Overweight passengers are forcing aircraft makers to upgrade their planes to super-jumbo proportions. About 60% of Australians are now considered over-weight making us one of the fattest countries in the world. Obesity rates here have more than doubled in the past 20 years with almost one in five now officially classified as obese.
In a sign of the times, new planes — set to be in our skies by 2008 — will have wider seats, wider aisles and bigger toilets. The 7E7 by Boeing will also be made of a stronger, lighter carbon-fibre material to offset rising fuel prices and heavier human cargo.
A US Government report released this month found airlines are facing heftier fuel costs because of heavier passengers.
Some airlines already offer seat-belt extensions to cater for larger passengers. While there are no official weight limits for passengers, airlines recommend larger passengers buy two economy seats or a business-class ticket.
Boeing spokesman Ken Morton said part of the impetus for manufacturing the 7E7 was because people were getting bigger. The new plane would help airlines
"counteract the increasing weight of passengers," Mr Morton said. "While it will depend on the airline as to how many seats they put in the planes...the 7E7 is going to be wider than any other competitive aircraft ...with the seating space 38cm wider."
Mr Morton said airlines concerned about increasing passenger weights were
"very enthusiastic" about the new aircraft. "Instead of having the weight taken up by the aircraft structure, there will be more room for payload — passengers and cargo."
A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority — which approves the amount of weight airlines can carry — said it was updating its passenger weight data
"to take into account the changing population. Essentially, we're getting heavier...and it's something you've got to take into account. But there is no pressing safety issue behind updating these weights and there is no safety issue in terms of larger people flying."
University of Queensland and Wesley Hospital obesity expert Dr David Carey said Australians were
"certainly getting heavier as a population. And most overweight people are like that because of their lifestyle,"
However, he said those classified as "super obese" were actually suffering from a genetic disposition and criticised airlines for not providing comfortable seating for those
"with the disability of obesity. Some of my patients couldn't fit into a car, and certainly nothing less than business class."
Virgin Blue spokesman David Huttner said the airline had no official policy in relation to larger passengers, but some chose to buy two seats for their flights.
"Weight is not a deciding factor in fuel consumption for Virgin Blue because the average length of our flights is only two hours," he said. "But the crew are trained to handle these matters and will handle each situation individually with sensitivity... and do their best to accommodate people."