17 December 2012

You have a 60" waist? Have some free stuff. You have a 23" femur? Tough shit.

The Economist | N.B. | Obese flyers: How should airlines treat larger passengers?

Traveling while obese can be stressful and humiliating. Many American airlines ask overweight passengers to buy extra seats or wait for the next flight if they can't be accommodated. Requesting a seat-belt extender can draw stares. And sitting next to someone who doesn't really fit in their seat can be uncomfortable for all concerned. So I was interested to note, via US News & World Report, Air Canada's fascinating policy with regards to obese flyers:
International airlines such as Air Canada address this issue more amicably: Because the airline considers obesity a medical condition, it provides overweight passengers with a free extra seat as long as they present a doctor's note.
This is remarkable, and appears to demonstrate a fascinating difference between American and international attitudes towards obese people
Why not do this for tall people?

We could have endless debates about how much of obesity is your responsibility and how much is luck of the genetic/social draw, but I think we can agree that tall people are not at fault for being tall.

So why is it that everyone should chip in to make sure people with one form of bad luck don't have to suffer the consequences, but people with another type of bad luck when flying are expected to deal with it on their own?

Is there a consistent moral rationale for why an airline ought to give away seats to the obese but not the tall?
Air Canada and other airlines with policies that say obesity is a medical condition are taking a financial hit for every extra seat they give to overweight passengers. That cost is probably being passed on to other passengers.
Perhaps this is only fair. We all subsidise the costs of providing on-board defibrillators for patients who suffer cardiac events on planes. We all subsidise the added medical costs of obese people. Why not airline tickets, too?
Oh, you want to play this game? Okay. Let's begin.

We don't pool the costs of everyone who bought books to read during the flight, so why pool the costs of extra obese passengers? People who buy over-priced meals in the airport concourse aren't subsidized by those who don't. Some people order a car service to get from the airport, some people take cabs, others take buses; they don't all chip in and evenly split the costs of ground transportation. Now (thankfully!) the people who pack light aren't responsible for paying to transport someone else's XL suitcases, duffle bags, golf clubs, baby strollers and skis.

I guarantee I can list more things we don't collectively buy than things we do. "Buy Your Own Stuff" is the baseline, default way things are done in a free society. The burden is on the collectivists to argue that something like extra-wide airline seats shouldn't obey that rule.

The entire social safety net boils down to protecting people from the consequences of bad luck.* What's always bugged me is how selective we are about which forms of bad luck we must Do Something about.

(* Well, also their own bad decisions, since we try so hard not to draw a distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor, but that's another matter. For simplicity and generosity's sake, let's confine ourselves to bad luck.)

You got diabetes and need $20,000 of medical services and you don't have an insurance policy that will cover it? No problem; it's now apparently a moral imperative that everyone else pitch in to pay for that. You had a tree fall on your home and need to spend $20,000 putting a new roof on it, but don't have an insurance policy that will cover it? Tough shit; you're on your own.

I wish someone could give me an a priori theory about which forms of bad luck we are supposed to insulate people against and which we aren't.

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