Airbus to Offer Extra-Wide Seats on New Planes

Image credit: Pascal Pochard-Casabianca/AFP/Getty Images

Airbus is trying to make the friendly skies a bit more comfortable for large - and encumbered - people, and more profitable for  U.S. airlines.

The main subsidiary of European aerospace giant Eads is now offering extra-wide seats on its new A320 passenger aircraft, according to Agence-France Presse.

Each A320 jet will now offer two 20-inch-wide seats on each side of the aisle, rather than three of  its standard 18-inch-wide seats. Boeing, Airbus' U.S. rival, has 17-inch-wide seats on its 737s.

Airbus said that if U.S. airlines charged extra for the roomier seats, they could make as much as $3 million extra during a 15-year period.

On Thursday, Zuzana Hrnkova, Airbus' aircraft interiors director, told the media that the new seats were not just for overweight fliers.

"Mothers with children may be ready to pay a little more in order to be able to keep their babies in their laps," Hrnkova said, according to AFP. "Large football players may be interested."

Airbus' announcement is timely. Obesity rates are on the rise. About 34 percent of adults are currently obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that number is expected to hit 42 percent by 2030.

And this month an overweight passenger who said in May 2011 a Southwest gate agent had told her she was "too fat to fly" is now suing the company for discrimination.

Brandon Macsata, an advocate for passengers' rights and a leader in the "fat acceptance" movement, told ABC News earlier this month that his group had proposed airlines providing a row of extra-wide eats for larger passengers at a higher price, which they could buy voluntarily.

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