Airbus says its wider seats for obese may bring fat profits

A heavy-set female and male traveler are seen in a check-in line Nov. 5, 2004 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois.</p>

A heavy-set female and male traveler are seen in a check-in line Nov. 5, 2004 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois.

Hoping for fatter profits, Airbus is offering US airlines buying its A320 passenger jet extra-wide seats for obese passengers.

In a bid to fend off competition in the "wide-bodied" airplane department from US rival Boeing, Airbus — a subsidiary of European aerospace company EADS — said it was offering customers two 50 centimeter (19.6 inch) seats either side of the A320's single aisle instead of three 45 centimeter (17.7 inch) seats either side, Agence France-Presse reported.

The company's aircraft interiors director said it wanted to make the most of the fact that its medium-range, single-aisle airliner was wider-bodied than the Boeing 737.

"These seats are not meant just for overweight passengers," Zuzana Hrnkova told journalists on Thursday.

"Mothers with children may be ready to pay a little more in order to be able to keep their babies in their lap, and large football players may be interested."

In January, London's Daily Telegraph cited a former economist for Qantas as saying that overweight passengers were pushing up airlines’ fuel bills.

Tony Webber said that costs were going up not just because of rising jet fuel prices but "because the average adult passenger is carrying a bit more heft." 

However, Hrnkova said that by charging extra for the wide seats, airlines could make $3 million in extra profits over a 15-year period.

"Airlines asked us how they could create value with this wider cabin. We came up with this idea," Hrnkova said.

More than one third of American adults are currently obese, a number expected to balloon to 42 percent by 2030. 

More from GlobalPost: Study: US obesity rates may be more severe than previously thought

The Huffington Post cited several recent incidents of American passengers being "too fat to fly" on American carriers, including director Kevin Smith, "famously booted from a Southwest flight in 2010 because he was too wide for his seat."

Several airlines, including AirTran and Southwest, now have policies requiring an overweight passenger to purchase an extra seat if they cannot fit in their assigned seat, HuffPost wrote.

So far, only two as-yet-unidentified American airlines have expressed interest in the extra-wide seats.

Aviation Week cited Tony Fernandez, AirAsia CEO and a big A320 customer, as saying he thought the offer just added complexity. 

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