Friday, May 08, 2009

The Big Dirty

Following the positively elating news that 'Big Brother' is to finally meet its long overdue end, and daytime chat show gruesome twosome Richard and Judy are to quit, Irish budget airline RyanAir have let the World down by bailing out of their plans to introduce a "fat tax" for larger passengers.

As the problem of obesity continues to get bigger (excuse the pun) people have been calling for measures such as charging for two seats on trains and buses, and charging extra for flights for several years. Until now barely any company had publicly entertained the idea, but RyanAir said they were planning to bring in some form of additional tax, with the most popular method being to charge per kilogram over 130kg (20.5 stone) for men and 100kg (15.7 stone) for women, and additionally for ever inch in waistline over 45" for men and over 40" for women (which is a little unfair, but that's besides the point).

Now, citing potential check-in delays, they've buckled under the media spotlight and scrapped the plans, despite having to admit that over 30,000 passengers surveyed were in favour of the move. They've claimed that because they're moving the majority of their check-in process to the internet, they will have no way of collecting the "fat tax" fairly without making passengers go through manual check-in at the airport and thereby slowing down the whole process.

This feels like a pretty weak excuse for an airline who have even considered charging people to use the on-board toilets. They've clearly pulled out to avoid the controversy.

But the fact remains a measure such as this, which has to be pioneered by someone, is needed. Currently, the only deterrents to over-eating (the cause of 99% of obesity, let's be honest) are health warnings, which most lack the will-power to avoid, and social stigma. But on the social side it's becoming more acceptable. Which is fine, do what you want, until such time as it impacts the people around you. Then it's a problem. Obese people using public transport do not fit in the seats. There's no point getting offended by that, it's simple physics. But, most of them will force themselves in anyway, regardless of the discomfort it causes for the people sitting either side of them. So they're clearly not put off by social awkwardness or potentially upsetting other people.

The only thing which is really guaranteed to motivate people is money. If these people were to be charged extra because they take up a well-above-average amount of space, or in cases like flying, where weight is an issue (we pay excess luggage charges, for example) weigh an excessive amount, there should be deterrents in place. Just like it's perfectly OK to take over-sized luggage on a plane, provided you pay for it, it should be OK to take up extra space, provided you pay for it.

Perhaps larger seats need to be brought in, which cost more than standard seats. Basically, there should be consequences to everyone's actions, and if people want to over-eat and be overweight then they should pay the consequences for that. Just as people who drive larger cars have to pay extra in tax.

It's time to quit being so sensitive over this and someone, RyanAir, has got to go first.