Skip to main content Skip to header navigation

Obesity and airline policies

United Airlines recently approved a decision to charge obese passengers, who can’t fit into one seat comfortably, an extra fare whenever they’re flying. The airline says the move was made because of safety regulations (all airline passengers are required to fit into a regulation size seat belt). And while some have called the move discrimination, others have used it as motivation. We spoke with Dr Ian Smith, author of the 4 Day Diet and creator of the 50 Million Pound Challenge about how policies like this are actually encouraging people to accelerate their fight against fat. We also spoke to Craig Nash, a weight-loss success story, who was driven to lose weight after he was required to buy an extra seat on an airplane.

Airplane Seatbelt

Are airline polices for obese passengers discriminatory or not? This is a controversial idea. Some people say it’s discriminatory. What do you think? Is it necessary?Dr Ian K. Smith: This is a very difficult discussion to have because it involves the rights of those who are being penalized as well as the other passengers who have rights to a seat and the space they’ve paid for. I think that issuing this penalty is not good for the psyche of those who know they’re overweight. There are plenty of other things the airline industry could’ve done to help accommodate and encourage people to be healthier, rather than single them out and penalize them for a difficult situation. What about you Craig. We understand you recently encountered a similar circumstance. Can you explain what happened?

Craig Nash: My wife, daughter and I flew to California. Although we had no problems flying out there, our return flight was a different story. We had checked in for our return flight at LAX and were making our way to the gate when I heard someone shout, “Mr. Nash.” The same women who checked us in said, “I’m sorry Mr. Nash, but I need to charge you for an extra seat.” You can imagine my response, “WHAT! I didn’t pay for an extra seat coming!”

She went on to explain the airline’s policy required them to charge customers for extra seats if they appeared to need a seat belt extension. It didn’t matter that I wouldn’t be sitting next to anyone other than my wife or daughter. It didn’t matter whether or not I could afford to pay for an extra seat. I had to pay right then and there. How did the experience make you feel? What came out of it?

Craig Nash: I was so embarrassed that I started to cry as I gave the woman my credit card, paid for an extra seat, received my special boarding pass and stood in an area for people who needed special seating. I felt so ashamed!

But my experience was the last sign to show me that I was headed in the wrong direction health-wise. It compelled me to turn things around. I started working on my bad habits, but at about 420 pounds, I needed help. I needed the support and tools that would change my life forever. That’s when I not only looked to friends, but also joined the 50 Million Pound Challenge. Now, 200 pounds lighter, you’ll find me riding a bike or walking all over Chicago and eating at vegetarian restaurants!

Fight back against fat What would you say to someone who faces this problem when they fly? What are some tips you would offer them?Dr Ian K. Smith: Be positive and don’t personalize this as an assault on your character. The majority of the country is overweight, so you are not alone in this struggle. Use this policy — regardless of whether you agree with it or not — to inspire you to make those necessary changes to lose weight and gain better control of your health. You need determination, a plan and support. Go to to get all kinds of free resources that you might need to lose weight.

Also, my new book, The 4 Day Diet, can go a long way in helping you… with the psychological part of dieting: motivation, emotional eating, stress eating, resisting temptation, etc. The important part here is that you need to know that you can win this battle. Craig, given your experience, what would you say to someone who faces this problem when they fly?

Craig Nash: First of all, don’t beat yourself up about your situation. It is what it is. With the right tools and support, you can turn everything around. You might feel so badly hurt that you want to cry, but don’t let your situation take you down. Help is available if you are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Make a change!

For more information and resources on losing weight, visit

Healthy diet tips to lose weight

Healthy diet tips for summer
30 Diet tips for the New Year
What you need to know about dieting and nutrition

Leave a Comment