Discrimination in the Aviation Industry

The issue of discrimination has grown in both nature and context and is a concern in every field. Indeed, the aviation industry is thoroughly affected by the issue of discrimination and the effects are far reaching. Starting from the staff to the passengers, every stakeholder is affected by the issue of discrimination which is a threat to people’s careers. The preferential treatment of a person based on a class or category that the person belongs to is considered an unethical issue in modern society. Often times, discrimination can be fronted based on one’s gender, race or even social class with some of the listed categories attaining better treatment. In the past, major airlines have been sued for discriminatory practices either in their hiring or the way they treat their clients. In some cases, airlines have faced the wrath of customers for policies that discriminate against the weight of the clients. Regardless of the nature of discrimination, their effect on the general industry is always negative.

One of the main sources of discrimination in the aviation industry is the evidence of differential pricing policies. In most of the cases, airlines charge different prices depending on the weight of the customers. For instance, people that have physical dimensions surpassing the set design models of the airplane seats (McAfee & TeVelde, 2014). In the US, major airlines have generated widespread media attention through their policies of charging double rates for clients who are deemed obese. Although it is economically sound for the airlines to charge the rates since every client should pay6 for what they consume, it still poses an ethical issue that needs to be addressed. One wonders who sets the standards regarding the optimal size of aircraft seats and who determines the obesity level of individuals. By confining passengers within the set design parameters, aircrafts discriminate against the individuals based on their weight and body size. In effect therefore, passengers who do not fit within the armrests of a single seat are forced to pay for the extra space that they occupy something that is discriminatory in nature.

Although airlines have continually argued that the policies based on customer weight are not discriminatory, they must be seen for what they truly are. Some of the airlines have argued that the issue is a classical case of sound business since the customers are only forced to pay for the space they consume. In fact, they have argued that having obese customers using the space of skinny individuals caused discomfort to the latter thus resulting in numerous complains on the same. In effect therefore, the airlines argue that they are protecting the rights of other clients who are exploited in the process. Other airlines had reported increased sales and better feedback from customers following the implementation of the weight policies in their aircrafts. Moreover it is true that maintaining the policies ensures and increases the security of airplane as well as that of the customers. However, based on the viewpoints of the travelling customers, the issue of having different prices based on one’s weight is discriminatory (Stavins, 2011). In addition, the issue is not only discriminatory in terms of prices but also poses inequality due to the fact that it is not applied uniformly in the entire industry.

The aviation industry is faced by a myriad of ethical issues key among them being discrimination based on different aspects. The design of seta by manufacturers has been a center of widespread criticism in the past with people questioning the rationale behind the small size of aircraft seats. In addition, the issue of differential pricing among the major airlines has been cited as an emerging front of discrimination against people that are obese. In effect, policy makers have argued out the need for airlines to accommodate different types of people including those with special needs (Binder, 2013). Normally, people who are in wheelchairs and those with visual impairments are treated poorly with no space set aside for their use. Moral principles require that services needed by these type of people should be offered free of charge to the affected parties. However, the issue of whether obesity should be considered as a disability is highly contentious in the aviation industry. Ordinarily, obesity should never be confused for obesity since it is based on individual opinion and not on set standards. This development is an issue of concern within Europe and the US where several suits have been filed in view of the same.

Weight discrimination is not only effected against flight customers but goes beyond to affect the flight attendants and other staff. As thus, discrimination related to weight and obesity is not a new concept in the aviation industry but one that has dominated the field for a long time. Even in the 1970s, major airlines faced multitudes of court cases regarding to their advancement of discrimination on both employees and staff. What is more shocking is not the mere fact that airlines orchestrate such policies but the reception that it gets among the courts. In numerous occasions, the judicial system has cordoned the acts of airlines that are considered discriminatory at the public level. For instance, the weights and height programmes set by various airlines have been upheld by different judicial systems upon filing of lawsuits. Moreover, most of the proclamations by the courts are rarely in favor of the individuals that have been discriminated. In effect therefore, the occurrences have led to a wide discrepancy between the feelings of the public and the decisions of the judicial system.

In the wake of increasing weight discriminations, human rights groups have orchestrated lawsuits against airlines considered to be discriminating against clients. In most cases, however, courts have ruled out the possibility of weight programmes in that context constituting acts of discrimination. The reasoning behind the notion of weight not being an aspect of discrimination is based on the fact that one can change their weight unlike other discriminatory parameters such as gender and race. In addition, obesity is not considered in the same scope as other disabilities such as terminal illnesses or physical shortcomings. As thus, weight is not an immutable trait and should thus not be treated in the same category when airlines advance such policies. Most of the court battles involving major airlines have ended up in favor of the accused with the discriminated individuals not getting any favors (Mutisya, 2012). Even when the court cases have been advanced by human right groups, the courts have withheld the same stand in stating that requirements regarding weight are not discriminatory practices.

