airline blocks seats as passengers gain weight – report


United Airlines reportedly forced to keep some seats free to meet weight restrictions due to US obesity epidemic

United Airlines, the third largest airline in the US, is reportedly unable to sell some seats on its flights due to the increased weight of the average US passenger.

The airline began blocking three to six middle seats on each of its Boeing 757 aircraft earlier this week, according to travel blog Live and Let’s Fly.

“The temporary change is due to increased customer average winter weights as mandated by the FAA (The Federal Aviation Administration),” according to the airline’s website. The FAA imposes weight limits and balance requirements on airlines.

The affected seats are apparently covered in red sleeves and a sign that reads: “Seat not working – do not occupy.” The seat belts are tied together.

United will have to keep the seats out of service until April 30, as the FAA requires airlines to allow for higher average passenger weights during the winter months, when people wear heavier clothing. The agency increased the basis weight averages that carriers use for their calculations in 2019, reflecting the growing waistlines of Americans.

Averages during the summer months, including carry-on baggage, rose to 179 pounds (81 kg) from 145 pounds (65 kg) for female passengers and to 200 pounds (90.7 kg) from 185 pounds (83 kg) for men. Airlines take an additional 2.2 kg for clothing during the winter months as they balance their load for safety reasons.

The carriers will also apparently be given the option to use actual weights, either by asking passengers to self-register or step on a scale, but that idea has not yet been implemented in the US. Reports from last year suggesting airlines would start weighing their customers sparked a wave of media attention. The FAA said airlines will likely use other methods to calculate passenger weight, which should be updated every three years.

The average American adult man weighs 199.8 pounds (90.1 kg) and has a waist of 40.5 inches (102.87 cm), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That compares to 166.3 pounds (75.4 kg) in 1960. The average woman weighs 70.8 pounds (77.5 kg), compared to 140.2 pounds (63.6 kg) in 1960, and has a waist of 38.7 inches (98 cm).

Those numbers are based on data from 2015-2018 and so don’t take into account the weight many Americans have gained during the Covid-19 pandemic. A New Mexico State University survey found that 48% of American adults said their weight increased during the first year of the pandemic. A separate study by the American Psychological Association found that the average weight gain among those who reported gains was 13 kg.

More than 42% of American adults are obese. In fact, the obesity epidemic is so severe that nearly 71% of Americans born after 1997 are ineligible for military service, mostly because they are too fat to qualify, according to Pentagon data.

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