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)

Pat McGee

This [] 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.

Seminymous Coward

Mr. Lawless' picture had a clear, friendly license.


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


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.

Iljitsch van Beijnum

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.

tung bo

" 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.


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.


So the strength athlete/bodybuilder should be required to pay more than the anorexic fashion model?
So much for promoting health. Let's all start fasting and running marathons so we can afford to see our friends or family in some other part of the country, or abroad.


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.

Roj Miller

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.


Seminymous Coward

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.


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?

Christopher Alexander

Here's an informative post by a pilot on the economics of weight and cost. The short answer - weight is only relevant on tiny planes and Samoan Air has tiny planes.


Someone should do a study and see if this increases customers buying food in the secure area, if they are weighed at ticketing. I know I wouldn't eat breakfast or drink some coffee if it meant a few extra dollars. Heck, I'd probably go for a run before I flew. You can shift your weight by 5 lbs or more by doing that. Sure I'd spend more buying coffee and Cinnabon after I got through with ticketing, but at that point it's celebratory for sticking it to the man!


I can think of at least one instance where much hilarity would ensue. I only wish I be there when it happens. If I was a Samaon then I would weigh myself buck naked and purchase my ticket. Then I would wear my heaviest clothes (maybe even two layers) and go to the airport. As soon as the airport guys accuse me of fibbing I will start to strip. If I was well-conne ted I would get a fe of my friends to do some sort of flash mob stripping. Like I said hilarity and worth a few million YouTube hits. As to the actual policy I want to see how it plays out.


Nice idea, but wouldn't that mean you'd also have to fly naked? As you would not have paid for your your clothes to come with you? Just be careful when they're passing out the coffee.


This seems a bit ridiculous. Taller people weigh more than short people. Some people are born with faster metabolisms and are therefore lighter. This isn't "the fairest way of travelling". It's honestly ridiculous.

Also if they don't think weighing people at the airport is going to lose them some business, they're deluded.

Seminymous Coward

Having flown on a similarly small plane before, I can tell you that everyone gets weighed regardless of the pricing scheme. It's simply too important to be accurate on the fuel calculation to do otherwise.

Eric M. Jones

I'll go out on a wing here and surmise that this is certainly not the first airline to do "Pay as you weigh" pricing, but reference examples are hard to locate.

During WWII while flying the Hump to China, Buddhist workers would gladly leap out of the plane if it couldn't get over a mountain pass. ...Jus' sayin'...