hiring someone who will need two airplane seats when she travels

A reader writes:

I am currently in the process of hiring a senior, regional-level manager. This person will need to travel extensively by plane.

We are nearing the end of our hiring process. The woman who has emerged as the strongest candidate is very large and in order to travel by plane will need to use either first-class seating or two coach seats (I am also a large woman who barely fits in a coach seat, so I know with certainty that she will not fit in a standard seat).

My questions:

1) If we choose to hire her, what are our obligations for her travel? Should we plan on purchasing upgraded or extra seats for her? Should we purchase the usual seat an expect her to cover the additional cost on her own?

2) If we choose to hire her, how do we have a conversation with her about how we will handle purchasing flights (regardless of whether we pay or she does)?

3) If we decided to cover the additional cost of her travel, it would significantly increase our travel budget for this role. I’m not sure I can get approval for that from our finance department. But if she is the strongest candidate for the job, it seems wrong to not choose her based on her body size.

Can you help?

I think if you hire her, you’ve got to assume that you’ll be buying two seats for her each time she travels. (I would not assume that you’ll need to buy business class tickets, which are usually significantly more expensive than two seats in coach.) It wouldn’t be reasonable for her to shoulder the cost of the extra seat each time; in a job with frequent air travel, she’d be paying quite a bit of money just to do her job.

I’d think of it like a medical accommodation that you might make in other contexts. And as with other accommodations, the question would be whether courts would consider it an unreasonable hardship for your organization. (That’s the very hazy and inexact standard set out by the Americans with Disabilities Act.)

As for how to discuss it if you do end up hiring her, I think you’d bring it up once she was on the job by asking something like, “Do you have any preferences that we should know about as far as air travel?” (Actually, whoever will be booking her travel would ideally ask this, and you’d coordinate ahead of time with them to let them know that two seats for her have been okayed.)

Because this is a tricky, tricky area of law, I asked an employment lawyer to weigh in (who regularly goes by Employment Lawyer in the comments here). Here’s his response:

“The law can be inefficient. Obviously it would be better for you both if you could discuss this openly: she would rather not waste time if she won’t get hired, and you would rather not reject your top candidate (much less do so based on mistaken assumptions). Unfortunately, I don’t think you should assume that you can safely discuss this. If you decline to hire someone after finding out that they have a covered disability, you may expose yourself to a lawsuit.

That is true even though the issues are not entirely clear-cut. Certainly there appears to be a growing sense that obesity can be a ‘disability.’ Even if it is not considered a disability under national law, state laws can also be more stringent than national ones; I won’t presume to guess what they are in every state. Moreover, even if obesity isn’t a disability now, it seems possible it will be classified as one in the future. If so, then a covered employer would need to make an accommodation. This process doesn’t begin until an employee makes a request for an accommodation–which can be formal, or which can be something like saying, ‘I am going to need you to buy two seats for me because I cannot fit in one seat.’

*If we assume for the moment that this is a disability,* then whether or not this particular hiring manager thinks that ‘two seats’ is not a reasonable accommodation is not an issue. Most obviously, they could it be wrong; an employer’s view of ‘reasonable’ is often much more limited than the law requires. But also, this is the wrong time to bring it up: the parties are functionally expected to engage in a back and-forth about accommodations AFTER hiring; an employer should not make a unilateral decision before hiring.

If you really feel like you could not hire her if she needed two seats, then you should consult an employment attorney in your state to make 100% sure that this is not a covered disability, and then you can consider asking about it or declining to hire her. But frankly, for a high-level manager, it seems that qualifications are going to be a lot more relevant than a few thousand extra dollars on plane tickets.”

{ 248 comments… read them below }

  1. Cat*

    One other thing to consider: I gather that some airlines have a policy where they’ll refund the cost of the extra ticket if there were any unsold seats on the flight in question. Since business travel is often done on off hours (i.e., not weekends or holidays), you may actually be paying for the second seat a relatively small fraction of the time. I wonder if there’s a way to figure out whether the routes she’d be flying are generally over or under-subscribed.

    1. Cat*

      (I’m sure I read an article on this fairly recently, recently enough that that detail stuck in my head, so you might be able to find a rundown of different airlines’ policies via Google.)

    2. sunny-dee*

      I’ve been traveling *a lot* for work lately, and there has been one flight that had an extra seat — and it was only one, at the rear of the plane. (Next to me, which was nice since the back row doesn’t recline.) It’s a pretty safe bet that for the vast majority of flights, they’ll be buying two tickets.

      1. Cat*

        I do think it depends on routes and airlines, though – for some reason, whatever routes I fly tend to be pretty empty.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I was going to say the same thing. Any Southwest direct flight or any flight to Houston, forget it, you will be crammed in like sardines.

        1. BeenThere*

          Yes, this is my pet peeve living in Houston. That and your average ‘sardine’ is a lot bigger here.

        2. Emily*

          Funny thing is, I have family in Houston, and the plane staff split me from the rest of my family on a flight, but we got on and then there was no-one next to me. Which helped as I am bigger but working on it.

        3. Penny*

          Yep, I flew for business from and back to Houston recently and both my flights on another airline were cram packed.

          And I did actually see a situation on that flight in the row ahead of me where a woman who absolutely *should* have bought two tickets was seated between two other people and taking up half of each of their seats. I could tell guy next to this woman was annoyed and I would have been too. On my return flight I was seated between two averagely slim people which I am as well and we were still touching arms the whole time. Plane tickets are expensive and the seats already small and uncomfortable enough; if I pay for a whole ticket, I want my whole seat.

        4. Anonymous*

          If you ask Southwest when you check in for a 2nd seat as a customer of size, they will book a 2nd seat for you at no charge now.

      3. Sunflower*

        The only flights I’ve ever seen end up this way are connecting flights that are often for very short distances.

        1. Stephanie*

          Yeah, exactly. I flew DC to Pittsburgh on a Tuesday and there were nine of us on a regional jet.

    3. mortorph*

      This is a question for AAM relating to this comment. I read another post about compensating for ‘non-productive’ work time on your site. Is it possible for employers not to pay for employee’s travel when they fly on non-business days – exempt or not?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If they’re exempt, it’s a non-issue.

        If they’re non-exempt, then it depends on whether it’s an overnight trip or not. For a one-day trip, if a non-exempt employee travels to a location in another city, all travel time must be paid (although the employer can deduct the employee’s normal commuting time to their regular office). For longer trips, travel time must be paid when it occurs during the employee’s normal work hours, regardless of the day of the week. Time spend as a passenger in a car/plane/etc. outside the normal work hours only must be paid if the employee performs work during that time (but if you just sleep or read a book, it doesn’t).

        1. Kacie*

          Yes, I recently learned that travel time spent on a plane/train/bus/boat/car, etc for a long period of time is not considered work time. I was surprised, but it’s explained in the US Department of Labor Fact Sheet #22: Hours Worked Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA).

          That being said, your organization could choose to pay this travel time, right? It’s just not enforced as work time under FSLA.

        2. majigail*

          That said, if you live in, say in Illinois and you constantly have your employees driving for free from Chicago to Springfield, that’s not a good way to retain employees.

        3. EngineerGirl*

          Commuting is considered “normal” for work. It is a factor of where you live and where the office is. Travel is a little different – you are traveling from one non-standard area to another. I’d like to add that the time is not the employee’s own to do as they please. While it may be unproductive time, it isn’t free time either.

  2. Katie the Fed*

    OP, in addition to agreeing with all of Alison’s advice, I just want to thank you for your compassionate and non-judgmental approach to this candidate. I know there can be a real hiring bias against obese candidates, and as someone who struggles with my weight I am especially sensitive to this.

    I don’t mean to give you a tender pat on the head for doing something you should already be doing (looking at qualifications instead of shape/size) but a lot of people don’t. So thank you :)

    1. Matteus*

      What makes this difficult is that it’s not just an otherwise qualified candidate battling a perception issue. It’s not that cut and dried.
      There is a real burden of cost assumed (~2x travel costs) by the employer that would not exist with another candidate.
      We all want compassion and understanding; but a business cannot always afford to assume extra costs. The fact that is obesity that is creating the extra costs makes it harder.

      I was an obese guy who lost the weight, on my own, no surgeries or special diets or pills, and as such, I am skeptical of efforts to make obesity qua obesity a disability.
      I completely understand, however, that not everybody is overweight or obese for the same reason and there are people with genuine medical disorders. Reasonable accomodations should, of course, be given to those people.

      A heck of a lot of people though , old-me included, are obese because they choose to live unhealthy lifestyles. I would never have expected to be considered disabled. Nor should I have been.

      1. Celeste*

        Some employees cost more, and you just can’t predict with certainty. Some employees will be so good for business that it’s worth the cost. I don’t think we can treat people like cogs in a machine where cost is concerned.

      2. MousyNon*

        “A heck of a lot of people though , old-me included, are obese because they choose to live unhealthy lifestyles.”

        *sigh* See, I always get frustrated with this line of thinking. Like most things, obesity is an extraordinarily complex socio-psycho-physiological issue, one that cannot simply be reduced to freedom-of-choice.

        I’m not going to go into those complexities, because that’s not for this thread, but from one fellow overweight person who lost weight to another, I ask only that you keep this in mind before you repeat what you wrote in the future: Studies indicate that 95% of people who lose weight gain it all back plus more within 5 years. *95%* That’s a huge number of people to shove into the “lack of willpower” category (and I imagine the vast majority of those people thought they would be the exception to the rule before they stepped back on the scale, too).

        1. Betsy*

          Yes yes yes!

