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The fight for bigger planes: What do Filipinos think?

by Gaby Agbulos

ACCORDING to Ramsey Qubein of Conde Nast’s Traveler, airlines like Air France plan to create new business-class seats that have sliding doors for privacy. And in their La Premiere cabins, you can fit a seat, a sofa, and even a bed. 

The same can be said for Finnair, which has wide seats big enough for you to lie down in. Qantas has also debuted its first-class suites with beds, lounge chairs, and closets for the comfort of their guests.

American Airlines, on the other hand, has announced that it will be dropping first-class seats on international flights and instead replacing them with more business-class seats. With this airline, business and premium economy seats are wider than those in standard economy. 

So while those in business class get the luxury treatment of champagne and reclining seats, people who can only afford standard economy seats are crammed together like packs of sardines, barely able to move or even get through an hour-long flight.

The start of the conversation

IN a now-deleted video, a TikToker and plus-size model who goes by “Big Curvy Olivia” online shows herself struggling to get through the seats on an airplane. In the caption, she wrote: “Honestly it’s discrimination that they can’t build wider aisles in airplanes 2023.”

Since she posted the video, a full-blown debate has been going on on social media sites. Some took her side, saying airplane seats are uncomfortable for everyone and it would be a win-win situation for everyone to make them bigger. 

Others say that wider aisles and more legroom meant fewer seats, which automatically translated to higher prices. 

Especially hard on plus-size people

Twenty-two-year-old Luisa Lachica, a 2nd-year student from Centro Escolar University, has faced many forms of discrimination as a plus-size person.

She recalls people talking negatively about the way she dresses, especially when she wears crop tops at family reunions.

Out of nowhere, she gets unsolicited comments about her stomach showing, how she’s gotten bigger, or that she needs to go on a diet. And of course, what’s a family reunion without hearing the dreaded “Mas maganda ka pag pumayat ka” line?

Anton De Leon, a 22-year-old 4th year student from Far Eastern University Tech, has been bullied since he was a child because of his big chest, which he can’t control given that he has Klinefelter syndrome, a condition that leads to the abnormal enlargement of a man’s breasts.

Often, his family members would tell him that he was already fat and that he should stop eating too much, or even that he should start working out.

For Lachica, the call to make plane seats wider to be able to accommodate plus-size people is necessary.

“It would be more convenient to everyone,” she reasoned.

“Who wouldn’t want a less cramped space?”

Jimmy Galvez Tan, 74, who has been a physician for 50 years, says that obesity rates in the Philippines are on the rise in both young and old people, as seen in the increasing numbers in 1998, 2003, and 2008, up to the present.

The most recent National Nutrition Survey, published in 2018 by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) shows that there has been an increase in the percentage of overweight children from 8.6% in 2015 to 11.7% in 2018.

Furthermore, this survey also recorded that it was more common to find overweight or obese children in urban areas (15.8%) than in rural areas (8.2%).

The survey states that, since 2003, the obesity rate has doubled, and the prevalence of it and obesity in the country is only expected to rise in the years to come.

At present, according to the FNRI, there are around 27 million Filipinos in the country that are overweight or obese. Galvez Tan notes that one of the reasons behind this is the rise in the number of fast food places in urban areas, especially in Central Luzon, Metro Manila, and the CALABARZON region.

“The more fast food centers or restaurants there are in a geographical area, it means that obesity has been increasing,” he explained.

He added: “If you compare it to Panay Island or Samar, these are far and few and very little. Probably in some of these areas, you can probably count [them] by your fingers. But here in Metro Manila and CALABARZON and Central Luzon, they’re literally in the hundreds, if not the thousands.”

He further states that the high consumption of processed and fast food is one of the main causes of obesity. This problem is only worsened by the number of ultra-processed food (junk food) that people see in sari-sari stores and supermarkets – practically in every corner of the Philippines.

The debate on bigger plane space

Many argue that the solution to making planes more comfortable—especially for plus-size people—would be to either widen the aisles or make the chairs themselves bigger.

De Leon and Galvez Tan, however, don’t share the same sentiments.

De Leon believes that it would be better for plus-size people to pay for two seats if they don’t fit into the standard size of a seat on a plane.

He explained his stance: “Making planes bigger would impact the economy, for companies and airlines will be forced to create new planes for this matter. So even if I’m a plus-size person, if I’m required to pay double, I would accept it.”

Qubein writes that for the reason of comfort, more and more people are flying in premium economy and business classes instead of choosing economy seats.

“For passengers, it means airlines have heard, loud and clear, that people want more space and perks when they fly,” he said in his article.

For those who cannot afford to choose comfort over price, though, what is the alternative option, especially for obese people?

The prioritization of only business and first-class seats doesn’t just affect plus-size people; the elderly, pregnant women, and disabled people sitting in standard economy seats struggle, too.

Why should passengers in standard economy seats be denied the same comfort if airlines have the means to provide it for those who can afford to spend more?



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