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Pay-by-weight airfare kinda makes sense.

TODAY’S BIG STORY is an announcement from Samoa Air that it plans to start assessing passengers’ airfare based on their weight.

Here’s how it works: When booking online, you’ll be required to input your weight, which will directly impact the cost of your ticket — “from $1 per kilogram on the airline’s shortest domestic route to about $4.16 per kilogram for travel between Samoa and American Samoa,” according to a post in The Sydney Morning Herald. Then, at the airport, you’ll hop on the scale for confirmation.

“This is the fairest way of traveling,” says a Samoa Air executive. And, from a purely financial standpoint, I’d have to agree.

The fact is, the heavier the plane, the more fuel it burns to get where it’s going. And fuel is expensive. Hence the long-standard policy of overweight baggage fees.

Beyond air travel, you can see this pay-for-what-you-use trend creeping into other industries. Think the end of “unlimited” data plans on mobile devices. Think pay-by-weight yogurt.

Or, consider how we’ve always been charged for utilities. Customers aren’t assessed a one-size-fits-all rate for the privilege of accessing the electrical grid. We pay for however much we use.

Of course, when you step back from the ‘business sense’ of the matter, there are a lot of obvious and emotionally charged arguments against the policy. In equating body weight with mobile data usage, for example, we’re implying the serious health issue of obesity is somehow a conscious lifestyle decision, or otherwise fully under an individual’s control. Which isn’t the case.

There’s also the point to be made that, while the average body type has shifted towards the heavier side of the scale in past decades, the average airline seat has remained pretty much the same size. Also, are we really expecting passengers to submit to doctor’s office-style ‘weighing events’ in the public forum of an airline check-in line?

But despite this carrier’s claim that the initiative will “raise the awareness of weight” among a population who struggles with obesity, no doubt it comes down to the bottom line for Samoa Air. And any other airline that follows its lead. Which, when considering this balance-sheet perspective, will likely happen soon.

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About The Author

Hal Amen

Hal Amen is a managing editor at Matador. His personal travel blog is WayWorded.

  • Global Yodel

    crazy!

  • Turner Wright

    I actually support this, if only because I’ve been charged for overweight baggage fees in the past. Was tempted to ask them to weigh both me and the bag at the same time, to prove I weight less than the average passenger.

  • Turner Wright

    I actually support this, if only because I’ve been charged for overweight baggage fees in the past. Was tempted to ask them to weigh both me and the bag at the same time, to prove I weight less than the average passenger.

  • Carlo Alcos

    Such a heated topic. The system will discriminate based on size, regardless if it’s a healthy 6’4″ athlete or a 5’6″ obese person. What happens when size/weight are not at the control of the person? Is it really fair to discriminate this way? What about the shame/humiliation of this process? Is this humane?

    • Turner Wright

      Given what the airlines have already done to strip away everyone’s dignity bit by bit, I don’t see this as a gross overreach.

    • James Hughes

      being that lean 6’4″ person, i cannot control my size/height and i certainly agree, total discrimination. such fees do not hold the same justification for someone who grossly overeats.

    • Chris Martin

      sorry but absurd. You are paying for the flight. If you require the plane to use more fuel then you should pay more. The electrical grid comparison was a great one. Why should I pay the same as a person that weighs double my weight when I use less fuel. Sure the space on the plane may be static but the fuel use is not therefore not discriminating at all if anything its realistic. This isn’t a point of whether or not your weight is “in your control” or not that’s completely irrelevant fact is whether or not you are physically capable of controlling your weight the plane doesn’t care the plane will use the same amount of fuel whether the 300lb person can or cannot control their weight.

    • Hoda Ghamrawy

      What about the weight of the plane? Fuel is still burnt when an empty plane takes off!!! Are we as consumers not factoring in this share? The whole thing is ludicrous . It is not the point! Profit is the point every thing else is appearance and bickering!

  • Kathy Amen

    My method (should have patented it!) has each passenger standing on a scale with his/her checked and carryon baggage for a total weight to be transported. Let the first 300 lbs (or 200 or whatever) go for free, then start charging. It’s crazy to charge only for checked bags, thereby encouraging more humongous carryons, if you’re trying to recoup fuel costs. Since it does cost more to lift more weight, I don’t see it as discrimination, Carlos, it’s just physics.