          The paradox of dieting causing weight gain drives me up the wall. 17 years ago, I was told I needed to lose weight, when I was 130 lb. I started trying. Over 12 years of dieting and exercising and desperately fighting to drop the pounds, I gained an average of 5 pounds a year. 5 years ago, at 190 lbs, I stopped trying to lose weight, and my weight has been constant since then.

          1. Anonj*

            This is so interesting! I sincerely believe that if my parents had not made such a big deal of my weight when I was 12(!), it wouldn’t be such a big deal now. But they did, and the whole family got all neurotic about it, and now I have to spend all kinds of time and energy focused on my food intake and level of exercise. The messed up thing about it is that I was an average weight kid until 6th grade when I gained weight. By 8th grade I had gotten a lot taller, and everything would have been fine if my parents weren’t so worried about how my physical appearance reflected on them (but I’m not still angry about it or anything…).

            1. Rose*

              I just wrote this below, but read Women, Food, and God. It is amazing and you will love it.

          2. abby*

            This is me! And, oh, how I wish I was as overweight now (~180 pounds) as I was then (~140 pounds)!

            I can eat clean, reduce calories, cycle calories, exercise regularly, and be lucky if I lose 15 pounds in one year. Through lots of time and effort over a period of two years, I got down to 165 pounds. Then a couple of bad months and minor backsliding with my eating habits resulted in a very quick gain, in a couple of months, of the 25 lost pounds.

            Now, after that, it seems the more I try to lose weight, the more it stubbornly refuses to come off. I’ve decided to just be healthy and to hell with my size. It’s not as simple as calories in, calories out for many people.

            1. kazfiel*

              you expected years of weight gain to come off in weeks? 15lbs a year of pure fat loss is normal if you just eat normal portions and cut out stuff like pizza and french fries.

              Men go by 1lbs a week tops unless they’re really fat or really fit.

              Women should expect half of that long-term.

          3. BritCred*

            Yep. I can do the eat very little and healthily and put weight on…. my body turns to hoarding it instead.

            The only way I have lost weight? Severe depression and eating less than 500 calories a day due to no appetite at all….!

        2. Rose*

          But Matteus did not say anything about a lack of will power. He said that a lot of people are overweight because of the choices that they make. He didn’t say most people or all people. He just said a lot of people. That’s a fact.

          A lot of people are also overweight because they cannot afford healthy food, they do not have safe places to exercise, or they have medical problems. A lot of people make poor choices about food because as a way to cope with other, very real, emotional issues, or because they were never taught anything different, and patters are very hard to break.

          Making poor food choices or not making time to exercise doesn’t automatically mark you as a lazy person with no will power. Implying that anyone who is saying personal responsibility plays a large role in weight is calling all fat people lazy makes it impossible to have an honest conversation about weight.

          1. Ellie H.*

            I agree. I think that thinking about the element of choice in these situations is beneficial. It’s empowering to think about these things in terms of the choices we can make rather than the circumstances we are constrained by, and it’s helpful for considering changing policies, services, opportunities etc. by thinking about how we can structure these to further enable people to make better choices.

          2. kazfiel*

            Healthy food is cheaper than shitty food, exercise isn’t necessary and the amount of people with a legitimate medical excuse are few.

            But shitty food is easier. And exercise takes an effort.

        3. kazfiel*

          Something, something, lifestyle changes.

          If you keep the same lifestyle up after a diet you will gain the weight back.

          It takes years for fat cells to die, only after that has happened are you fully in the clear.

          Obesity is being way too fat, and most of it can be attributed to a diet high in calories with a sedentary lifestyle.we are not talking being 10% overweight or 20%. We’re talking being nearly double the size one should be…

          The 95% gaining weight back has never made it through as a scientifically sound peer reviewed study. I dare you to find a study that has, there are none. You can get fat easily without it being your fault, obese? Not so much. And staying fat is either belonging in a group with extreme metabolic defects which is a sliver of the small amount with regular defects.

          Either that, or you lack the willpower to change.

          Dieting is not cutting out shit for 3 days then rewarding yourself with a XXL cheese crust bbq chicken pizza. This stuff takes years, as it took years to gain the weight.

          Go over this with finance, if they’re not willing to pay double the tickets then you should reject her just to prevent a lawsuit.

        4. Izzy*

          Some people have other disabilities because of choices they made. For instance, someone who loses their mobility because they chose to drive drunk. (I personally know of two of them.) In making accommodations, do we first conduct an investigation into whether or not the disability is a result of poor choices?

          Causes of obesity are often not diagnosed. Doctors stop at lecturing their patients about diet and exercise, meanwhile prescribing medication that may cause weight gain or edema per the manufacturer’s warning. I lost significant weight (sometimes just water, but still), when I was able to inform myself and discuss these issues with my doctor, and got my meds changed. I just read an article by a woman with lipedema and lymphedema who went undiagnosed for years.Her healthy lifestyle did not prevent her from becoming quite large.

          Plus, there are people who can eat junk and live on the couch and don’t gain weight. Diet and exercise certainly play a big role, but it’s not strict cause and effect.

      3. Katie the Fed*

        Most researchers now believe that obesity is far more complicated than just “lifestyle choices” so this is a really complex issue. In my own case, I do have a genuine medical disorder (autoimmune hypothyroidism) but most people don’t know that and it really doesn’t matter that much – I don’t know that I should have to explain it so it would be a valid excuse.

        But just pinning it all to “lifestyle choices” is a vast oversimplication of a host of environmental, genetic, and other factors – and kind of irrelevant in this case, I think. Because the company ultimately has to decide if it’s worth the extra cost to pay extra for travel expenses to have this employee on board, regardless of her lifestyle.

        It’s certainly an interesting debate. And congratulations on your own weight loss – that’s a wonderful accomplishment, especially keeping it off!

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          I’ve struggled terribly with my weight for all of my adult life. I go in cycles — get into a great groove, where I’m working out regularly and eating healthier. Then somehow I’ll get derailed and be right back where I started.

          At the beginning of last month, I decided to take a different approach and spend the foreseeable future really thinking about the food I eat, when I’m hungry, when I’m not, paying more attention to when I’m full and have had enough, and so on. I’ve noticed that I’ll rationalize things when I’m working out. Like, “Well, I worked out this morning, so I can have that cookie!” Which doesn’t really address the underlying problem of unhealthy eating habits.

          I figure that it was my really unhealthy relationship with food that got me into this situation, and so I need to focus on changing that first. And man, it is HARD. I was doing pretty well, and then went out of town last week on business, so I was staying at a hotel and eating out. So that was not entirely successful. But now a few days after being back at home, I’m back to where I was before I left.

          I’ve lost 14 pounds so far, with quite a bit left to go, but so far it’s been a very interesting learning experience.

          1. Rose*

            14 pounds is amazing! Great job.

            If you haven’t read Women Food and God yet, read it NOW. GO! Now! Get it out of the library! (and no, it’s not just for religious people)

          2. kazfiel*

            You, you get it. You understand what the problem is. I am certain you will eventually be able to reach your goals.

            Slowly make changes to your lifestyle. That’s what works. Once that’s in place you will be able to maintain your weight, dieting before you have your body under control and back to a normal ghrelin leptin release with a fix for the built up insulin sensitivity is useless.

            230lbs down to a mere 155lbs. Then up to 200 and I’m now nearly at a healthy, strong, low bodyfat 165.

            6’0 tall.

        2. Matteus*

          First off, thank you for the congrats!

          I agree with everybody that perhaps “lifestyle choice” was an unwarranted oversimplification. It was informed by the simplicity of the solution to my own problem. Eat less, exercise more,keep doing that, forever, and if you mess up and over-eat once or twice or three times, don’t give up.

          However, there are a whole host of unhealthy and undesirable mental , emotional, and physical disorders that can be summed up as a “complex socio-psycho-physiological issue,” as MousyNon put it. Obesity isn’t unique in that regard. This just reinforces my point. Obesity is a symptom, not a cause. If we classify anything as a disorder, it should be those underlying causes, not obesity itself.

          1. Matteus*

            That last sentence should read “if we classify anything as disability, it should be those underlying causes, not obesity itself”

          2. ThursdaysGeek*

            And it’s even more complex than just “eat less, exercise more”. My dad noticed when he was newly married, that he could eat the exact same foods as my mum, with similar healthy activity levels, and he’d lose and she’d gain weight.

            I did a similar experiment in a college class: tracking the calories of everything I ate and all my activities. Those numbers aren’t that accurate, or else I was maintaining my weight by burning 700-1000 more calories a day than I was taking in. (I just had an idea for a source of energy for my perpetual motion machine!)

        3. kazfiel*

          It depends, they can’t discriminate against a disability but obesity isn’t a disability
          disability yet it could be the result of one. Fine line they’re walking with regards to a lawsuit.

          I would reject her without even discussing it, it minimizes the chances she’ll have proof in court should it get that far.

        4. Rose*

          The real problem is that people think it’s ok to judge you in the first place. It’s not your fault you’re big, but so what if it were! You should never have to explain to other people why you are your size, regardless of whether you’re big or small, or you have a medical reason or not. Why should you NEED an excuse?

          Whether you have a medical reason only really becomes relevant in terms of if this should be protected. But you hit the nail on the head. They can afford her or they can’t.

        5. Natasha*

          Hypothyroidism isn’t an excuse. There are plenty of medications to correct a faulty thyroid. I have had a hypothyroid for 6 years so far; I take levothyroxine every morning. I weigh 110 pounds and I’m a size 2; much of my weight is muscle compared to most females. I can squat 130 lbs and heavy lifting has seriously improved my metabolism. I suggest trying it.

