Pay as you weigh?


I’ve seen this article on various news sites over the last few days:

Samoa Air boss defends charging passengers by weight

Basically Samoa Air charge passengers a fare based on how many kilograms they weigh. Its a mainly domestic airline, with small aircraft, and families are charged based on the total combined weight of themselves and their baggage.

Whatever websites this has appeared on it generates an enormous amount of comment from readers. They vary between people who think its fair that if you weigh more you should pay more and then be accorded the privilege of extra room and seating, and people who say that a person is a person and its discrimination to charge one fee for one person and something different for another.

Its clear that when it comes to treating people as a pile of kilograms it evokes an emotional reaction that you don’t get when simply talking about baggage. This must be because somehow a number is not just a number when it comes to a person. That number comes with other overtones.

Many people feel that making heavy people pay more to fly is a judgment or punishment and thus enforces the perception that weight is a bad thing. The stereotype of thin healthy people and fat unhealthy people is not always true in every case.

It seems to me to be slightly fairer to base a charge on the combined weight of family and baggage, rather than saying for example that a larger person must pay double for the use of two seats instead of one. However it also seems intrinsically unfair because on the genetic level there is no doubt that the tendency to be obese does run in families. One doesn’t always have to nurture those genes and become obese, but it does seem as if the predisposition has a greater tendency in some families than others.

A charge on body size therefore definitely has an element of discrimination. A tall family may well weigh more than a short family and there is nothing they can do about it. Its hard to feel that its fair for them to pay more to fly.

In general clothing and footwear does not cost more depending on the size. A size 8 ladies skirt costs the same as a size 20 ladies skirt – despite the fact more material is used. In extremes of size it is true that people would possibly be advised to obtain specialist footwear or clothing which will come at a premium – ladies undergarments are a classic example of this.

There is no cut and dried answer it seems to me, either scenario – the same price for everyone, or differential prices based on weight – offers some form of unfairness to some of the parties concerned. But then isn’t that the nature of life? Life isn’t fair! Should we accept the unfairness or try to alter things so that things are fair for the largest amount of people possible. One thing is for certain – whatever you do, you wont keep everybody happy.

So, I’ve sat nicely on the fence here. What’s my actual opinion?

I think that if a person can fit comfortably into a seat then they should be charged one price for that seat. I think that children old enough to sit in a seat should also pay full price for a seat. Babies I can accept as going on free as they can be held or go in their carrier. I think parents with young children should get first dibs on the seats with more leg room as it works to everyone’s convenience – happy children means happiness for other passengers.

I think any person who is too large to fit into one seat comfortably should be required to purchase an additional seat but at a discounted price. Many flights go with empty seats and if this happens people are not required to pay extra to spread the total cost between the seats that are full. I would say purchasing an extra seat for yourself at one third to one half of the full cost depending on the popularity of the flight would be acceptable. Otherwise, the consequences for the person sitting next to the larger person are not good – they cannot enjoy the comfort of the seat they have paid for.

What’s your opinion – should we pay as we weigh to fly?



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  1. Sean Says:

    I think I am of the same opinion as you. If a person can fit in one seat without infringing on other people’s space then one seat is fine. If they can’t then it makes sense to me that they need two seats. There would be some problems with this I’d imagine. Interesting!

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