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Gary Younge
Airlines lose lifevests to fit fat flyers

Americans have put on so much weight that airlines have removed phones, magazines and even lifevests from aircraft to compensate.

This week, the federal aviation administration revised guidelines used by airlines to calculate how much weight they have on board to take account of the fact that Americans are getting fatter. The FAA has added 8% to a male and 18% to a female traveller in an attempt to ensure that the centre of gravity, takeoff speed and fuel needs for planes can be more accurately estimated.

Assumptions about weight were last made 10 years ago and obesity among adults has increased by 60% over the course of the 90s.

According to the National centre for Health statistics, 30% of American adults over 20 are obese. Two years ago the low-cost carrier Southwest airlines started forcing large passengers to pay for two seats.

"Maybe instead of just using those [boxes] at the gates to limit carry-on bags to certain sizes, the airlines need to have a people-sizer with a sign asking, 'Do you fit into this?'" Dave Grotto, of the American Dietetic Association, told the Chicago Tribune.

Excessive weight was believed to be a key reason why a jet crashed in North Carolina in 2003, killing all 21 people on board. Shortly afterwards the FAA ordered that passengers on small planes should be weighed. Travellers were asked their weight or told to step on a set of scales.

Given people's propensity to lie about their weight, airlines were told to add 4.5kg (10lb) to the figure they were told. "They usually lie in the single digits," said Peggy Gilligan, the FAA's director of flight standards.

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