      4. Ash (the other one!)*

        Yes, I agree with this — it’s a cost issue, not a bias issue. But since the potential for bias is there it makes it really sticky…

        1. BB*

          Agreed. You’d have to wonder if the issue was this person was only able to travel at night for some reason so the flights were more expensive or they always required an extra hotel night, it would have a totally different spin on it.

        2. Natalie*

          Yes, it’s a cost issue, but sometimes them’s the breaks. It’s not that much different than the old arguments that women would cost more to employ because of maternity leave and parenting issues, or disabled people because of needed accommodations.

          Some employees cost more than others. Sometimes it’s predictable, many times it’s not. In general, we probably shouldn’t make hiring decisions based on our guesses as to who is going to cost the most.

          1. sunny-dee*

            But in this case, it’s not a guess that she would cost twice what another candidate would. She will cost twice as much in travel expenses. The guess is that someone else would cost as much, just in hidden, unknowable ways.

            1. T*

              But she won’t really cost twice as much–just her air travel will. She won’t require two hotels rooms per night or two taxis from the airport or two rental cars. And her per diem dining allowance won’t be double.

            2. GovWorker*

              If buying two airline seats is a feal breaker, it would have been kinder not to interview this woman in the first place, certainly how large she is has been visible. The candidate would earn many frequent flyer miles which could be used to offset additional costs. Different bsirlines also have different protocols. The candidate will know right away that she was not hired because of her size.

          2. Natasha*

            “In general, we probably shouldn’t make hiring decisions based on our guesses as to who is going to cost the most.”

            That’s the POINT of hiring employees. If you want to people feel good, you should volunteer.

      5. Hannah*

        I am on medication that has almost doubled my weight. If I weren’t on this medication, I would die. I have a healthy diet and regularly exercise however I am sure if you saw me on the street, Matteus, you would assume I live an unhealthy or lazy lifestyle but I have made the choice between whether I want to be larger than I am naturally or alive. Despite judgement from folks like you with negative assumptions, I chose alive.

        1. Matteus*

          Hmm, if you had read my comment instead of focusing on your outrage, you would noticed that I said

          “I completely understand, however, that not everybody is overweight or obese for the same reason and there are people with genuine medical disorders. Reasonable accomodations should, of course, be given to those people.”

          1. Zillah*

            But you have no way of knowing what “kind” of obese a random person on the street is and whether or not it’s due to a medical issue or not… And the negative perception of people who are overweight virtually guarantees that they won’t be given the benefit of the doubt. And, beyond that, I don’t think it’s fair to require people to justify their weight by disclosing personal medical information.

            1. kazfiel*

              If you’re going to require accommodation because of an illness or defect you should mention that. Obesity isn’t an illness nor is it a defect. All you’d need for it is get a doctor to state it’s because of medicine, nothing more.

              And I highly doubt any medication even high amounts of corticosteroids and depression medication would cause one to double in size. There is always more to it.

              Society has to adapt to your new body, when you get on medication that screws with your weight so do you. If you keep doing the same things as before but gain weight it’s time to change.

              1. Kassy*

                Are you Hannah’s doctor?

                Then your input on her medications amnd their effects is unfounded.

                I’ve definitely heard stranger. There are entire television shows devoted to much stranger incidents than that.

      6. Lynne*

        So, how do you propose to separate the people who are obese for “genuine medical disorders” and those who “choose to live unhealthy lifestyles” in terms of giving reasonable accommodations? do you think employers should be looking into the lifestyles and eating habits of their employees to determine whether they should accommodate them?

        I should note – I say this as someone who once weighed 300lbs, then through “eat less, exercise more” lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off….for about 3 years. Then I gained most of it back, and recently had weight loss surgery. I managed to gain it back despite eating 1200-1500 calories a day, exercising 4-6 hours a week, and regularly seeing doctors who were convinced I must have some medical disorder but were never able to find one. Now 4 months post-op, I’m the size/weight I was in 7th grade, and I eat and exercise the same way I did before. That is, healthily.

        I say this not to give you flak about your statements (though surely part of it is that) but to let you know that it’s not so easy to determine why people are in the situations they’re in. How would you have classified me before? I’d be willing to bet that would rely a lot on whether you saw me before I gained the weight back or after. Some food for thought.

      7. KellyK*

        Even leaving aside the good points people have made about the success rate of diets, metabolism variances, etc., a disability is a disability regardless of whose “fault” it is. If someone drives drunk, gets in a wreck, and ends up paralyzed, they don’t get fewer accommodations than the person who was paralyzed due to a genetic condition or an accident someone else caused. If an employee needs accommodation for a knee injury, it’s not the employer’s concern whether they got that injury doing something unsafe.

      8. Kassy*

        The problem with that is that now you have to decide whose obesity qualifies as a “legitimate” disability and whose doesn’t. And as a hiring manager, you have zero right to thay information, not to mention that you will offend nearly every candidate, regardless of the circumstances of their weight.

    2. My 2 Cents*

      I agree completely! In a situation like this it would be very easy to make a bogus excuse not to hire this candidate, but instead you are trying to find a way TO hire this candidate, that is very commendable!

    3. LBK*

      Agreed completely! Love this. Although I think it’s a little sad that treating a human like a human and see their capabilities beyond their physical appearance is considered praiseworthy these days.

    4. EngineerGirl*

      I can see companies getting nervous about this because it is a recurring cost Vs a one-time modification to the work area.

      I sympathize as I have to work out about 2 hours a day if I want to lose weight. It’s frustrating to see skinny neighbor eating fries and burgers while not exercising at all.

  3. Stephanie*

    Actually, one of my dad’s colleagues was saying they have a blanket policy for booking business class for senior executives since a lot of them are larger.

    Do you guys have a budget? Because seems like if this employee was blind or in a wheelchair, there’d be accommodations made. Of course, those are protected classes. This is sticky.

    Also, seconding Katie the Fed’s sentiment. As someone who’s overweight (and slightly paranoid as well about strangers’ perception), I appreciate that you’re not dismissing this candidate based on her weight.

    1. OhNo*

      Just wanted to pop in to say:

      The difference here between accommodations for someone of a larger size and people who have visual disabilities or use a wheelchair is that those protected classes don’t usually* cost more to travel. I’m speaking as a wheelchair user who has flown and traveled before. At least for an “average sized” wheelchair user, airline accommodations are usually free.

      So that makes it even trickier! You can argue that you would make accommodations for a person with any other physical disability, but those accommodations usually* wouldn’t add to the cost, so it’s no necessarily comparable.

      (*Usually! There are always exceptions.)

      1. manager anonymous*

        I have a physical disability. I avail myself of wheelchair services provided by the airline. I could not travel without them. These services are not “free” The service providers receive less than minimum wage and rely on tips to survive. Each leg of a trip is about $20 non reimbursed business expense. At conferences, I rent a scooter. I have been given authorization to submit that expense for reimbursement as it is considered an accommodation to meet my job expectations.

  4. Lanya*

    As an aside, why are plane seats so small? I am not exactly a tiny person, but I don’t have trouble fitting into normal seats on other transportation (buses, trains, cars). However, I do have to squeeze into plane seats and I need the belt extender. Luckily, I don’t travel much by plane.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      The smaller the seat, the more of them they can put in the plane and the more revenue they generate by packing us all in there.

      1. Celeste*

        And they’ve said lately that they have no intention of making them any larger for this very reason.

    2. Stephanie*

      My understanding is that it’s a money thing. Spirit Airlines is notorious for tiny seats. Airlines aren’t exactly a money-making business, so smaller seats means more passengers paying fares.

      I fit into the seats, but I’ve got wide hips. I always feel smushed. I almost prefer to fly cross-country with a layover just so I’m not crammed in coach for 5-6 hours.

    3. MousyNon*

      I’m a populist by nature so there’s admittedly a part of me that wants to throw up my hands and say “UGH CORPORATE OVERLORDS” but in reality it’s a really complicated issue (as an aside, I’m 5’10+” and a size 16US, so basically I need to fold up like an accordion to fit in an airplane seat).

      Flying is considerably more affordable now than it’s ever been–this allows people from across the economic spectrum to travel, which wasn’t possible back in the 50’s and 60’s when flying was considered a luxury good (incidentally, this is the period that many people reference as the “good old days” of roomy seats and free meals).

      Of course, the trade-off for more people flying at reduced prices, is reduced services/amenities, rising prices on 1st class/business class and the cramming of 10 seats where once were 7, etc, etc.

      There are also other issues at play, of course (lack of technological innovation–jets haven’t really changed much since they were first invented, rapidly accelerating fuel costs, prohibitive cost-of-entry for potential competitors–building a fleet is expensive, after all, and the overall shrinking of the industry as airlines are acquired, merged, or go belly-up, Reagan-era union busting, etc), but that’s for a much more TL;DR post…

    4. VictoriaHR*

      Money. Money money moneymoneymoneymon….

      The airlines actually don’t operate at a profit. Airplane fuel is ungodly expensive, and then there’s insurance, also very expensive due to ongoing litigations as well as the prospect of future ones. Then there’s the salaries of the highly trained pilots and flight attendants, etc. They’re going to cram as many seats as they possibly can onto those flights.

      Personally, I think they’d make more money if they’d have a couple of rows of larger seats for more than the regular fare but less than business class.

      1. Stephanie*

        Minor quibble: I agree with everything you say except for the pilot salaries.

        Experienced pilots on legacy carriers or one of the big shippers (like FedEx, UPS, or DHL) make a lot. Pilots on the regional carriers make like $18,000 a year. Disturbingly enough, a lot of the legacy carriers (Delta and friends) codeshare with with the regional carrier (especially on regional flights). Last time I flew between Phoenix and LA, it was ostensibly an American Airlines flight, but there was small print on my boarding pass that said it was technically operated by America West. So my pilot was probably underpaid and sleep deprived. It is amazing there aren’t more flight accidents.

