Airline Starts Charging Passengers by the Pound

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Airline wants to charge by the pound
Alamy
A Samoan Airline has become the first to link its airfare to passengers' weight, charging heavier customers a higher ticket price.

The Sydney Morning Herald explains that passengers on Samoa Air, a small regional airline serving the Samoan islands in the South Pacific, are asked to punch in their body weight and the weight of their luggage when booking. Rates range from $1 (Australian) per kilogram on short flights to $4.16 per kilogram on longer ones between Samoa and American Samoa. Passengers and their luggage are weighed again when they get to the airport to make sure they weren't fibbing.

"We at Samoa Air are keeping airfares fair, by charging our passengers only for what they weigh," explains the airline's website. "Your weight plus your baggage items, is what you pay for. Simple."

In an interview with ABC Radio, the airline's CEO likewise framed it as an issue of fairness, noting that "there are no extra fees in terms of excess baggage or anything – it is just a kilo is a kilo is a kilo."

Kilos are an issue in Samoa, which has high rates of obesity. That said, it's not just the obese who will find themselves paying more for their flight. Since this is strictly about saving money on fuel, only weight matters, which means that a tall, well-built passenger will still wind up paying more just by virtue of being bigger. So Samoa Air's claim that "you decide how much (or little) your ticket will cost" isn't exactly correct.

Could such a scheme come to the U.S.?
Samoa Air is a unique case -- it operates smaller aircraft in a country with particularly heavy people, so passenger weight and its impact on fuel efficiency is a big concern. But weight is an issue for large American airlines as well, as evidenced by the big fees they charge for carry-on luggage. And over the last few years we've seen several controversies pop up regarding very large travelers -- Southwest, for instance, was sued for telling an obese passenger that she had to buy two seats.

Despite this, we're skeptical that pay-by-the-pound airline tickets could catch on in the U.S.; while extra fees are commonplace and travelers have become accustomed to being poked and prodded by airport security, being weighed like a stack of bologna at the deli counter might be a step too far. However, at least one economist thinks that charging passengers by wieght is a good idea. Last fall, Bharat P. Bhatta, a professor of economics at Sogn og Fjordane University College in Norway, looked at pay-by-weight airfare pricing and concluded that "the model can be technically and economically feasible to implement and its proper implementation may provide significant benefits to airlines, passengers and society at large." He does concede, though, that "the nature of this pricing model is potentially contentious."

That's putting it lightly.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

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38 Comments

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rwmmiller

Weight should always be the criteria in airline travel, as well as girth. Just like a car, you will get better milage per gallon with less weight. In addition, there is only so much room in a car. You should not be surprised to know the competition between airplane manufacturers has mostly to do with weight of the airplane, and performance of engines. If you recall the recent issue with the Boeing Dreamliner, they put in a lithium battery, because it weighed less. They build airplanes out of composites now days. Why? It weighs less. It only makes sense you should pay by weight.

April 03 2013 at 8:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sgentilejr

Charging by weight is Perfectly fair. We buy cold cuts, fresh meat, fish bacon etc. by the pound,
So there is nothing unfair about charging more to mover 300 pounds of meat and luggage ___ more than they charge to move 200 pounds of meat and lugage. The same way that the post office, Federal Exp. and ISP charge more to move and transport heavier packages. It is Perfectly Fair. You pay for what you get /transported moved ___just as all cargo pays by the pound..

April 03 2013 at 4:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dfoster

If you are charged equally for body weight and baggage, then you should be able to keep your baggage in the seat next to you and have it served snacks and drinks (instead of having it stuffed into the plane's unpressurized/unheated hold where gorillas smash the wheels and zippers).

April 03 2013 at 3:49 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dfoster's comment
rwmmiller

You do have a point. It would be best to send your suitcase ground transportation. It would be cheaper to you, the airlines, and probably arrive in better condition. Also, you would not have to wait around at baggage claim.
If you ever buy on line, you see that packages have considerably cheaper rates if you can wait 5 to 10 days. If you want your luggage to travel with you on the airplane, you should pay air freight, same day delivery. That is the cost of not planning ahead. We have become accustomed to thinking we get, or got it, free. If you want cheaper airline tickets, cut down the weight.

April 03 2013 at 8:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
arsquash

This airline should open an office in the USA. Myy provoke citizens to lose wt.

April 03 2013 at 12:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to arsquash's comment
idcsr1

Just how many of us do you honestly believe are overweight? Stop watching Honey Boo Boo and join real reality.

April 03 2013 at 6:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Arakuss

I would really think twice about paying by weight. Does anyone really think that they will charge a lower fee for someone who weighs less. No. They will already have a base number to charge and just tack on extra for weight. Meaning what ever the average weight of a person is will be what they are currently charging each ticket. They already know how much weight they can carry. The new charges for carry on and other baggage is only to off set the cost of higher fuel prices. So skinny people will still most likely pay the standard airfare of today or what ever they decide the price should be and they will make extra profit on extra pounds. This new policy is more of a new means to gain more income. If a plane was half empty would they give discounts to the fact that the jest would use less fuel. No. They still will fill the tanks all the way full just as they would today if a the airliner was full of fat people or skinny people. The cost of each flight for them would be almost the same. Just think about if every passenger suddenly lost weight and was no more then 150 on average they would just hike the prices more if their revenues dropped.

April 03 2013 at 12:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Arakuss's comment
Arakuss

One correction most airliners take off with enough fuel to reach their destination safely with about 45 minute window I believe. So really the amount of fuel would most likely already be predetermined before anyone would be weighed. International flight I do believe fill up. I may be wrong.

April 03 2013 at 12:22 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Arakuss's comment
rwmmiller

There are a few calculations made by pilots before takeoff. One is fuel needed. To establish the quantity, such things a temperature, head winds, route, desired landing weight, and takeoff weight. Takeoff weight is formulated based on statistics and is averaged by passenger. If the airline were to weigh the cargo being placed on the airplane accurately, it is suggested they would better calculate fuel needs. The less fuel they need, the less the takeoff weight, and overall less fuel used. The only reason, I can think of that weight has not always been a consideration is the expected ignorance of the traveler. If weight were a consideration, we would be motivated to cut down.

April 03 2013 at 8:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
copyright1984_tillpresent

don't some carriers/airlines make the morbidly obese buy 2 seats anyway and claim it is a safety measure ?

April 03 2013 at 10:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve

This will help sneaker and gas sales...

April 03 2013 at 9:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cardiacbuzz

I can understand the change in Samoa with a 'regional' airport but with the 'big wing' airlines of the U.S. and worldwide, it could be a big, big problem as people start feeling like 'cattle'.

April 03 2013 at 5:49 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Davidi

There will be riots from the West to East and North to South. If you got to charge just go by a sensitive scale. small, med, large, and Plus. And if you got to go bigger just call it bigger.

April 03 2013 at 4:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joe

Hmmm, since most men tend to weigh more than most women, this is discrimination. (Laughing)

April 03 2013 at 12:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Joe's comment
bobglougie

Not the ones I see around town.

April 03 2013 at 12:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply