The Instigator
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The Contender
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Normal people should not be forced to subsidise the overweight on scheduled flights

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/3/2008 Category: Society
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,072 times Debate No: 6123
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (14)
Votes (1)




Consider if you will the following festive hypothesis:

A Floridian gentleman called Hank has two friends in London, England, and he decides to airfreight them each a Christmas present.

The first friend is a keen collector of antiques and Hank plans send him a delicate porcelain figurine, which he packs in a shoebox filled with polystyrene balls in order to protect it. He takes it to his nearest UPS location, it weighs in at 1ilb and they quote him $161.46 to deliver it.

Hank's second friend is an amateur nuclear physicist and he plans to send him a shoebox full of enriched uranium, which he wraps in lead in order to prevent any leak of radiation. However, this item weighs in at 50lb and the UPS clerk quotes him $482.60 to deliver it.
(Test my figures by requesting a quotes for both a 1lb and a 50lb pacakge to be delivered from St Petersburg Beach, FL 33716 to London, SE16 7SZ)

Now Hank is extremely vexed about this and turns to the clerk and says: "Gee-whizz, buddy! Y'all want to charge me three times as much to send the same sized package to the same goddam city? Why, you dirty shysters! I am, like, so outta here. Yee-ha!" (Yes, that's the best American accent I can do. Sorry.)

So Hank takes the gifts back home and explains what happened to his wife, Krissy-Sue. She suggests that, in view of the high cost of sending them by airfreight, they may as well buy a couple of cheap airline tickets to London and deliver the packages in person.

Hank agrees and, the next day, he and Krissy-Sue are at the airline check-in desk with their bags. In hers is the antique figurine while his contains the uranium encased in lead. Krissy-Sue places her case on the scales and it reads 51lbs, the maximum free baggage allowance. However, when Hank puts his bag on the scales, it weighs 100lbs, in other words it is 49lbs overweight. The check-in representative explains that he has to pay for additional weight and our man from the Sunshine State gulps and asks how much.

The check-in girl replies: "Well, excess baggage charges are based on 1.5% of the highest normal direct adult one way Premium Economy (W class) fare irrespective of the fare paid by yourself, and are per kg excess. The base W class one way fare from Tampa to Gatwick is $1391.00 and your bag is the equivalent of 22.2 kg overweight so that makes the total additional collection $463.50, sir."

Well, when Hank digests this news he gets as mad as a bottle of fish. "You gotta be goddam crazy! If you think I'm gonna pay you four hundred and sixty bucks think again, lady!" he rants.

However, the airline rep politely and calmly explains that the greater the weight on board the aircraft, the more fuel is required to get it off the ground and keep it airborne and since fuel is the airline's greatest single expense, the additional cost of transporting a passenger's overweight baggage is passed on to the passenger to whom the baggage belongs.

But Hank is having none of it. "Listen, honey, look at this pig in pantyhose here," he says, pointing to his wife, "Wanna know how much she weighs? Well, I'll tell ya! She weighs 349lbs, the greedy fat cow. So to fly this sweating great pile of flab and her bag to London is going to weigh the ‘plane down a total of 400lbs. Now I weigh 140lbs and my bag weighs 100lbs so that's a total of 240lbs, but it's me, not her, you want to charge for extra fuel. Now that's just plain wrong, sweetie-pie."
(Hank makes his point...)
(...while, Krissy-Sue makes her way to the departures lounge…)
(…for a pre-flight snack)

However, when it was further explained to him that scheduled airlines are governed by International Air Transport Association (IATA) regulations, which dictate that while airlines are permitted to charge extra for overweight baggage, they are not allowed to charge extra for overweight people, Hank eventually accepted that he had no choice but to pay the airline the extra money.

But is that fair? Why should passengers with a normal body mass index be made to contribute towards the cost of overweight passengers' tickets?
(Overweight passengers pass the time by laughing in the faces of the normal people who subsidised their vacation)

It would clearly be absurd to expect normal customers in a restaurant to part finance overweight diners' meals, so why is it that normal folk have to subsidise fat passengers' airfares? IATA should review its policies and instruct the airlines to weigh passengers and their luggage together in order to determine if a charge for excess weight is due.

Thank you.


I certainly agree with your previous points that the smaller members of society pay more than their share of the economic burden in this situation. However, inequality in itself does not make the situation inequitable. I view this problem as one of civil rights that must be concerned with the question of whether people can be held responsible for things over which they have no control.

The problem in this case is not simply one of obesity by choice, but variation in weight based on many different types of genetic predisposition. I hope we can accept without specific evidence that people vary widely in size whether or not they have made any personal choices to contribute to their weight. There are very short, very thin people who may weigh under 100 pounds. There are similarly very tall very muscular people that may approach 300 pounds while still being in excellent shape. Some people have genetic problems inherently like obesity or thyroid problems that render them unable to shed excess fat that the average person would be able to.

Society benefits by contributing to the well being of all of its members regardless of circumstances beyond their control, and preventing discrimination on that basis.