        1. Diet Coke Addict*

          Yes, this, exactly. My ex-boyfriend was a commercial pilot and it’s appalling how little they make and their working conditions. Senior pilots, who are frequently those who do major trans-oceanic flights, do make decent money. But junior pilots and officers make absolute peanuts–in many cases they are coming out at around minimum wage or slightly above it. Additionally, they can be expected to be “wheels-up” in an hour when on call–that means, from the time they receive the phone call at home to putting that plane in the air? One hour. For commute, checklists, etc. It is a totally different world.

          (and if you’re out there still flying regional air: hey, Shaun!)

          1. Stephanie*

            My folks are renting out our old house in Dallas. At one point, they were suspicious it was being used as a pilot crash pad (it’s about 20 minutes from DFW International).

              1. Stephanie*

                They didn’t care as long as the house was maintained. But some landlords might not be as understanding. I don’t think our neighbors cared either. But that (illegal occupancy, maybe?) is the kind of thing a neighbor could report to an HOA or some housing authority.

              2. Diet Coke Addict*

                Some people don’t like it because places like that tend to accumulate a lot of “nobody’s responsible” issues–pilots coming and going at all hours, leaving quickly and finding subletters quickly (including people who may not be good renters), issues with the house piling up because there are six pilots sharing the place and nobody mows the lawn because nobody’s “the renter” and they’re all subletting and it can develop into a gigantic headache quickly.

        2. Phoenician*

          Side note: It’s even a little more complicated than that, since America West acquired/merged with US Airways in 2005-06, and US Airways acquired/merged with American Airlines in 2013-14. So operated by America West isn’t quite the same meaning as the small regional operating carriers you usually see on tickets with that tagline.

      2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Some airlines do have this, kind of. They don’t have wider seats, but you can pay an additional $40 or so for “extra legroom” seats – the exit rows and a few other rows that they’ve spaced an additional six inches or so apart.

        1. Artemesia*

          I pay for those ‘economy plus’ seats when I fly — they are essentially what used to be economy seats and straight economy seats are much tighter together than they once were. I am 5’8″ and 145 pounds — a large woman but not a large person and I am really cramped — I can imagine what an obese person or a large man might experience in this miserable seats.

          The economy plus seats are NOT however wider and would not solve the problem of an obese flyer. For that you need to go with business class or two coach seats.

          This strikes me as a fairly big burden on a small business.

          1. BeenThere*

            I can totally relate, I’m 5’8″ and about 130 lb with broad shoulders and long arms. So I need my leg and arm room. I’m never comfortable in economy and also because I’m a woman they always stick me next to large men on the flight. I feel sorry for the guys but no enough to give up my arm rest entitlements in the middle seat.

      3. Lily in NYC*

        Being a commercial pilot is no longer a lucrative career. And there are lots of horror stories out there about flight attendants who are on food stamps because they are paid so poorly.

        1. Sunflower*

          Flight attendants are paid only for hours in the air and are not paid for waiting around for delayed flights. I think their avg. salary is around $18,000/year. And many pilots are now worked extreme hours for not as much pay. It’s kind of scary stuff when you think about it

      4. BOMA*

        JetBlue does that (their Even More Space program). It’s awesome. I’m in a long distance relationship so I fly fairly frequently, and my boyfriend (who is not a small guy) always upgrades to Even More Space. And it’s only like $25 extra so it’s totally worth the cost.

      5. AVP*

        JetBlue has this$ You say between $20-70 extra per flight for extra legroom, early boarding, and a special check-in lane.

        My company almost always books these seats because they don’t fill up as fast, we need the early boarding to be sure our equipment can fit in the overhead compartments, and because my boss is very very tall. If you can afford it, it’s a nice compromise between getting some extra space and not having to shell out for business class.

      6. Liz*

        Many of them do – it’s called premium economy. On longer trips it amounts to a more comfortable seat (larger, more legroom, sometimes with a footrest) with a business class meal. On shorter trips it just tends to mean a more comfortable seat.

      7. Elizabeth West*

        Flight attendants barely make enough to live on. It’s my understanding too that they only get paid when the plane is flying (correct me if I’m wrong). So all the time people are wasting trying to cram their too-big, should-have-checked-it bags into the overhead, they’re losing money.

    5. KayDay*

      Although I agree with the other posters that costs are a major reason why plane seats are actually so small, I completely agree with your question in a rhetorical sense. I’m definitely not tiny, but I’m not obese either. When I was flying with my similarly not-tiny not-obese boyfriend (~5’9″), his stupid manly shoulders overlapped a significant portion of my seat, which meant I had a choice between uncomfortably cuddling and uncomfortably leaning over in the other direction. It’s ridiculous that a normal, healthy, in shape person cannot comfortably sit next to their normal, healthy, slightly-less-in-shape romantic partner comfortably!

      1. Artemesia*

        I once flew in the middle seat between two football players. Their shoulders met in the space my body was supposed to occupy. They were not fat; but they had huge upper bodies. We all had to sit at a sort of angle to fit. This was back when coach had legroom too — we would never have managed in coach today.

    6. Rayner*

      I’ve included a link on a separate comment, just because otherwise I’ll get moderated until AAM comes back.

      Put it simply, they want more money. The more people they can pack into a plane, the more money turns over. The more money turns over, the more profit they make because that person now might buy food, something from the duty free, and it’s another person through the bars, restaurants, and shops of the airport. That one person per row means twenty to thirty people more per flight, if not fifty, depending on how big the plane is, which means a vast amount of money goes through the airline and associated people’s pockets.

      They are also small because they were based on the measurements of a male pilot’s hips from sixty five years ago. Women have wider hips so they are automatically disadvantaged. As humans, we are bigger than we were fifty years ago, so everybody struggles to fit now.

      When flying was a luxury, seats were bigger because the only way you make people buy luxuries is by offering them more than they’d get elsewhere. Novelty, extra special service, big seats, exotic destinations, and faster travel were all the things airlines offered you if you went by plane, not by train or boat.

      Conversely, now, it’s a commodity to fly outside of business/first class. You’re selling ‘things’ (seats), not experiences. And you know how they make money out of that?

      Pile ’em high, and sell ’em cheap.

      They know people will buy because they have to. You can’t get around flying nowadays, and most people can’t afford to upgrade as far as business or plus. So they have to take what they can, and the airlines can keep squeezing profit out of them, because there’s no choice. You have to fly to Germany, and they know you can’t do it any other way. So they don’t have any incentive to make their seats bigger; on the contrary, they just have to squeeze another person in the row, and take two of you for the same seat space of one from fifty years ago.

      And the more you pack in, the more money you make, and now we’re back at the first thing again.

      So airplane seats are small because airlines want profit, designers are basing the planes on measurements of fifty years ago and still shrinking them, and because people don’t have a choice.

      And they’re still shrinking. ‘Slimline’ seats with less padding and no recline are on the way because they want to add in more seats to already overcrowded planes.

      Enjoy that thought while I go and hit my head on the wall.

      1. TL*

        Just a quibble, but not “everyone” struggles to fit now. I’m 5’3″ and a size 6-8, so shortish but not small, and I have no problems fitting in the airline seat.

        I do agree with the other commentors that some sized-up seating options would be/are nice but plenty of people don’t need them. (In fact, it would probably skew towards a younger population – generally smaller, anyway, most of my friends are my size or smaller – being reasonably comfortable in an airline seat, except for the super tall ones, and older people buying the upgrades.)

        1. Rayner*

          No, not everybody, I should have clarified that.

          But as this article here says, http://www.businessinsider.com/why-isnt-plus-size-bigger-2012-12, people are getting bigger, and a large proportion of the population struggle to fit. This is not showing signs of slowing down, and although other people don’t ‘need’ them in the sense that they do fit, I bet you wouldn’t say no to a seat an inch or three wider. But I take your point. *hat tip to you*

          Also, your second paragraph basically outlines Ryanair (and I want to say EasyJet for some reason)’s basic target marketing. Young, not big spenders, that kind of people because they’ll be crammed on.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          I also do not have wider hips. Being built like a prepubescent teenage boy probably isn’t something to brag about, but I do fit in an airline seat quite comfortably.

          1. Rayner*

            Women do, on average, have wider hips than men.

            But as you point out, body shape is variable :D

        3. Anonsie*

          I’m a whole five feet tall and average build and I’ve been on plenty of planes where my knees nearly hit the seat in front of me and I didn’t even have room to slouch to the side, which has always made me wonder how in god’s name a normal size person fits.

          1. holly*

            same height here. i am so glad i’m not taller when flying. i sometimes struggle with where to put my feet. it works fine if you don’t use the underseat storage :-p but airlines always stress to do this. blarg.

          2. Tasha*

            They don’t. I’m 5’9″ with a small frame, and my legs are too long to fit in ordinary airline seats. (I can slouch to the side and otherwise contort myself into the seat, but it looks and feels really awkward.) Airlines want to sell upgrades, and I’m fairly sure they do that by making basic seats barely usable.

        4. Lora*

          Nuh-uh! I’m 5’5″ and size 2, and I’m miserable on anything smaller than a JetBlue Embraer 190 (seat width 18″, pitch 34). I have special animosity for United and American regional jets, which are SO SO TINY that I can’t be in them more than 45 minutes without getting a blinding headache from the neck and back cramping. There’s one particular narrowbody jet, I think it’s one of the Airbus jets used by American, that has 17 inch seats 30 deg pitch and at the end of a flight from Cleveland to Ann Arbor I was just spitting nails, I was so frustrated and achey and miserable.

