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Air Travel Can be a Health Hazard

By Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger
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As if traveling by air wasn’t already a challenge, recent incidents have made it clear the friendly skies are gone. Current news stories illustrate some of the health hazards passengers face.

Example one: A New York doctor claims he was kicked off a Spirit Airlines flight on Feb. 14 because he asked for water for his pregnant wife. The couple and 200 other passengers were stuck on the runway more than two hours due to an overheated cabin. That’s not exactly what happened, according to the airline. Spirit Air spokeswoman Misty Pinson said, “He …cause(d) a disturbance and tried to incite other customers. After his son kicked our station manager, the family was removed.”

Example two: Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was threatened by an unruly airline passenger on a flight out of Vancouver on Feb.16. Romney asked the passenger sitting in front of his wife to raise his seat back before take off. Romney’s spokesman said the passenger became enraged and took a swing at Romney who did not retaliate. The flight crew was advised of the situation, the plane returned to the gate, the passenger was removed and the flight took off a short time later.

Example Three: While Americans have been getting larger, US airlines have made seats and passenger space smaller, which came to a head in a “big” way on Feb. 13 when actor and director Kevin Smith was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight. Smith blogged, “I fit in the seat... I could buckle the belt. I complied with the Southwest Airlines standards "... and yet they bounced me regardless." Southwest blogged about it too, saying, “… the filmmaker clearly did not fit in the seat comfortably. Our employees explained why the decision is made, accommodated Mr. Smith on a later flight, and issued (a) voucher for his inconvenience." Smith and Southwest also tweeted extensively about the incident, igniting a media firestorm. Smith, who has admitted that he usually purchases two seats, created debates about the ‘rights’ of overweight people which drew more media attention than safety rules that govern weight on airplanes because excess weight can put every person on the plane in danger.

Add a Comment2 Comments

Thanks for your article Pat.

I have to say, having flown just this week, that unless you're sitting first class-- those seats are the most uncomfortable and tiny things I have ever seen. I am by no means overweight, not even now that I am pregnant, and I just felt like airlines are so unrealistic when it comes to the seats and space in an airplane. If I was taking a trip to China I would've had an attack.

I agree that sitting next to an overweight person that requires more than one seat is certainly an inconvenience but when it comes to the sizes of the seats, it's not very difficult to be considered "overweight".

As far as the airline itself, I flew on American Airlines and although I can't brag about how great they were (they really didn't do anything extraordinary) I can't complain. Both flights were delayed but understandably due to the weather. My one year old fussed a bit, laughed a bit, and cried as we were landing (his ears were popping) but no one said anything-- not even the girl in front of me who he was so fond of that he pulled her hair.

I will consider myself fortunate of having two very uneventful flights, there is nothing worse than being delayed because of someone's stupidity or being kicked out because you ask for water (if that was the case).

Thanks for the article!

February 19, 2010 - 9:25am


What an interesting and thought-provoking post. Thank you for doing all the research to put it together. For instance, I have never thought about the fact that people carrying their pets on board might harm those with allergies; I was always just jealous that their pets were small enough to carry in a cute, tiny carrier! (My collies don't stand a chance.)

However, I do fly a lot, and one thing that IS troublesome to me is the problem of very overweight passengers. Just because a person can force themselves into the seat doesn't mean they occupy only that seat. I have been in a situation before where the person next to me was so overweight that they needed the armrest up and they sort of sat on a bit of my own seat as well. I didn't -- and won't in the future -- say anything at the time because I don't know the circumstances of that person's weight or of their need to get on that flight. But it was an inconvenience to me and it made the situation uncomfortable to say the least.

I really think airlines are going to need to deal with this issue in some way. Either make some larger seats available for purchase or, like in your example, be more activist with making sure a very large passenger is seated safely and does not affect the seats next to him or her.

I don't say this lightly. I have gained some weight over the years that I am fighting to take off, so I have to admit that some seats are more snug than I would like them to be. But the last thing in the world I would do is invade another passenger's seat space and expect her or him to accommodate me.

Thanks again for writing such an interesting post.

February 18, 2010 - 6:57am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.