It is certainly true that variation in weight is not only based on circumstances that are beyond the individuals control. Some people who otherwise would be thin may avoid exercise and overeat to the point that they are obese. Other people who may be predisposed to obesity may make conspicuous efforts to maintain a lower weight.

In spite of those cases, it is not justifiable to discriminate between all people in some group on the basis that only some of the group are deserving of that discrimination. Some individuals will certainly take advantage of the system, but preserving the justice for some outweighs the small economic benefits of forcing inequity on the rest.

The analogy comparing meals in a restaurant to plane fare is not useful because each person makes an individual choice about what food they want to eat and when. Differences in metabolism might also easily mean that some smaller people eat more food at a higher cost than larger people. Similarly, different food costs different prices from different places; and all of those differences afford choice. There is some choice involved in weight, but enough of the matter is predetermined to make it morally wrong to discriminate on that basis.
Debate Round No. 1


I am indebted to my opponent for his gracious rebuttal of my assertion that all passengers should pay their fair share for ‘plane tickets.

His first argument was that some overweight people are fat, not because they eat too much and do too little exercise but that they are "genetically predisposed" to being overweight. Well this might be the case for a tiny minority, but think of the images we have all seen of people in famine-stricken countries, or inmates in Nazi concentration camps or prisoners of war on starvation rations. You don't see lines of people who are all skin and bones with one fat person in the middle, do you? Imagine the conversation between two Allied soldiers who were being forced to help build the Burma railway by their Japanese captors in WWII.

Allied Officer: I say, Smedley, this is a bit delicate, but the thing is, the officers and men can't help noticing that you appear to be relatively well fed.

Allied Soldier: Well-fed? What do you mean, sir?

AO: Well, look around you, Smedley. All the chaps in here are so hungry that they could eat a baby's arse through a cane chair. I mean, look at Caruthers here – I've seen more fat on a chip, whereas as you, Smedley, you have more chins than a Chinese telephone directory. In short, you are fat, Smedley, and we were wondering if, perhaps, you might be in receipt of extra rations and being excused work in return for colluding with the Japanese.

AS: No, no, sir! No, absolutely not, sir. No. I eat the same and work as hard as all the other lads. It's just I am genetically predisposed to being overweight, that's all, sir.

AO; I see, Smedley. Jolly good then, sorry to have doubted you. Dismissed.

AS: Arigato gozaimasu! Sayonara, sir!

My opponent claims that asking overweight people to pay their fair share of the fuel costs amounts to discrimination. If my opponent will forgive me for contradicting him, I insist that it is not unreasonable to expect people to make a financial contribution commensurate with the cost to the airline of transporting them. Indeed, it is normal and underweight people who are being discriminated against under the current system.

With this in mind, I would urge the members to cast their votes in my favour in support of this important revision to aviation law.

Thank you.


"My opponent claims that asking overweight people to pay their fair share of the fuel costs amounts to discrimination."

I'm assuming that this isn't a fact in dispute. It is certainly discrimination to treat any group of people differently than any other. That is the definition of discrimination. Your claim in this case shouldn't be that the different treatment is not discrimination, but rather that the discrimination is morally justified in some way.

That being the case, I see only two ways to go about providing a basis for moral discrimination.

1. That it is necessarily the fault of larger people that they are larger, and therefore it is prima facie acceptable to charge them more for their larger girth.

2. That despite the fact that it isn't necessarily the fault of larger people that they take up more weight, it is never the less acceptable to charge them more.

Your last post attempted to defend the first of those two possibilities from my contention that it was not necessarily the case. The flaw in your argument is that I was never claiming that there is no correlation between personal choice and size. There is certainly a correlation. I fully admit that it is possible for each person to vary their weight widely. My contention is that while there is that choice, there is also an element that is beyond each persons control.

Even in the scenario you described, different people subjected to the same exact regiment of malnutrition that had started at equal weights could still vary widely in their final weight after some time.

The consequence of this point is that while I certainly would not argue that there is a correlation between many things and each person's weight, there are still enough factors beyond their control that it is unfair to discriminate on that basis.

I need not address the second possible route to a moral basis for discrimination because no argument has been offered other than the idea that each person is completely in control of their weight.
Debate Round No. 2


My opponent is clearly a gentleman and has accepted that one's weight is largely within one's own control. In view of this, I am willing, as a sportsman, to accept that, nevertheless, certain individuals are more liable to gain weight than others, even given the same diet and exercise regime.

However, I cannot accept that allowing airlines to charge according to the combined weight of the passenger and their baggage amounts to discrimination. Discrimination is based on prejudice, whereas requiring passengers to pay the full cost of their transportation is an economic policy that also happens to be morally sound. Therefore, my opponent's dissection of the debate into two possibilities represents a false dichotomy.

Now, have you ever been to the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides on the west coast of Scotland? It's very nice. If you like azure blue seas and white sand beaches and don't mind the cold too much, I'd recommend it. There are two ways to reach the island: ferry and plane (nervous flyers may prefer to travel by ship as Barra does not have a runway so the plane has to land on the beach – it is the only scheduled service in the world to do this).