          I don’t even want to hear about how if people would only take care of their fatty fat tubby-lump selves they would fit in the seat designed for Barbie dolls. I weigh 120 pounds AT MOST, if I’m banging my head on the overhead luggage compartment and have my knees halfway to my chest, THE SEAT IS TOO SMALL.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Yes, it is!

            I paid for extra legroom (grrrr) for my vacation flight–I’m sure in the hell not going to try and sleep on the plane all scrunched up. That doesn’t help me if the seat is narrow. I’m not obese, but I am taller than average for a woman and have long legs and arms. If I could afford the $5000 to fly first class, I would have gone that route, but alas, I don’t have a money tree in my backyard.

      2. Pasque*

        Even worse, a few years ago, an airline actually tried to introduce “standing seats.” The medical/insurance industry shot it down after pointing out the number of pulmonary embolisms that would result.

    7. Calla*

      I have the opposite problem. Granted I haven’t flown in a few years so maybe seats have gotten smaller, but I never had a problem with them. On the train, though, I am always squished — I am smaller than average and the “edges” of each designated seat barely extend past my sides, which means if anyone bigger than me is sitting next to me – squashed! It’s ridiculous. Fine, fine, you can argue you don’t have to accommodate overweight people, but average people should at least be able to sit in your seats side by side without being extremely uncomfortable.

  5. Ash (the other one!)*

    This is such a complicated issue. Asking about comfort with travel is such a minefield — could be opening up to family situation, disability, a whole host of things that aren’t appropriate in an interview, but the ability to travel, and within the allotted budget, is a crucial piece of doing business.

    I also wonder what changing the travel policy for this employee would mean for the others in the company. If obesity is not a covered disability, it isn’t technically classified as a disability accommodation… if she’s flying business and her coworkers are in coach they’d likely feel pretty put-off…

    I just can’t see a win here…

    1. Joey*

      I assure you that the person with the disability won’t ever have it better than those without

        1. manager anonymous*

          Joey, I came off of a flight with a colleague from another company. The wheelchair and attendant met me at the gate. The colleague actually said “lucky you” I couldn’t believe it. Seriously, I would rather be able to walk. I don’t even have a ‘hidden” disability. The crutch I use makes it pretty obvious that I would need a little help getting around. Lucky me, I know how to take care of myself and avail myself of help when I need it.

  6. MousyNon*

    Just to add–OP, you can always consider train tickets or hiring a car service as more affordable alternatives in some case, for example when the travel is intra-regional and the distance isn’t prohibitive?

  7. BB*

    Regardless of legality, I think asking her to pay for 1/2 the seat would be wrong. When it comes to travel, regardless of the accommodation at hand, I hate when companies nitpick their own employees.

    1. Ash (the other one!)*

      I understand the sentiment though out of “fairness” — If the company will pay for a standard coach seat for their employees, the employee can chose to upgrade at their own dime. For instance, I sometimes pay to move to the “coach plus” seats, but I cannot put that on my business card, that is my own expense. It’s just so sticky because in this case its not just a desire for more room, it’s a necessity to even be able to travel…

      1. Del*

        It’s just so sticky because in this case its not just a desire for more room, it’s a necessity to even be able to travel…

        That’s what makes it not sticky. It isn’t a luxury or an addon or a perk. It is non-negotiable that the potential employee would need the second seat.

      2. KayDay*

        I think fairness would be a potential issue if they upgraded her to business class (where there are other “perks” besides the size of the seat), but not so much if it’s simply a matter of buying two coach seats. But at the same time, if a single business class seat ends up costing less than two coach seats, I could see how the company would see it as reasonable to purchase that while the other employees would see it as unfair. However, even if that’s the case, I think it falls into the life’s-not-fair category.

    2. Stephanie*

      Plus, that might be a lawsuit waiting to happen. Even if it’s thrown out, that’s not great PR for the company.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      I think it’s particularly wrong if it’s after she’s hired.

      We all talk about knowing your benefits & total compensation before accepting an offer. If she traveled once very other week, and the flight averaged $300 roundtrip, that’s an extra $7800 out of an employee’s pocket. Not insignificant.

      My boss typically does two different trips nearly every week. In his case, $300 x 2 x 48 = $28,800 would be the extra cost. He’s lucky he doesn’t require two seats.

      1. Sunflower*

        I was thinking this too. If you don’t tell the employee and then throw it on them, well, don’t be shocked if they walk right out your door

      2. TL*

        And it gets more expensive if you’re doing cross-country flights or flying to expensive areas or flying to places with only small regional airports. It could easily be 500+*2 for some flights.

      3. Rayner*

        But that’s the cost of the employee.

        That’s what the business agrees to takes on if she agrees to work for them. Just like they would have to agree to perhaps widening doors, or creating a designated parking space for a disabled person, they would agree to the additional cost of flying her around.

        It sucks but they have to go in with eyes wide open on that.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I was replying to BB, who said asking the employee to pay was wrong. I agree, particularly if it’s sprung on the employee after they start.

          The added cost is the same for whoever foots the bill, but the employer would know ahead of time that they wouldn’t pay for extra seats, while if the discussion took place after the hire AND they made the employee pay, it would really skew whether the job was a good income increase or not.

  8. Jamie*

    Just as a point of reference, the EEOC does now consider obesity a disability and has gotten at least this settlement where the court agreed.


    This article has a short Q&A with the EEOC commissioner on the topic:


    So even if it’s not considered a disability in all jurisdictions right now, people would be smart to heed Alison’s advice in taking into account that it may well be.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      One caveat to that — a complicating factor is not all obesity is clearly protected under the ADA, only severe obesity in specific circumstances. So it’s still somewhat hazy, although I totally agree that employers should proceed under the assumption that it’s covered, in order to be on the safe side of the law (and especially as the law is developing pretty quickly in this area).

      1. Jamie*

        Yes, and there is no way to know where the courts will fall on where the cut off is and if root cause will become an issue.

        In the EEOC case referenced in the first link they reference this sticky wicket of physiological issues or disease vs will power or lifestyle. But in the second link the commissioner seems to be setting the bar pretty high at 100% over normal weight and as a result of a physiological such as thyroid, etc.

        The EEOC had offered the expert testimony of a renowned obesity researcher that Harrison’s obesity was the result of a physical disorder or disease, and was not caused by lack of character or willpower. But the court reasoned that “neither the EEOC nor the Fifth Circuit have ever required a disabled party to prove the underlying basis of their impairment.”

        This is going to be the gray area of gray areas as these types of cases work through the courts.

        I am sure some people are impaired before they are 100% heavier than norm. And what criteria do they use to determine the norm? And if mental and psychological disabilities fall under the ADA (and they do) then does this apply for the non-physiological cases in which there may be some kind of food addiction? No one has these answers yet and it’s going to be a interesting, but messy crawl through the courts as these things become precedent one case at a time.

        1. Del*

          But the court reasoned that “neither the EEOC nor the Fifth Circuit have ever required a disabled party to prove the underlying basis of their impairment.”

          Can you just imagine how appalled people would be if we started applying that same level of judgment to everything else that we apply to obesity? “Nah, you broke your leg playing rugby, and you should have known better than to participate in a dangerous sport. No accommodations for you, and maybe you’ll show better judgment in the future.”

          1. TL*

            To be fair, sometimes that judgment is used. My friend’s insurance company stopped paying for any sports-induced injury after god knows how many broken bones/infections/hospital visits – the doctors had told her to stop playing, her body couldn’t take it, and after that the insurance company stopped paying – right before her career-ending injury, actually.

            1. Jamie*

              For insurance, sure. But it wouldn’t matter if she were routinely throwing herself off of buildings and ended up in a wheelchair the ADA applies to her in the workplace just as much as to someone born with their disability.

              1. TL*

                Oh, yeah. She was definitely offered a handicap permit while she was recovering, too.

                I was just noting that there are other cases where we do start saying things like that.

            1. OhNo*

              Temporary disabilities are still disabilities. They may not necessarily be covered the same way under employment law, but they are still disabilities.

              Plus you never know when a temporary impairment will become a permanent impairment.

                1. Lizzie*

                  I didn’t realize that. So if I were a cashier, broke my leg tomorrow, and couldn’t stand at the register, my employer could legally fire me rather than providing a stool?

                2. Natalie*

                  Possibly. Assuming FMLA applied and you could afford to take the time off, your job could potentially be protected. It’s also possible the state would have stricter laws.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  If you were covered under FMLA, they’d have to let you take time off and not fire you for it. But the federal ADA law wouldn’t come into play.

  9. MR*

    I’m curious to know if the candidate has needed to fly somewhere as a part of the interview process. If so, how did that situation go? That may provide you with the answer that you need…?

  10. Celeste*

    If she needs two seats, she needs two seats. You wouldn’t want her to miss the flight because the airline insisted she use two rather than squeeze another passenger. To me the only tricky part is buying her ticket so that she always has and assignment for the two seats together and doesn’t have to be at the mercy of the airline moving people around like chess players to accommodate her at the last minute.

    If she’s the best candidate, she just is. You never know what the future holds with someone’s weight or health in general. It could change, for better or for worse.

    1. Sunflower*

      That’s a good point. So much business travel is booked very close to departure date. I usually book my flights about 3 weeks out, sometimes 4-5, and even then I rarely see 2 seats next to each other unless you upgrade.

      1. Judy*

        When I flew cross country with two kids for my father-in-law’s funeral, husband having been there 5 days already, that was my big concern. There certainly weren’t 3 seats together, and I wasn’t happy about the idea of scattering a 4 year old and 6 year old throughout a plane, even if they were both “old pros” about flying.

        The airlines tend to block some seats just for those emergencies.

