OBESE airline passengers should be forced to pay a "fat tax" to cover the cost of transporting their excess weight, according to a controversial proposal by health experts.
Calls for the tax - which would be determined per extra kilo, in the same way as excess baggage - come as obesity rates and fuel prices surge to new highs in Australia.
But the radical proposal has also attracted a backlash from those who argue it discriminates against people with weight problems.
Passengers are routinely charged hundreds of dollars for excess baggage and sports equipment, but their own weight is not measured.
Dr John Tickell, an Australian expert in nutrition and weight-control, believes obese passengers should be liable for a penalty.
"If you are going to charge for excess baggage, then charge fat people for excess weight,'' he told The Sunday Telegraph.
"Airlines are buying fuel, and if you are carrying a heavy weight on a plane you have to pay more for it. But, instead, the rest of the public is paying for it. It's got to be restricted.''
Budget airline Jetstar has fitted extra-wide seats to cater for the expanding size of customers, who have the option of buying two seats, or upgrading, if the space is too small.
"Flight attendants in the US have to go down the aisle handing extension seatbelts out like headphones,'' Dr Tickell added. "And it's starting to happen here, too.''
Dr Tickell told of being charged $100 to check-in golf clubs on a flight, despite an obese passenger outweighing him and his golf clubs.
Airlines are being forced to revise their projected passenger loads to calculate extra fuel needs.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority bans obese people from sitting in emergency exit rows on flights, as they could block other passengers from evacuating in an emergency.
But Obesity Society chief Dr Tim Gill believes obese people should not be singled out for penalties.
"Obesity is something airlines are taking very seriously, primarily because higher passenger loads affect their fuel consumption,'' he said.
"But I think it would be inappropriate to put all the burden of those issues back on people who have the problem and to say you have to lose weight or buy two seats.
"It's not fair to single out those people who have a problem, which is already impacting greatly on their life, and make them feel like pariahs.''
He suggested installing a few extra-large economy seats on each flight to cater for obese passengers.Jetstar spokesman Simon Westaway said airlines were monitoring changes in the population's weight.
Adriano "Adro'' Sarnelli, a former winner of Network Ten program The Biggest Loser - who lost more than 50kg - is against introducing a fat tax.
"It's hard enough that they carry that extra weight, physically and emotionally,'' he said.
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