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Airlines putting the squeeze on the fat

With the exception of support from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, first lady Michelle Obama has been fighting a lonely and, as a glance at any middle-school playground will tell you, losing battle against the unfortunate dietary and exercise habits of the nation’s young.

But now she has an ally in a major industry. The airlines won’t come out and say so, but they plan to attack the problem of national obesity through a combination of punitive fees and outright physical pain.

The airlines can’t seem to do enough for first-class customers — and “first class” in this case means that someone other than the passenger is paying for the flight — with large seats that fold down to make beds in which it is actually possible for one to lie down, snuggled into soft blankets and real pillows.

Actual food is plated on china and complimentary beverages are poured into glass stemware by underworked flight attendants providing service carefully screened from the envious eyes of business- and tourist-class passengers. Lest there be any doubt where the peons rank in the seating hierarchy, a curtain is ostentatiously drawn across the first-class passageway so elite passengers won’t be discomfited by the Dickensian squalor in the rear of the plane.

The airlines and the first lady do not worry about the weight and general well-being of first-class passengers, who are thought of as “donors” by politicians and the heavily regulated industry. Instead, the airlines worry about the avoirdupois of the toiling classes by passing out little packets of mystery crackers that would give a pigeon hunger cramps.

One of the great revelations of Titanic’s sinking was that the over-the-top treatment of first-class passengers was done for purposes of public relations and prestige. The people who were paying most of the freight were the steerage passengers.

Little has changed. The best way for airlines to squeeze extra bucks out of a flight is to cram in more tourist-class passengers. Naturally, the aircraft manufacturers stand ready to oblige.

Ten airlines reportedly are flying Airbus A330 airliners with nine seats — each 16.7 inches wide — in a row. By comparison, Shaquille O’Neal’s sneaker size is 22 for feet nearly 15 inches long. He won’t be back riding economy with you, but his sneakers might.

The airlines, evidently, are debating stealing a slogan from the U.S. Postal Service for dealing with passengers’ derrieres: “If it fits, it ships.”

Taking a page from the first lady’s fitness-mania book, the military is tightening up on its height, weight and body-fat standards, with the result that many service members are taking to liposuction to stay in the military.

Airports offer all kinds of services — massages, blood-pressure readings, Brooks Brothers discounts. So how about a credit card-operated liposuction machine? Rather than suffer the indignity of being turned away from a flight or the expense of having to buy an extra seat for your overflow flesh, simply vacuum away until your butt slides comfortably into a 16.7-inch seat.

You’ll look better and Michelle Obama will feel better.

Dale McFeatters is a national columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.



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