        I’ve also volunteered to move when travelling alone and someone is separated from the rest of their group.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yeah, that makes no sense to me. I’d rather move too, than let a 4-year-old sit next to a stranger the whole time. It’s not a big deal for me but it might be for a little kid.

          1. Izzy*

            On a flight on Southwest, I think, a family boarded at the last minute (getting ready with small children…) The attendant asked for volunteers to change seats so the two small children could each sit with a parent. At first no one volunteered, even though complimentary beverages were offered to volunteers. Then the attendant added “If there are no volunteers, someone is going to be babysitting a 4-year old for the next four hours.” Hands went up.

  11. Katie the Fed*

    I just remembered something:

    “Under ADA, an individual with a disability is a person who: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; OR (2) has a record of such an impairment; OR (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.”

    So whether or not it IS a disability, if you’re regarding it as such, she might be allowed some accommodation. Then you get into the other issue of whether or not two seats is reasonable.

    Personally, I’d have the conversation up front about what she needs when traveling and let her broach it. If you’re sure she’s the right person for the job, I’d pony up and pay for it.

      1. Jamie*

        I think it would be if your job requires it, and the OP’s wording is that the position will travel extensively seems to fit.

        Even if she doesn’t get this job, if the jobs for which she’s qualified require travel and she couldn’t, then her having to limit herself to jobs with no travel would be life limiting, I would think.

    1. Joey*

      Under ADAA its more likely to qualify

      Ponying up and paying for it is easier said than done. I’m sure you know its not that easy. Can they afford it? Will it prohibit her from getting to her destinations on time?

  12. Former Professional Computer Geek*

    I have been this person.

    When I flew out for the interview I told them up front that I would need two seats to fly. They told me, “That’s not a problem, but we may not be able to get you on a direct flight.” They weren’t able to, and it was not a big deal.

    Once a year I flew for business travel. I’d always request that they book with Southwest because of their policy that if, in all legs of a single direction, the planes are not full, they will refund the cost of the second seat. [That doesn’t happen often on trips to, say, California, but it can to other places.]

    One thing that came up during the hiring process was the bathrooms. It’s not well know but wall-mounted toilets, which were all the rage in company construction in the 1990s and 2000s, are not rated for more than about 250 lbs. When I asked about getting them retrofitted [there are support devices available] I found out that they were already working on it.

    You may think that this is simply an obesity issue, but it is not. This company found out – the hard way – that a 190 lb person in a wheelchair who swings onto a toilet can easily exceed 250 lbs of weight coming down which, in turn, can snap a wall-mounted toilet right off the wall.

    I also echo the thanks for a non-judgemental response. Studies show that there is a perception that fat people make bad employees (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-07/msu-src071808.php) and that they cause an increase in health care costs and neither is true. Hire people based on their abilities, not their body size.

      1. Former Professional Computer Geek*

        John, I question that article up and down. I would never, ever trust anything in the mass media without reading the actual research itself, as what the mass media usually publishes are press releases written by people who haven’t read the whole study. Most of their links in that article go right back to the ABC news website instead of to actual proof of their statements, and they do not even link to the study at all. They talk about the CDC, who has already been caught fudging the data on how many people “die of obesity” (turns out, it’s really very few). Then they quote a weight loss surgery doctor — someone who makes money off of people who are fat! No preconceived bias there!

        Go find the original study. It turns out they not only data-mined (that is, used pre-existing data to use their study), but they cherry-picked their data to exclude certain groups of people. Even better, they eventually show that only the most fattest people cause a great rise in costs. The amount of difference of cost between fat and “normal” weight people is there, but it’s nowhere near as dramatic as the PR would convince you.

        And since most fat people are in the “overweight” or “obese” categories of the nonsensical BMI, when you average things out, there’s really not that much of a cost increase at all.

      2. KellyK*

        There is no illness that fat people get that thin people don’t. That includes diabetes.

        Estimates of the “healthcare cost” of obesity tend to disregard the effects of weight stigma. Doctors often recommend weight loss as a treatment for conditions that aren’t related to weight, which means the underlying condition gets worse and costs more. There’s also the fact that because so many doctors have such negative opinions of fat people, some people avoid going to the doctor. Again, conditions that could be treated early worsen. Not only that, but stigma causes health issues in and of itself. The constant stress of being treated badly, like any other stress, has long-term health effects.

      3. Izzy*

        All diabetes is not created equal. I have had Type 2 for years, and my test strips and Metformin don’t come near 25K a year. I’m monitored by my primary care provider when I go in for regular checkups, so no extra cost for a specialist. I think there are many people like myself, whose diabetes care costs are minimal.

    1. Natalie*

      “I’d always request that they book with Southwest because of their policy that if, in all legs of a single direction, the planes are not full, they will refund the cost of the second seat.”

      It’s unlikely (although not impossible) that I will ever need to take advantage of this policy, but I’m so happy to know about it. I freaking love Southwest and I hope they continue to work “being awesome” to their advantage to they never had to change.

    2. Anon*

      Actually, I need two seats myself – and I’m happy to report that recently (I think several months ago?) Southwest changed their policy so that they now refund the second seat REGARDLESS of whether the flight is full or not. :) The policy is now, if memory serves – If you purchase only one seat and you need two, if there is a second seat open on your flight, you get it with no issues. But if there isn’t one open, you’ll be bumped to another flight with two seats open for you. I like to avoid that possibility myself, so I take the other option of pre-purchasing the second seat and having it refunded.

      It’s funny – Southwest used to have the LEAST size-friendly policy regarding second seats – but now they have the most friendly one. I hope other airlines follow suit.

      Oh – and I think AirTran is the same because they’re owned by the same company?

  13. Student*

    Many people who “travel extensively” get complementary upgrades due to frequent flier status. Note: these are different from upgrades that the employee would have to spend miles to get.

    If this employee truly does fly that frequently, this won’t be an issue most of the time due to complementary upgrades.

    She may also opt to use her miles of her own choice to fly in first class if she flies frequently and finds coach uncomfortable. Don’t require her to use her miles for upgrades, but ask that she coordinate such things with a travel assistant at your company if she does so.

    1. Ann Furthermore*

      The only drawback to that, though, is that the airlines (or let me say United, as this is the only one I have experience with) have increased the number of miles you have to use in order to get an upgrade. In addition to that, they’re not guaranteed, it’s just standby, and in addition to THAT, quite often there’s an additional fee on top of that to use your miles to upgrade.

      And it’s getting harder and harder to get those upgrades. Even when I check in the minute the 24-hour window opens, I’m still waitlisted behind a bunch of other people to get an upgrade. I don’t fly nearly as much as I used to, but I did log 60,000 miles last year, and about 30,000 so far this year, so I’m by no means an occasional traveler.

      1. Kate*

        US Airways is seriously on my sh** list at the moment since they really poorly handled a storm in Dallas (major hub) this weekend and I was caught in the middle of it … this information just disenchants me even more.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          They’re the only airline that has canceled on me. I look at them with a gimlet eye now.

          Also, I don’t book through Expedia anymore. The hassle when something goes wrong isn’t worth it.

    2. Colette*

      I believe she’d only qualify for the next year, not the current year (unless she also traveled extensively in a previous job). Even if she qualified for the upgrades, they are limited to when there’s an upgrade available as well as if her ticket is in an appropriate fare class and often only can be booked within 3 days of the flight. They’d still need to buy the second seat because otherwise she might end up stranded because someone paid for the last upgrade seat.

    3. Klay*

      Complimentary upgrades are very hit or miss depending on your route and timing. I travel every week and rarely get upgraded from SF to ORD when half my plane is boarding in the first group. But flying to IA and WI, almost always upgraded.

  14. Cautionary tail*

    As someone who squeezes in to one seat I take issue with the “a few thousand extra dollars on plane tickets” statement. In every place I’ve worked we have an extremely tight travel budget. It so tight that I’ve had to work conferences as a speaker instead of being an attendee to avoid the conference fee; I’ve used the equivalent of AirBnB to lower lodging charges; I’ve eaten cereal and milk in my room for breakfast with a sandwich at lunch; I’ve driven up to 8 hours to avoid airline tickets; etc. Even with all this, this week I was declined attendance to a very important event for which the organizers were willing to forgo the attendance charge, because my company would have to pay for a single hotel night.

    So it isn’t “a few thousand extra dollars on plane tickets,” its giving accommodations to one employe while simultaneously stripping other employees of even having an opportunity.

    1. Cat*

      You don’t know that though – plenty of companies do not force their employees to use Air BnB or skimp on food. Indeed, plenty have generous per diems, allow their employees to stay in very nice hotels, and may even pay for business class plane tickets.

      1. TL*

        Yup. I think the only person who can answer that is the OP. (Honestly, OP, I would sit down with Excel, your budget, and whatever service you use to purchase tickets and see if it is a reasonable accommodation by check how much you think the budget would need to be increased.)

        1. Sunflower*

          This. It’s important to remember that while the company might need to provide a reasonable accommodation, they don’t need to if it causes undue hardship- which is once again a very hazy area.

        2. tango*

          This is an excellent idea. I assume someone is doing the job being hired for already or recently did or there are others in similar situations with the company. As such, there should be records somewhere of the employees air travel costs for past years. I would see how much air travel is costing a year and double it. That will give you a pretty good estimate to see if it’s within the budget.

      2. Cautionary tail*

        Perhaps other companies have generous per diems. I’ve worked for Fortune 500 companies for over 20 years and the per diems I’ve seen have resembled Survivor: $25 per day for breakfast lunch and dinner combined = cereal, sandwich, and a reasonable dinner.

        As I mentioned above for this week I was declined to even get a per diem or a hotel room, even with a free event. My company said that if I wanted to go I would have to drive 4 hours each way on two consecutive days and pay for my own meals.