    • Turner Wright

      Completely agree

    • Rachel AH

      as Carlos pointed out, i dont think it is just physics when height isnt accounted for

    • Rachel AH

      as Carlos pointed out, i dont think it is just physics when height isnt accounted for

    • Rachel AH

      as Carlos pointed out, i dont think it is just physics when height isnt accounted for

    • Erin Shirey

      They actually do make you stand on a scale with your luggage in both Samoa and American, so they can balance the plane. Having flown between the Samoas several times I suspect this by-weight policy is actually directed at the amount of luggage brought aboard–it’s not uncommon for passengers to check cases of food/large coolers instead of (or in addition to) suitcases.

    • Erin Shirey

      in both Samoa and American Samoa, that should say.

    • Chris Martin

      Rachel AH height is irrelevant until a person starts changing the shape of the plane. regardless of your height your weight will still be your weight. a 5’4″ 300lb person will require the same fuel as a 6’4″ 300lb man…so yes, physics indeed. now once a persons height affects the planes aerodynamics (i.e changing the shape of the plane) then they should charge accordingly…that being said i dont see an airline changing the physical build of their planes for an individual anytime soon.

    • Chris Martin

      Rachel AH height is irrelevant until a person starts changing the shape of the plane. regardless of your height your weight will still be your weight. a 5’4″ 300lb person will require the same fuel as a 6’4″ 300lb man…so yes, physics indeed. now once a persons height affects the planes aerodynamics (i.e changing the shape of the plane) then they should charge accordingly…that being said i dont see an airline changing the physical build of their planes for an individual anytime soon.

    • Chris Martin

      Rachel AH height is irrelevant until a person starts changing the shape of the plane. regardless of your height your weight will still be your weight. a 5’4″ 300lb person will require the same fuel as a 6’4″ 300lb man…so yes, physics indeed. now once a persons height affects the planes aerodynamics (i.e changing the shape of the plane) then they should charge accordingly…that being said i dont see an airline changing the physical build of their planes for an individual anytime soon.

    • Kathy Amen

      That happened to us in Alaska, too, on a little plane. I always wondered what they did about people not wanting to state their true weight. My guess is that they automatically add 10 pounds to what everyone says.

    • The Drifters Blog

      I grew up in Hawaii, where a 20 minute ride on an 8-seater aircraft was the norm to get from island to island. I can assure you that weight truly does affect the flight, and because of this, many of us have grown up learning how to be more than willing to subject ourselves to this ‘over-analyzing’ of our bodies for the better of all parties involved.

    • Tamara Moxham

      of course it’s physics. It doesn’t matter if you are healthy and 250 or unhealthy and 250 – the plane will use the same amount of fuel. Natural laws don’t change. Discrimination is a neutral term. It only becomes valid or invalid based on what you are discriminating based on. This makes perfect sense. The method of weighing-in needs to be done with dignity.

  • Kathy Amen

    My method (should have patented it!) has each passenger standing on a scale with his/her checked and carryon baggage for a total weight to be transported. Let the first 300 lbs (or 200 or whatever) go for free, then start charging. It’s crazy to charge only for checked bags, thereby encouraging more humongous carryons, if you’re trying to recoup fuel costs. Since it does cost more to lift more weight, I don’t see it as discrimination, Carlos, it’s just physics.

  • The Lulzorium

    Sooo… er… are we going to start carrying out public weighing of teenage girls in the airport check-in line to make sure they aren’t trying to cheat themselves to a cheaper ticket? As if they didn’t have enough issues about weight to begin with?

  • Fzz Elfilali

    you better loose some weight bitch*s! hhhh serisouly I’m ok with this… another motivation to exercise!

    • Loubna Kaya

      wa baraka men 7chiane lhedra

    • Fzz Elfilali

      hahahahah satitini… tan7chi lkari (<—pun intended) lhadra…

    • Lei La

      Interesting.

  • Deanna Carlson Smith

    Twisted!!!! Weight is so not up to most! Just a way for corp to get more fore less. Taxis buses trainsget a real qay to earn money, creepers!!!!!

  • Christie Haskell

    This assumes there really is a significant difference between the amount of fuel consumed per pound. An empty Boeing 747 that can carry 416 passengers weighs 398,780 lbs. Individual differences on fuel use are not equivalent to their fee scheme. It’s about making money, not consumer equality. Furthermore, the rate of fuel flow depends on more than just gross weight too. Are they going to charge different amounts depending on the type and age of the aircraft? The cruising altitude? The wind conditions? What about if fuel has to be dumped so as not to exceed the maximum landing weight, will passengers get part of their money refunded? This is stupid. All they did was take the average cost of their ticket and divide it by the weight of what they decided was an average healthy weight. This has nothing to do with fuel.

