There is a new debate concerning the size of overweight passengers on airplanes. United Airlines is stating that they will start charging people for two seats if they cannot sit completely in one seat with the armrest down. Their reasoning is that the person next to the larger than normal passenger is being placed in an unfair and uncomfortable situation.
They are almost right but their message and response to the problem is incomplete and misguided. It also causes them no pain and ends up actually gaining them a bit more profit.
Many years ago my son sat next to an overweight woman who could not lower the arm rest. As a result she was overflowing into his seat for most of the long flight. It was the most uncomfortable ride he had ever been subjected to. As an aside to this the woman's husband who was a Stan Laurel to her Oliver Hardy sat in first class and regularly brought her food from his cabin. If the airline was so concerned back then they could have suggested that the odd couple switch seats but alas that was not the case.
I am in favor of rights for all but that includes the 'not-so-overweight' populace as well.
The singling out of overweight people is a tough issue. In order to get it right perhaps the airlines could utilize a movable arm rest with comfortable bench-type seating that would allow for one 'larger' passenger to sit next to another, more slender one. The armrest could even be removed thus turning a 3 seat row into a 2 seat one which would then accommodate 2 larger than average individuals.
The stigma caused by the need to move the armrest a few inches would be far less than that of having to buy an extra seat to accommodate a larger girth and could assuage all involved.
Obviously the armrest would have to have the ability to be locked once it was moved. The new equipment might cost the airlines some cash but I am certain they could accomplish the feat by using some of the money they would save not having to fight ACLU led lawsuits.