Calls to change ‘problematic’ small seats on planes as data shows Australians will gain weight

Airlines need to address “significant problems” posed by weight gain in Australia that could cause travellers to turn away from their services and run up fuel costs.

Australians are stacking on roughly 3kg every 10 years, a trend that has big implications for travel according to a new study of 20,000 adults from the University of South Australia, Transport for NSW and Victoria’s Transport Department.

The nation’s first anthropometry dataset, produced by iMOVE Cooperative Research Centre, predicts that the average Australian is expected to increase in weight by 1.5 to 3.5kg per decade, a figure that’s “alarming” according to managing director Ian Christensen.

“It‘s alarming because of the implications it has for our transport vehicles and potentially alarming for the impact that it might have on community health,” he said.

The extra weight is predicted to cause problems for travellers, as “changes in body shape dimensions over the past 30 years have rendered airline seating dimensions to be problematic and unable to accommodate up to 68 per cent of males and 22 per cent of females”, according to the study.

Mr Christensen said airlines often based their average passenger weight data on decades-old averages that don’t reflect the Australian population, which can “cause significant problems for people in the Australian community who are at the high end of the spectrum in terms of either weight or height”.

“It would be prudent for all transport authorities, public and private, to make sure that the vehicles that they‘re adding to their fleet are designed to accommodate the community that actually exists and the people that actually exist, not some imagined average that is not accurately reflecting the current population,” he said.

The issue of seating larger bodies on planes is far from an Australian one, with predictions that more than half of the world’s population will be overweight or obese by 2035.

American plus-size travel influencer Jae’lynn Chaney launched a petition in April urging aviation authorities in the US to mandate that airlines give an extra seat free of charge to those who need them.

“Is it right to squeeze someone into a single seat, causing discomfort for them and their fellow passengers, when a simple solution exists?” she said when she launched her petition.

“We’re not asking for luxury; we’re asking for basic dignity.”

Virgin and Qantas both declined to comment on whether they were incorporating the heavy new statistics into their plans for future seat designs.

Currently, the only accommodations that are made for plus-size travellers are offers to purchase an extra seat next to them and seatbelt extensions.

The problem also extends beyond airlines to other forms of transport, such as public buses and trains, with Transport for NSW planning on incorporating the results into their future planning, according to senior human factors specialist Christina Kirsch.

“Our objective is to gain data specific to the Australian population so we can design public transport that caters specifically to our shapes and sizes,” Ms Kirsch said.

“These designs directly impact passenger comfort, safety, accessibility, and overall user experience. By incorporating anthropometric data into the design process, we can ensure that work and transport systems are more efficient, safe, and comfortable to use by our staff and customers.”

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