    • Hal Amen

      sounds like most samoa air flights are island hoppers where passenger weight does play a much bigger role, but you definitely make a good point as to why we’re not seeing this on larger carriers.

    • Christie Haskell

      Cessna’s are different, yes. You can lose the ability to carry an entire passenger depending on the individual passenger weights. It still isn’t about fuel though, not when it comes to the small fuel capacity of a Cessna. The most expensive operating costs of a Cessna are storage and maintenance, which don’t depend at all on passenger weights. The story isn’t very different for the BN2A either.

    • Kathy Amen

      You touched a nerve with this one, Hal :-)

    • ritesh

      last nell in the coffin hal, surely i can’t expect answer for your issues.

  • Jessica Chesler

    Airlines make their money from what they have in the cargo hold–shipping people is a side business. Hence, the lack of performance when it comes to maximizing customer experience. That’s why we’re all shoved in there like sardines. Flying is uncomfortable not just for the obese but for the tall…for anyone who falls outside and above the standard of the slender-hipped gentleman on whom they based the seat measurements. If you ever fly on a buddy pass, you’ll find yourself stranded even if there is an empty seat because they have to make a profit on shipping 150 lbs of Italian pottery. To me, this is another way to look at human beings as a means and not an end. On another note, I’m not sure this pricing scheme will really increase profits…flying is already cost prohibitive for many people. If all the airlines take this on, the airlines might see an increase in short, thin passengers, but a decrease in tall, larger passengers. And if we’re seeing an increase in cost to the 60% of overweight Americans (who also don’t have access to cost prohibitive healthcare education & treatment) the trips will become less frequent if not stop altogether….I don’t know what company wants to “De-incentivise” 60% of the market….I will say this, it appeals to our desire to implement a standard of personal responsibility-that is, personal responsibility in the modern sense of “I don’t have to care about other people since I’m getting what I want”.

  • Charles Agnello

    Anyone buying 2XL, 3XL, 4XL, clothes on up usually pay extra for those clothes because of the extra material is that size discrimination too?

    • Vincent Agnello

      this is a great idea, weigh everyone and that is the cost they pay

  • Dan Lux

    Is it okay for a clothing store to charge more for a large cashmere sweater than it does for a small? Same principal right?

  • Dan Lux

    Is it okay for a clothing store to charge more for a large cashmere sweater than it does for a small? Same principal right?

  • Dan Lux

    Is it okay for a clothing store to charge more for a large cashmere sweater than it does for a small? Same principal right?

  • Yuliya Taranova

    While there is something sound in the idea of paying for the airfare according to your weight, wouldn’t it then be fair for heavier passengers to demand more seating space?

    • Tim Sanders

      Definitely. But, really, conflating weight with health in this way is just absurd. I weigh more than most people. I’m also nowhere near overweight. I also by no means maintain the healthiest diet, or the worst.

    • Yuliya Taranova

      Oh I know that, and I don’t think any self-respecting airline would ever implement that sort of pricing strategy. But if they do, please let them know you expect more leg room in return. :)

    • Alex James Brown

      Not about health, it’s about weight. Perfectly healthy 5ft 2 guy will weigh less than healthy 6ft 6 guy – pays to be small! Geddit. Pays… @[524350296:2048:Allan Li] help me out here, my pun skills are waning.

    • Alex James Brown

      Not about health, it’s about weight. Perfectly healthy 5ft 2 guy will weigh less than healthy 6ft 6 guy – pays to be small! Geddit. Pays… @[524350296:2048:Allan Li] help me out here, my pun skills are waning.

    • Allan Li

      It’s almost 9pm and my pun skills are at their weakest… but if you can afford lots of food to make you fat, you can afford to pay more for your flight :P…. yea I’m sucking tonight :( :( :(

  • Yuliya Taranova

    While there is something sound in the idea of paying for the airfare according to your weight, wouldn’t it then be fair for heavier passengers to demand more seating space?

  • Deanna Proach

    I only have one word for this: Yikes! No, make that two words: Double yikes!

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