Past studies and cases have also shown the fact that weight discrimination goes beyond that of employees to include passengers. In recent times, numerous passengers have filed lawsuits against airline companies against unfair treatment and discrimination from either the airlines or their employees. In other cases, the passengers have filed the complaints with regulatory bodies as well as the airlines themselves complaining of the same mistreatment. Usually, the complaints are based on the assumption that airlines do not provide seat designs that can accommodate obese customers thus constituting to discrimination. In addition, these customers despite being obese are allowed to purchase the air tickets in advance with the airlines having prior knowledge of their obesity. Later, however, these airlines then demand that the customers pay double for not fitting into the seats provided in the aircrafts. This development is seen as an evil plot of increasing sales while abusing the rights of the clients that are considered obese.

Some rulings have however been in partial support of the discriminated individuals with suggestions that some obese people could be considered disabled. The implications of such considerations in future could have positive impacts on the outcomes of similar cases revolving around the treatment of different passengers including the obese individuals. Hundreds of travelers face daily discrimination from airline staff under the disguise of obesity and physical restrictions. The best way that airlines can tackle the issue of weight without discriminating against some is to increase their seat sizes to accommodate passengers of all sizes. Indeed, even the airlines do not provide refunds to skinny passengers that do not fill the entire space of the designed seats. In this foregoing therefore, it would not be in order for the same airlines to demand extra pay from passengers that are obese when they do not issue refunds to skinny passengers. The price discrimination based on weight is therefore unwarranted and constitutes a selfish and dehumanizing experience for the passengers involved.

In addition to price discrimination based on weight, airlines are also renowned for discriminating against the time of purchasing a ticket. This is purely based on demand and supply rules whereby peak hours generate higher revenue due to higher costs. For instance, two clients may be in the same aircraft but end up paying very different rates due to the differences in the times of their ticket purchase. Air tickets purchased early attract lower rates than those purchased closer to eth departing time of the flight (Dana, 2013). The notion behind this discrepancy is anchored around the fact that sudden ticket purchases are considered to be for business and should therefore be charged a higher amount. The rationale for this is because business travels cannot be adjourned and the clients therefore have little choice of the time of their travel. In effect therefore, the high demand from the clients should logically attract a higher rate because they are in dire need. In economics, the value attained by such passengers is considered to be much higher than that attained by passengers who are not in an emergency. In essence therefore, the higher value extracted should cost more money than the normal passengers leading to the differential prices.

The issue of different prices based on the time of purchasing tickets is a compounded problem in today’s society. The solution of the same is therefore dependent on the existence of a holistic approach to accommodate the views of different stakeholders. While the passengers are not forced to pay the prices quoted by airlines, having them pay higher than others is an attack on their basic rights. Airlines have defended the policy on the basis that clients are given a choice of not purchasing the tickets at that time and doing it at another time. However, the desperation and urgency of the travels limits the availability of choices forcing them to settle on the availed choice. In contrast, it has also been argued that the time  of purchasing a ticket is something that can be changed based on the individual preferences and that having clear indications of the difference in prices is normal. In fact, almost every industry in the world has different prices for its products at different times of the day. Even bars and restaurant have differential pricing systems for drinks with most of them having happy hours where the drinks are relatively cheaper.

The discrimination of airlines is not restricted to the passengers as the staff usually faces the same fate in their day to day lives. Unlike the passengers, staff members face a direct affront on their personas from both employer and clients based on their race and religion as well as other physical features. From the hiring process, airlines have been accused of employing policies that are discriminatory in nature. For instance, air hostesses and stewardesses are required to be of a certain height for them to be employed in the airlines (Mutisya, 2012). This is unethical and highly discriminatory because it assumes that smaller ladies do not have the capacity to serve in such positions within the airlines. In this regard, therefore, women are discriminated against on the basis of their physicality in choosing suitable candidates for the position of stewardesses. In contrast, and perhaps more worrying, male stewards do not face similar discriminatory thresholds in t6ehir employment. The lack of uniformity in the application of such tendencies is therefore not only discriminatory but a source of gender inequality.

In other cases, airlines discriminate against their employees based on their marital status with married personnel facing possible dismissal. This development has been the subject of debate as well as numerous court cases due to the nature of its application. Aircraft stewardesses who get married are dismissed almost immediately under the assumption that they will eventually become pregnant (Binder, 2013). In so doing, the airlines assume that pregnant women will lose their physical appeal and therefore not portray the airline in the manner that the company intends. In respect of the same, the best way of dealing with the issue beforehand is to dismiss stewardesses that become married in the course of their employment. However, the very nature of the policy is in itself discriminatory because it targets workers of one gender inclination and is not applied on men who get married. The assumption is that men will not get pregnant and can therefore maintain their physicality. This policy is an abuse to women as it portrays them as entertainers whose employment serves a secondary role of appealing to the clients on behalf of the company.



Stavins, J. (2011). Price discrimination in the airline market: The effect of market concentration. Review of Economics and Statistics, 83(1), 200-202.

Dana, Jr, J. D. (2013). Advance‐purchase discounts and price discrimination in competitive markets. Journal of Political Economy, 106(2), 395-422.

McAfee, R. P., & TeVelde, V. (2014). Dynamic pricing in the airline industry. forthcoming in Handbook on Economics and Information Systems, Ed: TJ Hendershott, Elsevier.

Mutisya, M. N. (2012). Women in the aviation industry. Senior Honors Papers, 126.

Binder, D. (2013). Sex discrimination in the airline industry: title VII flying high. California Law Review, 59(5), 1091-1112.