Too Fat to Fly: Did This Man Need Three Seats?

Internet photo sparks debate on the seating, safety of large airline passengers.

ByABC News
December 4, 2009, 12:28 PM

Dec. 4, 2009— -- Flying coach these days isn't exactly the most spacious or luxurious experience. But for one overweight passenger on a recent American Airlines flight out of San Francisco, things were really cramped.

In a photo circulating on the Internet, allegedly taken by an American Airlines flight attendant, a very large man is spilling out over his armrest (he actually appears to be sitting on it) and filling half of the aisle. Not only does it look really uncomfortable for the passenger -- and the passenger next to him -- but it also seems like a safety hazard.

The image has rekindled the debate over passengers that some consider "too fat to fly," especially in a time when airlines are charging hefty fees for overweight luggage.

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Before takeoff, American Airlines ended up giving the unidentified man at least one and possibly two extra seats to himself. The airline said the man did not have to pay for the extra seats.

The man was also given a seat-belt extender, allowing him to be buckled up for takeoff and landing.

The Federal Aviation Administration said "there weren't any FAA rules violated." The oversight agency had seen the photo and made an informal inquiry to the airline.

"We inquired about it because we saw the picture that was circulating on the Internet" but the agency is not formally investigating the matter, according to FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown. "We were given an explanation that indicated that no rules violated and that some steps were taken after that picture was taken that put the airline in compliance."

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Kieran Daly of the aviation blog is responsible for the photo's circulation. He said in a post: "This is sent to me with the absolute assurance that it's a genuine picture taken by a flight attendant at American Airlines."