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In the Crossfire

Airline's size policy takes a pounding

(CNN) -- Southwest Airlines has begun enforcing a policy charging passengers too large for one seat for a second.

Is this policy discriminatory or a necessary step to ensure passengers are comfortable? How does the idea of accommodating patrons of varying sizes apply to clothing and movie and theater seats?

Marilyn Wann, author of "Fat! So?" (Ten Speed Press), steps into the "Crossfire" with hosts Robert Novak and Paul Begala.

NOVAK: Marilyn, let me ask you -- just paint a picture for you. Let's say that there is a couple or a man who is -- or a woman who decided to go on a vacation, not a rich person, going on Southwest Airlines economy flight, looking forward to a nice vacation. Goes into the plane, and there's a lollapalooza sitting next to him or her slopping over the seat. It's uncomfortable; it's nasty. Can you have a little sympathy for the person who is oppressed by a person that's sitting next to him?

WANN: You mean someone like me who weighs 270 pounds sitting next to you? Frankly, I don't want to touch the passenger next to me any more than they might want to have to touch me.

And I think that if the airlines accommodate everybody, which is just the basic cost of doing business, I would happily give up the packet of peanuts and the free headphones and the magazine -- which I never read anyway -- in order to have a comfortable chair.

BEGALA: Well, so are you saying that they should -- have to redesign the chairs for you? I mean they are what they are. I don't like them either. They are 18 3/4 inches wide. But that's what they are -- that's the industry standard. And I mean, you certainly can't expect them to rip out all their seats to accommodate certain passengers, you know "sizemically" challenged passengers, right?

WANN: I'm not expecting them to change. I'm a fat person and ... I don't expect them to change all the seats. I expect them to get creative. And what really saddens me is that the airline industry has never taken the time to talk to fat Americans and ask us what would work.

We want them to make money. We also want to have the right to travel. The family that was kicked off the plane in Indianapolis was in Indiana to attend the funeral of their mother. And I think it's incredibly heartless -- this policy being enforced on these people in this manner.

BEGALA: ... Let me ask you. ... Look, my friend George Stephanopoulos. Great guy. Itty-bitty guy. Shaquille O'Neal, huge, giant guy. Guess what? Shaq pays more at the tailor for his clothes than George. He uses more material. It is a simple fact of supply and demand, right?

WANN: I think that -- I pay money for a shirt, someone else pays money for a shirt. And it is the decision of an industry where they start to target people for discrimination. And 60 percent of Americans are fat.

I don't think the airlines are going to make money targeting 60 percent of us, plus all of the tall people and those average-size people who are no longer comfortable on incredibly small coach airplane seats because the airlines have just crammed too many chairs into the limited space.

NOVAK: Let me try once more, Marilyn. You're a stubborn person, and I admire you for your stubbornness. Next week I am going to the theater, I want to see "The Little Foxes" by Lillian Hellman -- communist, but I'm a -- communist author but one of Paul's favorite people.

WANN: Hey, let's go together.

NOVAK: Yeah. The seats in that theater are fairly small. If they have what I call a jumbo-size person, they're going to have to buy two seats, or I'm going to be very uncomfortable. What applies in a theater, shouldn't that apply on an airplane?

WANN: Actually, theaters have done a really good job of getting creative about accommodating people of all sizes, especially the movie industry. And I think the theater industry is increasingly doing that.

I don't think many theater seats actually have arms that move up or down, but that's one solution.

I actually think having different options of widths of seating is a really good way of having everybody get one chair. It is not really my desire to have two chairs. That's kind of humiliating and weird in singling me out. Thin people get one chair. I want one chair.

BEGALA: But Marilyn you've got to live in the real world, right? They're not going to rip out all the chairs. Some people do take up an extra seat, and it is not safe; it's not comfortable; it's not fair for the average-size person sitting next to you, is it?

WANN: It is also not safe, comfortable or fair for the large person, and I'm certainly not talking about ripping out all the seats. I'm talking about making a small accommodation that is reasonable, similar to what is required under the ADA [Americans With Disabilities Act]. And it definitely creates the openness of including everyone in our society. We all win.




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