In 2012, Samoa Airways introduced a pricing scheme that charged passengers based on their weight.  The company operates from Pacific islands that have some of the highest obesity rates in the world.  Instead of charging for each seat, Samoa Airways started weighing passengers along with their luggage, and charging them a fee reflecting the total, depending on the length of the flight.  In 2015, Uzbekistan Airways experimented with a similar pay-as-you-weigh pricing.

I debated the issue with myself.

Makes sense.  Arguing in favor of charging passengers by weight is the fact that the heavier the object, the greater the amount of energy that is required to move it.  For airlines that means the heavier the object, the more it costs to get the object from point A to point B.

Samoa Airways DHC Twin Otter. 

No way. (pun intended) A primary argument against charging passengers by weight is that it is unfair and discriminates against larger people who, for purpose of argument, we will assume have little control over their weight.

While I’m not suggesting that airlines start basing ticket prices on weight, charging by weight has some appealing aspects and the discrimination argument seems invalid.  It could be argued that not considering weight discriminates against smaller people who are subsidizing the cost of flying heavier people.

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Samoa Airways 737s have business class seats that can accommodate large individuals.

And discrimination is what airline pricing is all about.  When I pay $200 for a ticket, I may be sitting next to someone who paid $1,000 for the same type of seat.

If airlines go to weight-based pricing, they could adopt one of three basic models:

  1. A straightforward price per kilogram or pound,
  2. A fixed fare with heavier passengers paying a surcharge, or
  3. A fee for people of average weight, with extra charges or discounts for people who weigh in above or below the limit.

Charging by weight builds in discounts for children.  And as a general matter, women would not subsidize men.

Some airlines address the issue of weight together with the issue of space.  Very large individuals have difficulty fitting in an economy class seat.  So some airlines require passengers who are unable to lower their armrest or need seat belt extenders pay for two seats.  Other airlines will charge very large passengers for a second seat only if there is no empty seat available for the person to be seated next to.

Forcing very large individuals to buy two seats is akin to the way airlines charge for cargo.  The price for cargo is based on the greater of weight or volumetric weight, the objects volume times a standard factor.  In this age of “cram as many onboard and provide as few services as possible,” the joke is that passengers are treated as self-loading cargo anyway.

What are your thoughts on this topic?  Weigh in (ha ha) in the comments below.

All photos are from Samoa Airways