A STORY problem: Mary weighs 120 pounds and is traveling with a 12-pound baby, a 30-pound diaper bag and two suitcases with a combined weight of 80 pounds. Dick weighs 155 and hauls a 10-pound duffel. Bob weighs 280 and is dragging a 40-pound wheel-aboard suitcase. How much does each passenger pay for a 1,440-mile flight from Chicago to Phoenix?
Trick question. Everyone knows it depends on how and when they booked their travel, where they’re seated on the plane, whether they’re entitled to check bags for free and all sorts of mysterious variables. But play along: Wouldn’t it make more sense to pay by the pound?
That’s how it works on Samoa Air, a tiny commuter carrier that serves the famously corpulent citizens of the Pacific Islands. On the world’s first pay-as-you-weigh airline, you (and your luggage) just step on the scale before you board and pay accordingly.
Samoa Air flies three- and nine-passenger prop planes. If you’ve flown on one of those, you’ve likely had the disarming experience of watching the pilot rearrange the passengers before takeoff to distribute the load evenly. Can’t have all the big people over one wing!
Major airlines don’t have that problem. But fuel is their biggest expense, and the heavier the load, the more fuel the plane uses.
A Norwegian economist, writing in last month’s Journal of Revenue and Pricing Management, makes a good case that a weight-based model is both economically sound and fair. Cargo is priced by weight, after all. Why not people? The economist isn’t suggesting everyone would be weighed at check-in at O’Hare. Tickets could be sold for specific weight ranges, for example, or passengers could self-report their weight when they book their flight. T
Some airlines now require plus-size customers to buy a second seat — or risk being turned away at the gate if the flight is full.
Charging customers by weight might be awkward, but it’s not unreasonable.