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Will New Airbus Seats Help Airlines Charge More for Wider Seats?

More than one third of American adults are currently obese, a number expected to balloon to 42 percent by 2030. There may soon be airline seats with more room to accommodate larger passengers, likely for a fee.

Oote Boe | Age Fotostock | Getty Images

Airbus, a subsidiary of European aerospace mega-player EADS, must have had the stat in mind when the company decided to offer extra-wide seats on their new A320 aircraft, the AFP reports.

Currently, A320 economy seats are 18 inches wide, AirTransportWorld.com reports. Boeing's 737 seats by comparison are 17 inches across. With a bit of reconfiguration, the company is now offering two 20-inch seats on each side of the aircraft's single aisle in lieu of three 18-inch seats.

"These seats are not meant just for overweight passengers," Airbus' aircraft interiors director Zuzana Hrnkova told journalists, before adding, "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."

The silver lining, of course, is that the airlines could make as much as $3 million in extra profits over a 15-year period by charging extra for the extra wide seats, the AFP says.

So far, only two as-yet-unidentified American airlines have expressed interest in the extra-wide seats, and there is likely good reason for that.

In recent years, there have been several incidents of American passengers being "too fat to fly" on American carriers. Director Kevin Smith was famously booted from a Southwest flight in 2010 because he was too wide for his seat.

Last summer, Kenlie Tiggeman made headlines for calling out Southwest for claiming she was too fat to get on a flight. She decided to sue the airline this month for not having a cohesive policy on the matter. Yet airlines like AirTran and Southwest have created policies to require an overweight passenger to purchase an extra seat if they cannot fit in their assigned seat.

Is this an example of the airlines trying to do right by passengers and dissipate the issues? Or is this a case of the airlines milking the flying public for all they're worth? After all, the the airlines are seemingly comfortable charging for carry-ons and even adjacent seats.

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