Thursday, May 15, 2008

It's only fair

In January, the Canadian Transport Agency announced the One-Person-One-Fare policy for all domestic flights. People with severe disabilities and require an attendant in order to travel would not have to pay for a second seat. In accordance with previous court rulings, obesity would be considered a disability if a person cannot fit into an airline seat. On Tuesday, the courts upheld the new policy and airlines will have one year to comply.

As can be expected the public reaction was mixed. Some have objected on the basis that flying is a luxury. If someone can't afford to fly for any reason it is their own tough luck. Another group of objectors feel that people with a genuine disability and cannot travel alone should not have to pay. This group also claims that in the majority of cases obesity is the individual's fault. The solution to the two seat problem is that they should simply not be overweight.

Childhood obesity is a growing concern. Video games, cuts to physical education in school, fast food and unhealthy diet choices at a young age have all been blamed for contributing to the problems. In recent years steps have been taken to increase physical activity and teach healthy eating habits to children.

Another growing problem is the rate of eating disorders in teenage girls. Often the blame is directed at societies expectation of beauty and unrealistically thin role models. While there is a willingness to tackle this issue head on, the response by many to this ruling demonstrates a lack of ability to see the flip side. As a society overweight people are treated like second class citizens. Such treatment can lead to low self esteem and depression making it more difficult to adopt healthy life style choices. Is it not reasonable that some eating disorders are caused by young impressionable minds fears of being labelled 'fat' and all the stigma that goes with it? This new policy accepts people as they are no matter what challenges they face. It prevents them from being forced to fit the cookie cutter definition of 'normal'.

It is time that airlines start treating passengers like people instead of cargo. Forcing the airlines to consider different body types when designing planes will lead to more thoughtful and comfortable seating arrangements for all. The US has taken the opposite approach. It is only a matter of time before tickets are sold by weight. Fortunately, Canada has cemented into law that they will not go down that path.

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