        To reiterate, when costs are this tight, doubling the air expenses for a single individual forces others to not even be able to go.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          This can vary a lot, even within the same company. When I did fixed-cost project work, you flew the cheapest flight possible and stayed at Holiday Inn Express. Now I’m overhead, but my job title (and my manager) allow for stays at the Hilton and picking the most convenient flight within reason ($400 instead of $300 is okay, $1100 not so much). I work for an F500 company, but we’re private, and I think that helps.

        2. Cat*

          Yeah, this is in no way universal. Even our government clients (or perhaps especially our government clients?) give their employees significantly more than that when traveling.

        3. Jennifer*

          Hoo boy, I think I’m glad that I’m a low enough peon that I never have to go to a conference! (The only time my company had me go to one was when it was in the next town over.)

        4. kelly*

          It should be taken into consideration if frequent travel is a part of the job. Another issue to consider is if the position is a government or funded by government grants. It seems like a waste of taxpayer dollars to have to pay for an extra seat to accommodate one extremely obese person. That money could have been used to send another person, who could have benefited from the training as well.

          I work for a public university and my unit has had its travel budget for conferences and off site training cut over the past several years. I wanted to travel for a class for training that is directly related to my job this summer that is out of state and within driving distance. I was turned down because the conference my boss went to earlier this month used up most of the travel/training budget. Also in the past, two people from my office would have gone and now it’s just one because of reduced funding.

      3. Katie the Fed*

        I’m actually kind of curious now how this works in federal government. I’m going to see if I can find out.

        1. Cat*

          I traveled on the fed’s dime for an interview once and my recollection was that they had locality-specific hotel allowances and that you could spend up to $60 or so per day for meals.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            No, I meant how federal government travel would work for the 2-seat issue :)

            Because in my experience any request that’s unusual in any way is like getting them to divide by zero – does not compute. Bureaucracies are…bureaucratic :)

            1. Cat*

              Oh yeah, that’s a really interesting question and I hope you can find out the answer! Based on experiences I’ve heard from friends it does sound potentially really difficult. On the other hand, apparently the DOJ is now buying iPads for some of their folks which my theoretically small and nimble firm hasn’t gotten their act together on (sigh).

            2. Cassie*

              Not federal gov’t here, but state gov’t (university) – employees can fly business class if they have a medical note requesting the accommodation. So I assume an upgrade for this candidate’s situation would probably be allowable as an exception.

              I don’t think there’s any guidelines about whether or not two seats can be purchased, though…

    2. Zillah*

      So it isn’t “a few thousand extra dollars on plane tickets,” its giving accommodations to one employe while simultaneously stripping other employees of even having an opportunity.

      So you’re saying that if it costs money to accommodate someone, they don’t deserve to have a job at all?

      Putting aside morality for a moment – and I actually think that it’s pretty immoral to dismiss someone out of hand for their body type – the point of hiring someone is to make the business make more money or be more effective. It’s not to give other employees “an opportunity.” Getting sour because you see “missed opportunities for others” where a company sees “valuable employee who makes us better” isn’t on, IMO.

      1. Jamie*

        Taking the moral or ethical values out of it, it boils down to whether or not it’s considered a disability in the courts with jurisdiction over the OPs business, or will be going forward.

        Because employers are not allowed now to take into account the potential additional costs of protected classes. Women of childbearing years, older employees, those falling under ADA.

        The same way an employer can’t fire an employee after a cancer diagnosis because now they will be using more of the health benefit resources.

        Legally it doesn’t matter if resources diverted to protected employees mean less opportunities for travel, raises, etc. for other employees.

        So with ethics off the table it really just comes down to whether they should treat it as a disability or not.

        If the OP’s company doesn’t have an employment atty on retainer it would be a good idea to consult one well versed in how this is shaking out in their jurisdiction.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t think it’s just if her condition would be considered a disability, though, it’s whether this is a reasonable accommodation if it is. Not all accommodations fall under the reasonable standard.

          My guess would be that this is a grey enough area that nobody’s going to be able to say for sure how a court could rule in advance, though. Here’s one firm’s overview on the topic, which asks the same question as the OP and then annoyingly doesn’t answer it:


    3. Observer*

      If your company can’t budget for adequate food, then they shouldn’t require extensive travel for any position.

      In fact, it strikes me that the problem is not that the budget is truly not available, but that someone has decided that this “important event” really is not all that important.

      1. Cautionary tail*

        If I just read this in a blog I would think the exact same thing as you, so no offense taken.

        We are under tight governmental control and the budget for travel is miniscule and takes three levels of approval to be able to go anywhere. As for the car, the company drives millions of miles a year so using a company car for two days and driving 16 hours isn’t even a rounding error.

    4. carlotta*

      My company flies everyone business for journeys of over 5 hours (I think it’s five, anyway). The idea is that in coach for 12 hours you won’t sleep and be able to get off the plane and start work – you’ll need a day to recover and its not worth the time spent nor money saved. But the dinner allowances are not as generous. Swings and roundabouts perhaps? But I was just thinking this would hardly ever come up if this person interviewed with us seeing as with long haul they would probably earn enough points to upgrade for the short flights or they would be able to make exceptions/book way in advance or something.
      I’ve worked for smaller businesses too which would not have seen it this way. Hope OP can work it out!

  15. BCW*

    I think it is nice to consider this, but as someone said, this would significantly affect your budget, and that too is something that would be irresponsible not to do. Without knowing specifics of how much flexibility you have with a travel budget, its really hard to say what the right choice is. Is this woman far and away the best candidate, or is there someone else who you’d be happy to have on as well? If your budget is fairly rigid and there is another strong candidate, I wouldn’t think it was the worst thing to offer it to someone else. I mean in some ways, its like a salary offer. If your #1 candidate won’t take anything less than 80000 and you only have 75000 in the budget to hire someone, and you have another good candidate who would take the 75000, you’d probably go with them.

    1. Ann Furthermore*

      Or another alternative might be to offer her a salary on the lower end of what she asked for, and then plan to spend the difference on increased airfares.

      If you chose to do that though, I’d say be upfront with her about what you’re doing. Believe me, she is very aware of her body size (I’m speaking as a person who struggles terribly with my weight). And since it sounds like the OP isn’t a size 0 supermodel herself, I think it would be a easier conversation to have because it would not come across as being judgmental, more like just the realities of the situation.

      1. Cube Ninja*

        The problem is that if ADA is a concern, reducing salary solely on the basis of the disability would be just as illegal as foregoing the candidate for employment because of it.

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          That’s true, and I’m far from a legal expert. I’m just speaking for myself, as this is an issue for me. I’d much rather have an employer say, “We’d really like to hire you, but because the travel costs for you will be higher, this is what we’d like to do,” and then leave the decision up to me, rather than having said employer just pass me over.

      2. Traveler*

        I really don’t see how this would work. Then if she lost weight, you’d pay her more again?

        The sorry, but we’re reducing your salary based on the cost of your weight to our company explanation could put them in some serious hot water legally speaking.

        I know it sounds like a practical solution on the surface but it’s not going to over well.

        Oh, and I don’t think I would care if it is a fat person or a skinny person telling me they are reducing my salary because of my weight. I would still be miffed.

        1. majigail*

          YES! I would be so pissed if my company said they had to reduce my salary to cover my travel costs. Would you reduce the salary of an employee with severe allergies to cover a change in cleaning products and an air purifier, or a blind person’s to cover a screen reader or an employee who ended up with cancer to cover the increase in the company’s health insurance premium?
          Sometimes you can see what accommodations you’re going to have to make for people, but other times, you can’t. You can’t charge them for the accommodation.

    2. Sunflower*

      I agree with this. While it’s great that this person wants to try to accommodate someone, you’re going to have to crunch the numbers and figure out the extra cost. I also don’t think it would be terrible to offer it to another strong candidate. As Ash mentioned above, it’s not about weight or bias- it’s about costs. Regardless of what is being accommodated to, and as the law says, if it’s causing undue hardship to the business(hazy area), you don’t have to do it.

      1. AVP*

        I think it comes down to – is there another very strong candidate in the running? Do they have the exact same salary requirements? If it costs you, say, an extra $5k/year in travel budgets but this person is by far the best person available for the job, or if there’s a second person who’s also great but who you would need to pay $7k more, that $5k is negligible. If there’s a second person who you think would do the job just as well, and would cost you less to hire overall, thats a business consideration.

        *NB my company is small enough that most of the big employment laws don’t apply to us, so I’m not used to considering those as factors.

  16. Sunflower*

    I’m hoping you already established that travel isn’t a problem. When I came into my current job, I interviewed with 3 people and the first question they all asked was ‘you will be required to travel, sometimes across country, sometimes short notice. will that be a problem?’ The person previously in my job didn’t need any special accommodations but she started having health issues where traveling was causing them to act up. I think having 2 seats or flying first class would have helped but she determined it was just better for her overall to stop traveling as much as possible.

  17. Stephanie*

    Is there a tactful way to ask how she’s addressed this issue before? I’m guessing she’s had to do business travel in current or previous roles.

    Sorry, OP, this sounds like an awful situation to be in.

  18. Marcus*

    “I asked an employment lawyer to weigh in” – I know it wasn’t intentional, but even as a large person myself (I’m not a two seater, but very close to it), I really had to groan and snicker at that.

  19. Joey*

    Why would you make an assumption that her obesity is a disability under the law? And why would you assume she will need an accommodation before she indicates so. Maybe she’s already figured something out and doesn’t need it. Why not just say the job requires frequent travel by air. Can you perform this task with or without a reasonable accommodation? End of story. Make the offer then tell her she’ll frequently be booked for a seat in coach. That’s when she needs to request an accommodation if she needs one. It should never be a given. Hell, maybe she knows where she can get a cheaper flight in first class. I’ve hired plenty of people with disabilities that have found ways to make it work, all on their own. I dot see why this should be any different.

