Airline Passenger 'Charges' Obese Man $150 to Sit Next to Him on Cross-Country Flight

A fair negotiation, or outright extortion? The internet is divided.

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Personal space is a precious thing, doubly so in the cramped confines of a commercial aircraft. Still, this tale of a man on a recent cross-country flight who "charged" his obese seatmate $150 to compensate him for violating said space has raised some strong opinions online about what's fair up there in the sky.

The story was posted anonymously to the r/AmItheA**hole page on Reddit, where people submit their own experiences in the gray areas of morality and ask the titular question: Was I being an a**hole? According to the poster, the seat-charging situation began last month when he boarded a five-hour flight, sat in the aisle seat of a two-chair row, and looked up with dismay to see a "very obese" man waiting to sit next to him against the window.

"I get up and let him in politely, wanting to at least give him a chance. Well, he sits down and is easily seeping into about 1/3 of my seat," the unnamed flier wrote. "I sit down and am pressed up against him, making me uncomfortable. After a minute, I decided to be upfront and tell him: 'Sir, I’m sorry but this situation is not working for me, you’re taking up quite a bit of my seat.'"

If you're already cringing, get ready for some weapons-grade awkwardness. The large man shrugged—he "wasn't rude," according to the post, but he also couldn't do much about his physical size. Then again, he could've purchased a second seat, as many airlines require of obese passengers. That's exactly what the flight attendant who the anonymous flier flagged down told his seatmate he'd have to do. Unfortunately, it was a full flight.

While the airline isn't named in the story, those with such policies about large-bodied patrons usually stipulate they'll be rebooked on the next available flight if that second seat isn't available for purchase. Embarrassed, the man said he couldn't wait for a later plane. This wasn't going to end well, it seemed. But then:

"I felt bad for him but I was also thinking about my own comfort on the long flight — the comfort I paid for. The flight attendant tells him that unless someone on the flight agrees to let him take up part of their seat, he’ll need to book another flight. The guy seems really flustered by this ultimatum, and here’s where I made my offer," the poster wrote. "I told the guy, 'Look, I’ll put up with this if you give me $150 — that’s half the cost of this flight and that would compensate me enough for the circumstances.'"

"He instantly agrees, pulls out cash and pays me. He even told me he appreciated it."

Reddit

All's well that ends well? The anonymous flier feels he did nothing wrong in the situation, even going so far as to call it a "win-win." That's true in a very technical sense: The obese passenger stays on board and on time, and this guy essentially gets a discount for being involuntarily pressed against another person for five hours. That $150—just compensation if you agree, downright extortion if you don't—is also cheaper than buying a second seat.

Then again, he also noted more than a few angry remarks and death glares from other passengers. And he also felt compelled to share his story on a forum dedicated to determining whether someone acted like an a**hole, so clearly he knows there's room for interpretation. In that spirit: Did he?

The post has garnered nearly 1,500 comments over the last week, and a slight majority seems to agree that yes, he did. The top comment, with 11,000 upvotes and counting, points out that the $150 didn't lesson his physical discomfort in any way and essentially amounted to blackmailing a stranger "for being fat." Others say that he still got what he paid for in the first place—a flight to his destination—and argue that he humiliated someone to make himself more comfortable. 

"You didn’t even stop to consider his humanity. You didn’t consider that he might have a sick family member at his destination that he needed to get to, or a pregnant wife, or an important job interview," another highly-ranked comment reads. "You saw this as a material situation, with negative economical impacts, and you can’t do that when it’s physical human beings involved... While this situation may have economically been 'fair', it doesn’t mean you were in the right. You are definitely an a**hole. Absolutely."

Reddit

But there's also a sizable, vocal minority going point by point to defend the complainant's right to his full seat. It wasn't a demand—it was an offer. It wasn't a public humiliation, but a fair negotiation between two people arbitrated by an airline employee. It wasn't either of their faults, really—it's the airlines pitting us against each other to save money. Their general view is that while it may have been a little impolite, it certainly wasn't mean.

"Seems just like a really awkward situation this obese guy could’ve avoided by purchasing 2 seats. I would’ve stayed uncomfortable and silent the whole time because I have social anxiety so admire the OP for the actions he took."

As that comment states, the elephant in the room is that the man should have known he needed to purchase two seats. With American obesity rates and average airplane seat sizes diverging on an ever-widening delta, it might behoove airlines to update their large-flier guidelines, give our butts a wider berth, or at least stop leaving it to random passengers to test out new policies.

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