Now let's consider the ferry operator's pro forma 2009 table of charges:

Normal passenger - �31.00
Big, fat, ugly passenger - �62.00

Now that would be discrimination, because a passenger's weight (and indeed physical appearance) on a large ship has negligible effect on the fuel consumption of the vessel.

And now let's consider the airline's pro forma 2009 fare display:

Normal passenger - �77.00 incl. taxes and charges
Big, fat, ugly passenger - �144.00 incl. taxes and charges.

That would be discrimination as well, but what if the fares were the same for all adult passengers but the airline's conditions of carriage read:

"Maximum free weight allowance for passenger and baggage combined is 212lb. Excess weight is charged at 1.5% of the full economy one way fare per lb or part thereof."

There's nothing discriminatory about that, is there?

It's not as if I am suggesting that airlines should replace first and economy class cabins with normal and fat class cabins (although, since most people prefer to sit at the front of the aircraft, this arrangement would help weight distribution).

In the final analysis, airlines are commercial enterprises, not charities whereby normal people are obliged to give donations to people afflicted by slow metabolisms. Therefore, the IATA regulations that prevent scheduled carriers from charging for the weight of the passenger and their luggage combined should be revised.

Thank you.


doubleb forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
14 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by thereal_yeti 7 years ago
"It is certainly discrimination to treat any group of people differently than any other. That is the definition of discrimination."

Here is the problem...

Someone said that it should be $15 dollars per 100lbs.. I weight 209, I would get charged 30 dollars extra (31.35 if you really want to split hairs).

If someone else weights 400 pounds, they would get charged 60 dollars extra. NO discrimination here whatsoever, I had to pay for my weight also!
Posted by Julius_Caesar 7 years ago
I like the debate, and im going pro, but i have to say that your american accent was incredibly stereotypical!! lol
Posted by theitalianstallion 7 years ago
The only problem I have with your argument is the sterotypical American accent. I think it generalizes to much; try throwing in some Yankee w/ the western. Other than that, your doing a real fine job.
Posted by brian_eggleston 7 years ago
No, HandsOff, they are just an easy target, that's all!
Posted by HandsOff 7 years ago
You seem to have an obsession with over eaters. I'm beginning to wonder if there's a chance you're a closet chubby chaser?
Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
Brian, I agree with your position that it is fair to charge extra for weight, so I cannot cannot take the Con side. If you would like to claim that the real variation in cost is more than about $15 per hundred pounds, and you are prepared to talk aerodynamics and such with the relevant equations, then I would be willing to defend my calculations. Just try figuring the empty weight of the aircraft plus the weight of the fuel versus the weight of the passengers, and you will quickly see the facts of the matter. For a 747, the plane and fuel weigh roughly 500,000 pounds and the passengers weigh around 75,000 pounds. I'd have to look up the actual numbers again, but that's the ballpark. It will only save 15% or so of fuel costs if the passengers weigh nothing. Fuel is roughly 40% of the ticket cost, so the weight of passengers starts are about 6% of the ticket price. I don't see why working for a tour operator would give any more insight into the cost equation for aircraft than working for a grocery store would provide insights into the cost equation for chickens, but if you are prepared to talk equations, I'm game. -Roy
Posted by SexyLatina 7 years ago
I am amazed once again. Good work, brian_eggleston. You tell stories like I do, or better.
Posted by brian_eggleston 7 years ago
If you have time, Mr Latham, please take up the debate and argue the points you have made.

I promise to be (mostly) serious and I can readily answer the very good points you raised (I have worked in travel since giving up the law and establishing an inbound tour operations company way back in the early nineties, so I should know what I am talking about by now!)

Otherwise, if you (or anyone else) would like to debate the matter on a more light-hearted basis, that would also be great.

Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
I did the calculations of how much weight actually costs the airlines (courtesy degree in Aero and Astro from MIT). It works out to about $15 per hundred pounds relative to a flight that normally would cost $500. The reason, basically, is that the airplane itself weighs so much in relation to passengers that more or less weight doesn't have much affect. So I would have no objection to adjusting fares up or down from the average by the $15 per hundred. Children, jockeys, and fashion models ought to get a discount. The amounts are so small that the bookkeeping and passenger annoyance (Wow, madam, we're going to need the horse scale for you!) are very unlikely to make it worthwhile.

What really costs the airlines is space, not weight. Therefore First Class should cost more than Coach. However, airlines are likely to charge $4000 for a First Class seat, when coach on the same plane is $600. That is way out of proportion to the cost of the space. I suggest that airlines be required to disclose the percentage of the traveling population that will fit in each space they offer, so the public will know what they are getting for their money. I blogged this idea:

Freight is different from passenger travel. Most freight goes on dedicated planes or spaces that are packed to the gills with boxes. I didn't do a calculation for the dependence of weight for freight, but I suspect it is higher.
Posted by Ragnar_Rahl 7 years ago
Sounds to me like we should abolish a regulator here :D
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Wingdman 7 years ago
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