April 30, 2008

Flying with flab

So remember how I was feeling a little squished on my Monday morning flight? JetBlue sent me a follow up survey to see how my flight was. I really wasn’t that uncomfortable, but being fascinated with all things airline (I took an airline management course in college and would be very interested in working for an airline someday… or at least consulting for one), I used the comments field to pose some questions that I had wondered about on Monday. What is the policy for asking individuals to purchase an extra seat? Is it some kind of mandated enforcement based on a certain weight/size?

Within 24 hours, I had a reply!

Dear Laura,

Thank you for your email to JetBlue Airways regarding your recent traveling from Fort Meyers to Boston. We appreciate the opportunity to assist you.

We appreciate you sharing with us the inconvenience you experienced due to your feeling that the customer seated next to you was a very large person and should possibly have purchased an extra seat. We certainly recognize sitting by this larger woman was an uncomfortable situation.

JetBlue does not make any restrictions for our larger customers. However, we advise them if they would not feel comfortable in one seat, we respectfully suggest the option of purchasing two seats, as the arm rests can be raised between the seats allowing for extra room. We make every attempt to seat our larger customers in a row that might allow them to have two seats. If they don’t choose to purchase an extra seat we can’t force them to do so.

The American’s With Disabilities Act prohibits us from requiring obese customers to purchase an extra seat.

As a gesture of our apology, JetBlue has issued you a voucher in the amount of $100. Your voucher information is as follows:

(Info removed)

Please be assured we will forward your comments to the appropriate Leadership Team. Our customers’ feedback is very important to us as we look for ways to improve our service.

Laura, once again, thank you for writing to us. We hope we may welcome you onboard a future JetBlue flight, so we may renew your faith in our airline.


Customer Commitment Crew
JetBlue Airways

Impressive that they got back to me so quickly and with such an informative response! I feel kind of guilty because I didn’t mean it as a complaint; I was genuinely curious. However, their e-mail also made me wonder… I know that Southwest had actually put out some kind of requirement to buy two seats, but I didn’t know how they made decisions as to who was required to do so and who wasn’t – how did they get around the ADA? A quick Google found an entire page on Southwest’s website devoted to this topic. I find one of the most interesting parts to be this:

Doesn’t your policy violate the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Air Carrier Access Act?
Interstate airline travel is specifically excluded from Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by Section 12141(2). Airline travel is instead covered by the Air Carrier Access Act, 49 U.S.C. 1374(c) and the regulations implementing the Act issued by the Department of Transportation as 14 CFR Part 382, et seq. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) preceded the ADA, and Congress excluded air carriers and other air transportation services from the scope of ADA. As regulated under 14 CFR §382.38 Seating accommodations (i) “Carriers are not required to furnish more than one seat per ticket or to provide a seat in a class of service other than the one the passenger has purchased.”

After reading this, I really wanted to write back to JetBlue to see what their response is. However, I also don’t want to kick up a big fuss. My whole intent with this was never to complain – it was just to find out more about the topic, because I find it fascinating. Airline management fascinates me, health/fitness/weight loss fascinates me… so this is like the ultimate interesting topic. After discussing this with a friend, he suggested that I just try to make it really, really clear that I wasn’t complaining, and maybe even make up a little white lie about discussing it with a friend who found it interesting. So… I’m going to do that. Will let you know the response.

What does everyone else think of this? Fair or unfair? A long discussion can be found here, if you want to get some idea of the different perspectives (I can’t find the original article; just referring to all the comments people left under it). I especially like the discussion on whether you are buying transport from point A to point B or whether you’re buying an experience/comfort/etc (I tend to side with the experience side, especially after hearing one poster’s response that otherwise you could just FedEx yourself across the country). It’s definitely a gray area, which is probably what makes it so interesting to me!


3 thoughts on “Flying with flab”

  1. I feel your pain! HOWEVER – $100 voucher is amazing.

    I travel JetBlue frequently for work and in the past 6 months, I’ve received 2 unsolicited $50 vouchers. I didn’t even have to complain. They sent them to me b/c they made changes to our itinerary. I am a huge JB fan! Not to mention, everytime I fly, Bravo seems to be playing marathons of The Real Houswives… which makes 6.5 hours fly by! Ok, I am done rambling.

  2. That’s fabulous! I love JetBlue, too…wish they flew the places I go.

    God save us from righteous fat people (I’ve been both fat and righteous, so I feel comfortable dissing ’em). A few months ago I had a guy next to me whose thighs were taking a substantial portion of my seat. Eww ew ew ew ew.

  3. It’s so interesting to read your JetBlue story, as I’m in a Marketing class right now and just read an article about JetBlue being a great company, etc, etc. Very cool about your voucher. So, just last night I checked out their site, and they don’t come here (most don’t – small airport).

    About the seat situation. I find it irritating. I was on a flight some time ago and this larger man was insisting on them moving some other people around so he could have 2 seats. My thoughts – LOOSE weight or buy another seat. It’s not fair that he gets 2 seats for the price of one, to spread out when the rest of us have to accommodate him and have to sit in those tiny seats.

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