    1. Eudora Wealthy*

      Can you perform this task with or without a reasonable accommodation?

      That’s right.
      Ask if the applicant can perform this essential function with or without reasonable accommodations. If the applicant says yes, then move forward with the hiring process.

      Hiring managers are too often handicapped by their own assumptions. E.g., there are skinny people with pteromerhanophobia (fear of flying) who could not perform this essential function. It’s not an obvious disability, but it is harder for some people to overcome than obesity.

      1. kobayashi*

        Is fear of flying a disability? Under ADA, a condition has to substantially limit one or more major life functions (some states have broader laws). Is flying a major life activity?

  20. KC*

    This is why–if at all possible–I fly Jet Blue. More leg-room all-around, comfier + slightly wider seats all-around, and my own little entertainment system (for free) right in front of me.

    They got rid of the “first class” and “business class” section idea, and I think it’s a good model.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I’ve been dying to try them, but they don’t fly out of my little regional airport. It’s not worth the extra cost to drive a few hours to a larger airport. :(

  21. Joey*

    Fwiw whether buying a 2nd plant ticket or 1st class as an accommodation would depend in large part on the size of the company and their budget, the additional expense incurred, what the ramifications are of the additional cost.

    So generally a smaller company with smaller budgets would have an easier time justifying the costs as an undue burden. Although it would become harder for any company to justify if the cost is minimal relative to the company/budget.

  22. Programmer 01*

    My husband is 6’11 (and not that it should matter, but very underweight) and requires special seating on airlines — he can barely sit in the exit row, his knees touch the wall. Because of airline pants-on-headedness, the company’s often had to upgrade him to business or first class to major conferences and meetings (of which there can be 10-12 a year easily, and that’s not counting day trips to another city), because he literally cannot sit in a regular plane seat. I don’t think “hey it’ll be expensive to send him places” ever entered an employer’s mind because he’s not overweight, he’s overtall.

    1. Annie O*

      My husband has the same problem and literally cannot fit in a coach seat; his femurs are way too long. But his company requires him to pay for the upgrades out of pocket, and his resentment is growing with every trip he’s required to take.

    2. KAZ2Y5*

      My late husband was 6’9″ and was a pretty big guy all around. On our one plane trip together, we were on the phone with the airline 2-3 times (this was before the internet) to get suggestions and measurements of seats. We ended up getting 3 coach seats for us (and the third one was for “legroom”) because that was cheaper and gave him more room than 2 1st-class seats.
      Of course movies and concerts were also a challenge ;-) We always tried to get there early enough so he could get an aisle-seat and also get a seat that didn’t have anyone behind us (he figured that if they sat behind him after he was already there, then they knew what they were getting into!).

      1. majigail*

        There’s a great website now, seatguru.com. You put in your flight number and it shows you the plane and the best seats and sizes on it. I use it to decide between flights. I will take that extra 5 centimeters anyday!

    3. Ella*

      Yeah I wonder if the OP would even be asking this question if this were the situation. I bet not.

  23. In progress*

    It’s important to note for ADA purposes that weight gain is associated with a number of disabilities, as a side effect of medication or a symptom of the condition. If she is denied because of her weight, that is a very sticky situation for all involved.

  24. Cody C*

    Fly Southwest
    They will reimburse even if the flight over sells
    You can by business class and the second seat is a reduced rate
    Just go to the airport and more often then not the customer service agent doesn’t want to have the uncomfortable conversation either. Basically they are just doing it to monitor the number of tickets because otherwise it messes with their over sale algorithms.

    Former CSA

    1. Aunt Vixen*

      These are all good suggestions, but you can’t buy business class *and* fly Southwest. One or the other – not both.

  25. tesyaa*

    I’d think there are a lot of things that could make an employee more “expensive” than even a number of double-cost flights. In a position with health benefits, a dependent with a chronic illness is going to cost a heck of a lot more than the plane tickets – and you wouldn’t ask about that at an interview.

    1. BCW*

      Yeah, but those would be different budgets though. The Marketing department (for example) likely has a set travel budget that they need to stick to. The money spent on health benefits comes from a different budget. Separate line items. A manager does have to consider how much they will spend on travel for the employee, that same manager probably doesn’t have to worry about an employees healthcare cost.

    2. the gold digger*

      Well, yes, you would. When I was working for a health insurance company, the HR VP at one account asked us to waive the pre-existing condition exclusion (benefits kicked in after a year for pre-existing conditions) so they could hire this guy who had a sick kid.

  26. birdie*

    I think a typo slipped by in the first paragraph of your response, Alison: “significantly more expensive” v. “significantly more expenses.”

  27. Ella*

    I question the assumption that she will definitely need two seats, as for a large number of fat people a seatbelt extender is sufficient.

    I think it’d be totally inappropriate and unjust to decline to hire someone because they’re fat, and hope that the law changes to provide people with a cause of action in this situation.

    1. Tinker*

      Possibly, although the OP did say that they were close in size. That said, I note that details of a person’s build often seem to matter a lot in ways that don’t necessarily correlate to an overall impression of their size. So… maybe?

  28. PX*

    Offtopic but my google-fu is failing me: I know there was either a post or comment a while back from someone who was either a temp or entry level position, and her bosses really liked her and wanted her to either become permanent/be promoted but she didnt want to move from her current position/wasnt sure she wanted the position her bosses were offering. (I think she was a paralegal/something law related? And she was planning on bringing it up during her 1 year evaluation)

    She was trying to think of a way to tactfully tell her bosses this – can anyone link me back to this? I find myself in a something of a similiar pickle….

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Just a quick note that I really try to avoid off-topic posts here, because our comment sections are already so full as they are (and if they’re allowed, they’ll quickly take up a lot of that space). Thank you for understanding!

  29. Anon*

    As a fellow two-seater, I also want to say thank you for possibly the most positive and civilized comment thread I have seen on this topic, ever. Everywhere else comments end up being full of hate and fat-bashing whenever the issue presents itself. Maybe that’s because Alison’s done a great job moderating those comments away? Not sure. :) Anyway, I wanted to add one thing:

    You said she is “very large” and it’s obvious she’ll need two seats or business class. Are you positive business class is an option? For me, my hips are so wide I wouldn’t fit in a business class seat, even. Two seats is the way I have to go.

    I said this on another comment, but I’d really suggest Southwest if it’s an option. They do refund the second seat regardless of whether or not the flight is full. I think Airtran does as well because they’re owned by the same people? Not sure.

    Have to admit – I’m rooting for the OP to hire her. I know from personal experience the amount of discrimination there is these days against larger folks, and it’s even more difficult to break into senior-level positions.

    1. Callie*

      I am also thankful for the civilized discussion. On so many boards it would turn into “concern” for the interviewee’s (and fat people in general’s) health, and “don’t you know fat is unhealthy” and this endless cycle of the same old stuff I’m so tired of seeing/hearing. I’m so glad that this stuck to the topic and was all around respectful.

    2. KellyK*

      Same here! I saw the title and expected a train wreck, but this has been an extremely civil and on-topic discussion.

  30. Twyla*

    I will throw in a different take than what I have seen. First, I, too, applaud the OP and community in trying to find ways for this to work so the OP can hire the most qualified person. I always try to have phone interviews first with my candidates and jot down my thoughts so I can do my best to avoid this type of inadvertent discrimination.

    But, second, and more to the point, I don’t see this much different than other stray things I take into consideration when hiring – some of which I know from interviewing because I can ask, and others which I have to intuit.

    I might choose to hire a local candidate instead of an out of town candidate because the cost of relocation puts me over budget. I might choose to hire a candidate with fewer professional memberships (usually listed on resumes) because the added costs of those membership fees could put me over budget. I might choose to hire a candidate who somehow slips to me that she hates attending conferences vs one who tells me she loves attending them, simply because I can add up prospective conference costs and predict the impact to my budget. I do not think any of those things are discriminatory. (Feedback welcome if you think or know they are!)

    I do wish this were a situation where you could just be as up front as you need to be – your candidate would probably appreciate knowing this concern up front. But I acknowledge that the world is not so simple and admit that sometimes being apart of corporate
    America sucks. The company HAS to put this into their hiring equation somehow as it could make them unprofitable and forced put of business, especially of they are small and don’t have room for unknowns.

    I have to close with this: I hope the OP hires her most qualified candidate. Perhaps the evaluation of risk will help: if I do hire this most-qualified person, I think I will have $x more in travel expense, but if I hire #2 candidate, I am concerned with her ability to properly execute a & b, which, if unsuccessful could cost me $c.

    Best of luck OP, and another round of thanks to the great community.

  31. ITPuffNStuff*

    The nicest way I can think of to sum up this question is that the OP needs to decide which is the bigger priority for the business: the cost of extra plane tickets or the value brought by the top candidate for the job.

    The way I would prefer to frame this, given the emotional response it provokes, is that if the business in question has to ask which factor is more important (travel cost or manager competence), their hiring priorities are likely opposing the company’s long term success, and require serious adjustment if they want to attract and retain the most desirable talent.

  32. Viola*

    Hi, I’m answering completely randomly and haven’t read all the answers (only just found this website!) but is there a possibility of giving the new hire control over the travel budget and letting her figure out how to use the available funds to best accommodate herself? I bet she’s trying to figure out herself how she would manage it and might appreciate being able to buy two seats and make up the cost by staying at a Holiday Inn instead of the Four Seasons, you know?

    If there are legal issues and HR issues as to why she couldn’t do that, then never mind!

Comments are closed.