Op-Ed: Fat shaming has no place in dialog about seats

With all the compassion of a schoolyard bully, a Jetstar passenger has used the power of the pen to ridicule and dehumanize a passenger of size whom he says was seated next to him on a recent flight from Perth to Sydney.

But rather than receive scorn for what must be one of the most vulgar, mean-spirited #PaxEx diatribes ever written, its author, Rich Wisken, has become an Internet sensation, watching with glee as his toxic letter of complaint to Jetstar has gone viral with the help of publications like the Huffington Post and the Daily Mail. I can’t in good conscience link to the article here so you’ll have to “Google it” if you want to read it.

05_WebBanner_300x300Wisken’s Twitter page says “I write silly things on the Internet.” No, sir, you write malicious things on the Internet. And sadly, you’re being celebrated for it. Fat shaming must surely be one of the last cesspools of prejudice in which society can wallow without fear of consequence.

If any good can come of this sad episode, perhaps it will prompt airlines to look more seriously at offering wider seats on board their aircraft. A few years ago, Airbus unveiled a new seat-triple concept for its A320 family. The design, developed by B/E Aerospace, featured two 17in-wide seats and a third, 20in-wide seat, the latter of which could accommodate passengers of size or reduced mobility (at a higher price).

While no airline customer for the 17in-17in-20in concept has yet been announced, the Irish Independent reports that Aer Lingus is keeping “under review” the possible introduction of wider seating, and hints that the Airbus seat-triple would be a good option.

Explaining how Airbus monitors trends on the ground to meet the needs of passengers in the air, Airbus VP cabin innovation & design Ingo Wuggetzer recently noted that the next generation of traveler is indeed wider in girth.

Let’s hope that the next generation of traveler also has more milk of human kindness than Rich Wisken.