Organic Consumers Association

OCA
Homepage

Previous Page

Click here to print this page

Make a Donation!

JOIN THE OCA NETWORK!

Overweight passengers beef up airlines’ costs

By DANIEL YEE

The Associated Press


ATLANTA — Heavy suitcases aren’t the only things weighing down airplanes and requiring them to burn more fuel, pushing up the cost of flights. A new government study reveals that airlines increasingly have to worry more about the weight of their passengers.

With most airlines reporting losses blamed partly on record-high fuel costs, everything on an airplane is now a weighty issue. Airlines are doing everything they can to lighten the load: Bulky magazines have gone out the door. Metal forks and spoons have been replaced with plastic. Large carry-ons are being scrutinized, and heavy materials used in airplane seats are being replaced with lightweight materials.

But the extra pounds on passengers are causing a drag on planes that results in heftier fuel costs, according to the government study.

Through the 1990s, the average weight of Americans increased by 10 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The extra weight caused airlines to spend $275 million to burn 350 million more gallons of fuel in 2000 just to carry the additional weight of Americans, the federal agency estimated in a recent issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The extra fuel burned also had an environmental impact, as an estimated 3.8 million extra tons of carbon dioxide were released into the air, according to the study.

The agency said its calculations are rough estimates, issued to highlight previously undocumented consequences of the ongoing obesity epidemic.

Although passenger bulk has been an issue in the past — Dallas-based Southwest Airlines requires large people to buy a second seat for passenger safety and comfort — Air Transport Association of America spokesman Jack Evans says it’s not likely airlines will scrutinize how much passengers weigh in the future. Instead, they are trying to do a better job of estimating passenger weight in figuring out how much fuel they need for a flight.

“Just like we don’t control the costs of our fuel, we don’t control the weights of our passengers,” Evans said. “Passengers gain weight, but airlines are the ones that go on a diet.”

Obesity is a life-or-death struggle in the United States, the underlying cause of 400,000 deaths in 2000, a 33 percent jump from 1990. If current trends persist, it will become the nation’s No. 1 cause of preventable death, the CDC said earlier this year.

More than half — 56 percent — of U.S. adults were overweight or obese in the early 1990s, according to a CDC survey. That rose to 65 percent in a similar survey done from 1999 to 2002.