Tall flier decries extra legroom fee

Like many other airlines, Air Canada charges a fee for "preferred seats" that offer extra legroom.

Story highlights

  • Malcolm Johnson, who's 6-foot-7, says it's not fair that tall fliers have to pay for extra legroom
  • He's on a mission to get Air Canada -- the airline he flies most -- to stop charging the fee
  • Johnson filed a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency, but it was rejected
  • Johnson is vowing to appeal; the fee is "a penalty for tall people," he says
Many tall fliers know: Those precious exit row or bulkhead seats now often come with a price as airlines charge for the extra bit of legroom.
That's not sitting well with Malcolm Johnson, a 6-foot-7-inch architect from Edmonton, Alberta, who says they should be available to tall travelers without the added cost.
Johnson is on a mission to get Air Canada -- the airline he flies most -- to stop charging the fee.
He filed a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency last year, but it was rejected in December on the grounds that he didn't fully qualify as a disabled person with a special condition, he said. Johnson is vowing to appeal the decision.
"It's a penalty for tall people ... to pay for those seats -- they're the only seats on the craft that we can fit into," he said.
Air Canada has not responded to a request for comment.
Johnson flies on the airline from Edmonton to France twice a year, but since there are no direct flights available, the journey usually requires four legs for a round-trip. He was always able to get a fairly comfortable seat at no charge, but that changed when the carrier implemented the fee about two years ago.
Air Canada charges up to $50 for a coach seat with extra legroom on each flight, so Johnson ends up paying $200 extra, he said. If his wife comes along and wants to sit next to him, the couple ends up paying $400 extra.
Johnson says it's not fair that some obese passengers who can't fit into one seat are entitled to a free extra seat according to Canadian law, but tall fliers aren't taken into consideration.
"People have said to me, why don't you fly first class? Well, it's 10 times the price to fly first class," Johnson said.
"Other people have said, well, why don't you just suck it up and sit down and shut up? And I say, that's fine for you because you're 5 foot 2 and it's all right. For tall people, it's a little different."
Johnson worries about deep vein thrombosis, a potentially deadly condition that can develop when people sit still for a long time. When forced to sit in a regular coach seat, his knee is jammed against the person in front, he said, so he always ends up paying the fee for preferred seats.
Johnson says passengers who have a doctor's letter that verifies their height and their need for more room should not have to pay extra.
Since Johnson started his campaign, many other tall fliers have contacted him with messages of support.
E-mail is "coming in every hour," he said.