into his wallet lest he invade the zone of privacy of another passenger.

So a decade ago it was BEFIS. And now Samoa Air has brought it to a new level, because the plain fact is, we have become a world of big fat behinds. We are reminded of this every day by the mayor of New York City, Mayor Buttinski, a skinny gazillionaire with a relatively small behind. This must be what entitles him to boss an entire city around, telling them what they can and can't eat and drink. He might even want to purchase Samoa Air.

"Airlines don't run on seats, they run on weight," Samoa Air CEO Chris Langton told BBC News the other day. "And particularly the smaller the aircraft you are in, the less variance you can accept in terms of the difference in weight between passengers.

"People generally are bigger, wider and taller than they were 50 years ago," he continued. "Anyone who travels at times has felt they have been paying for half of the passenger next to them."

Don't tell me you haven't heard horror stories or told them yourself. People don't like it when others invade their personal space, especially when they're trapped in a steel tube 25,000 feet above the earth and they won't even let you smoke.

A guy named Steve the Thin, who was once quite large and therefore sympathetic to fat people, addressed the BEFIS issue in a 2002 column.

"Remember in-flight meals?" he said. "Once I was trying to eat my little Salisbury steak, and there's a guy over 400 pounds sitting next to me, and you can't even use your knife and fork, it's so crowded. All the gravy spilled."

The Samoa Air policy has emboldened other former large guys. One fellow who lost at least 40 pounds is now demanding a weight discount on all U.S. domestic flights.

"I used to smoke three packs a day and eat like a pig," said the now short skinny guy, who gave up most vices except for drinking expensive bourbon and deer hunting. "But now I'm thin, so I want some money back from the airlines. They owe me."

Penalizing big people doesn't go far enough. He's targeting babies and the long of shank too.

"I can't stand babies on flights," said the guy, adding he should get 10 percent off whenever a baby cries on an airplane.

"And what about those tall people? They take up room too," he said.

He's correct. Long-legged people don't know where to put their dang legs on airplanes. They can't very well put them in the overhead compartment. Such people are not only a nuisance on airplanes, they're borderline criminal.

If they sit behind you, they punch your kidneys with their bony knees. And if they sit next to you, they commit perhaps the most dreaded airline sin of all: Sustained High-Altitude Thigh Contact.

I can't think of anything worse, except perhaps being inadvertently slimed through random sweat transfer at the Taste of Chicago. Imagine the horror of the poor skinny human sandwich, a big person overflowing on one side, and Manute Bol on the other, committing high-altitude thigh-on-thigh contact.

So I demand an airline rebate too, on account of my own rather stumpy southern Mediterranean legs. When I sit down, I appear to be quite normal. But my inseams are shockingly short, about the same inseam length of a mayor of Chicago, or of a G.I. Joe action figure.

"The old G.I. Joe or new G.I. Joe?" asked my skinny colleague, Old School.

Does it matter how short your legs or how wide your girth?

Mr. Puni sure does think so.

jskass@tribune.com

Twitter @John_Kass