A new airline is creating a stir with a policy that determines ticket prices based on passenger weight.
Samoa Air, which launched last year to provide service around Samoa and neighbouring islands, says its “pay-by-weight” system is the “fairest way” to charge travellers.
It’s straightforward: When booking a ticket online, estimate your weight and the weight of your baggage. Then the fare is calculated. Rates per kilogram will vary based on the distance of the flight.
(To stop passengers from low-balling their weight to save money, the airline warns, “don’t worry, we will weigh you again at the airport.”)
The upsides for (thin) passengers are obvious: No more baggage fees, and no more paying for half the overweight passenger in the seat next to yours, Samoa Air Chief Executive Chris Langton told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat. Families with small children will benefit the most.
The airline is competing in an industry with thin profit margins, where rising fuel costs make weight savings vital. “aeroplanes don’t run on seats, they run on weight,” Langton said. The airline flies small propeller planes, so weight variations are an important consideration on its flights, according to ABC News.
With its system, Samoa Air will not lose money if a group of especially heavy fliers takes the same flight, and skinny fliers won’t have to subsidise the cost of flying their heavier neighbours from island to island.
The plan is sure to raise eyebrows, however: Weight is a sensitive issue, and Samoa Air can be seen as punishing its customers for their obesity, which can be caused by a mix of genetic and cultural factors, as well as personal decisions.
The issue is especially important in the South Pacific. American Samoa — a Samoa Air destination — has the highest rates in the world of overweight and obese adults, according to the World Health organisation (no data is available for Samoa).