Pay Your Weight to Fly

(Photo: Conor Lawless)

Our recent Freakonomics Radio podcast “100 Ways to Fight Obesity” looked at some of the social costs of America’s increasing rate of obesity. One airline in Samoa is experimenting with defraying some of those costs. It will soon start charging passengers by the kilogram. From The Sydney Morning Herald

Samoa Air has become the world’s first airline to implement “pay as you weigh” flights, meaning overweight passengers pay more for their seats.

“This is the fairest way of travelling,” chief executive of Samoa Air, Chris Langton, told ABC Radio. “There are no extra fees in terms of excess baggage or anything – it is just a kilo is a kilo is a kilo.”

Like many Pacific island nations, Samoa has a serious obesity problem and is often included in the top 10 countries for obesity levels. As such, Mr Langton believes his airline’s new payment policy will also help promote health and obesity awareness.

“When you get into the Pacific, standard weight is substantially higher [than south-east Asia],” he said. “That’s a health issue in some areas. [This payment system] has raised the awareness of weight.”

Under the new system, Samoa Air passengers must type in their weight and the weight of their baggage into the online booking section of the airline’s website. The rates vary depending on the distance flown: from $1 per kilogram on the airline’s shortest domestic route to about $4.16 per kilogram for travel between Samoa and American Samoa. Passengers are then weighed again on scales at the airport, to check that they weren’t fibbing online.

(HT: Eric Samuelson)

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  1. Pat McGee says:

    This [http://images.globalair.com/ganimages/generic/Twin%20Pistons/Britten-Norman/Islander/BN-2A/Interior/71_IslanderBN2A-26_i_i.jpg] would be a much more appropriate picture than what you showed. This is the interior view of the model of plane that Samoa Air flies.

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  2. gangstead says:

    Does this mean that a person traveling with a baby could get the child his/her own seat for $10?

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    • CS says:

      You’re right, there should be a fixed space component (# of seats and bags, for simplicity) and a weight component (per pound), since both of these are finite resources.

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  3. Iljitsch van Beijnum says:

    Well, at least it’s per kilo, so there’s not some arbitrary line that you cross and then have to pay double. And I assume everyone starts at 800 kilos or so to accommodate for the weight of the plane and the fuel?

    But an unintended side effect of such a policy, if widely adopted, could be that careers that require a lot of flying become unavailable to people who are tall and thus heavy.

    I can think of plenty of places were a little dose of “pay for what you use” would be good. For instance, make people pay more if they use customer support a lot.

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    • tung bo says:

      ” For instance, make people pay more if they use customer support a lot.”

      This would be a counter productive scheme. It would incentivize the company to put out badly designed products so that the customer have to make more calls to the support line.
      Hey, they must be doing it already!

      For better quality products, the company should offer rebates if the total # of customer calls exceed some pre-determined threshold. The rebates should come out of the CEO and the product manager’s bonuses. THAT should really make quality Job One.

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    • Q says:

      The fixed costs include more than just the weight of the plane, it also includes the airline’s labor costs. While there is a justification for a weight component in the cost of the plane ticket, I suspect it would be relatively small. If we went through the calculations, I’m confident that the excess fuel cost for that $25 checked bag is probably more on the order of $1-$5. I’ll even grant that it may cost a few additional dollars for someone to load it on the plane, but $25 is just so far removed from a fair price to pay for checked luggage that it grates on me every time I have to pay it, and grates on me even more when I hear the airlines use fuel costs as justification.

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  4. Jennifer says:

    Like the concept, but wouldn’t it be easier to weigh at the airport and “pay as you go”?
    Otherwise, how much deviation is allowed? After all, weight tends to fluctuate.

    And what about things you buy at the airport after being weighted? Granted, it likely won’t make MUCH difference, but do those travel free then?

    Still, interesting idea! Curious about how this will turn out.

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    • Heather says:

      Pay as you go is what they are trying to get rid of, for instance, there’s someone very heavy on a plane, now they have advance warning and won’t sell so many tickets that they can’t get off the ground

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  5. K says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  6. Barry says:

    I have no problem with this as long as my seat is larger than a smaller person’s. Seems only fair. Larger person requires larger seat which requires more money.

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  7. Roj Miller says:

    The current system is not “fair” to people who weigh less. The problem is, this system is even less fair, biased against people who weigh more. Why?

    Because most of the weight involved is the weight of the plane and fuel. As a quick example, a Boeing 737-800 weights approx. 175,000 pounds max at takeoff, and holds max 177 passengers. If the average passenger plus luggage totals 250 pounds, then passenger total weight is approx. 45,000 pounds. So passengers and luggage are only 25% of the weight involved.

    Under this system, assuming an average cost per passenger of $200, a 200 pound person with 50 pounds of luggage would pay $250, while a 100 pound person with 50 pounds of luggage would pay $150.

    A fair system would allocate 75% (base) cost to each passenger (0.75X$200=$150). So a passenger plus luggage totaling 250 pounds would pay $150 plus 250/200X$50 = $150+$62.50 = $212.50. A passenger plus luggage totaling 150 pounds would pay $150 plus 150/200X$50 = $150+$37.50 = $187.50.

    This would allocate flying costs based on the actual cost of flying the extra weight. Cost per pound places way to much cost on heavier passengers/luggage.

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    • Seminymous Coward says:

      The per-person resource consumption still favors the heavy, which would tend to balance. For example, administrative stuff like ticketing, the seat-based limit on how many people can fly, and meals are all weight-independent.

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    • Roger says:

      You picked a relatively small (but popular) plane. With the larger planes on the longer routes the passenger weight becomes an increasingly small proportion of total weight. Patrick Smith (askthepilot) does the calculations and comes up with smaller numbers for passenger weight than you do which would also result in less fare variance http://www.askthepilot.com/airfares-by-the-pound/

      Do I get a refund for the weighty crap the airlines put on the plane that I don’t want or use like business class seats, magazines, in flight entertainment systems, duty free and other shopping items, trolleys, “food”, alcohol, bassinets, blankets etc? As someone in the 99th percentile for height I also get proportionally less space, considerably less comfort, more bumping if in the aisle etc.

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      • Matt says:

        Important to note that the planes Samoa Air operate are much smaller. The larger of the two, the Britten-Norman Islander, carries a maximum of 9 passengers.

        For this airline the weight of the passengers is significant factor.

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  8. bob says:

    Guess Samoans are gonna be traveling a lot less. And this fantasy that charging obese people more will make them slim down isn’t gonna happen. Obese people are just gonna use less and less services until they’re as marginalized as smokers.

    And why ask you to put in a weight when booking and check again at the airport? What happens if you fib? Do they call your mommy, put a demerit on your record, and send you home?

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