Recently, the airline Samoa Air elected to start charging passengers by the pound – their fares would be based on the sum of the weights of their body and their luggage. The airline’s CEO Chris Langton defended the ‘pay-as-you-weigh’ pricing, saying “The industry has this concept that all people throughout the world are the same size… Aeroplanes always run on weight, irrespective of seats.”Samoa Air CEO Chris Langton
One of the biggest expenses of flying a plane is fuel, and the heavier the plane’s cargo, the more fuel the plane burns to reach its destination. Charging passengers according to their weight means linking the price for serving them to the cost of flying them. Currently, airlines do not charge passengers according to their bodyweight. At most, they will insist that the largest passengers buy a second seat.
Imagine if every restaurant were an all you can eat buffet – restaurants would have to charge their patrons the average cost of serving them, plus some margin to make a profit. An upstart restaurant could gain an advantage, by say, charging the most gluttonous consumers more. That would lower the costs of serving everyone else, and allow them to charge those abstemious customers a lower price than the going rate, and thus attract more of them. Well, Samoa Air has done just that with its passengers, and it has the cash to prove it. Since implementing the policy, profits are up 20%, a spectacular figure considering how notoriously thin profit margins are in the airline industry.
The best part? Samoa Air is forcing its competitors into taking a loss by flying fatties for a flat rate. If a rival doesn’t charge by weight, it will be hard or impossible to compete with Samoa Air and still make a profit, in the long run.
According to CBS, the price is about fifty cents a pound for a given route. Say the average passenger and his luggage is 200 lbs, for a total ticket price of $100 on Samoa Air, as well as its rival airlines. Passengers under 200 lbs will fly with Samoa Air to save money, while their weightier peers will go with its rivals. As rival airlines cater to heavier and heavier passengers, their planes will burn up more fuel on each flight, raising costs. Ticket prices will have to be raised, driving more passengers to Samoa Air. It becomes a sort of vicious cycle of adverse selection that ends in bankruptcy or aping Samoa Air and making customers pay by weight. Perhaps a few customers will pay for the privilege of not disclosing their weight initially. But when they board the flight and see themselves surrounded by the morbidly obese, they may suddenly change their minds…
More so than almost any other consumer product, customers choose airlines based on the fare price alone. And, when they choose an airline, they are comparing fare prices among all the major providers available. An airline with prices consistently above its peers may find it hard to attract passengers. Conversely, being just a few dollars cheaper than one’s peers can make for a massive advantage. This explains why policy changes like charging for checked luggage have swept the industry so quickly. Faced with a rival with lower costs and lower ticket prices, and customers who only care about price, an airline has no choice but to do whatever is necessary to get its costs and prices down enough to match those of its rivals.
With fuel such a major expense for airlines, it seems inevitable that once one major airline implements such a policy, its rivals will be forced to follow suit. Read comments on the Samoa Air story, and you will find plenty of people who are happy to ‘pay by weight.’ Just days before Samoa Air made this announcement, Norwegian economist Bharat Bhatta published a study saying paying by weight makes sense.
Weighing Passengers Saves Lives
In 2003, a plane crashed and all 19 of its passengers and its two pilots died, partly because the weight of the passengers was hundreds of pounds beyond the plane’s capacity. They had used Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved passenger weight estimates, which turned out be twenty pounds short of the passenger’s actual average weight. In the aftermath of the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that small airplanes measure passenger weights before flight, but most still opt otherwise.
Unless fat apologists enlist governments to specifically ban the practice of charging by weight, it is only a matter of time until airlines implement it on a mass scale.
Players Club™ Premium Seating
While I’m on the topic, I might as well offer airlines another idea for increasing profits. Airplane seating is like playing roulette where you can only bet on red, but the ball only lands on black. Despite flying dozens of times, I’ve never had a bangable girl sit next to me. When a girl’s flying, there’s a ~50% chance she’s going somewhere besides home, which means, conservatively, she’s 500% more DTF than usual. Even if she’s not, you’ve got a solid opportunity to lay some game sporadically throughout the flight. Even a Goldstein like me will pony up for that.
With airlines already asking for your birth date, weight and possibly height, there are tons of options for recouping a little of the dough lost from flying all those fat passengers. Sell the chance to sit next to a babe on the flight. You already have enough info to make a good guess as to who they are. Make it a sliding scale, so that the horndogs who can pay more, typically older men, are charged more for the privilege.
Hell, we’re all such niggards we’d sell our own nephew to save a few bucks on airfares – tell young slim female passengers they’ll get free cocktails if they sign in through Facebook. When a man signs up for Players Club™ Premium Seating, he sees photos of all the girls who signed up through Facebook, and bids for the chance to sit next to the woman of his choice. With the risk of getting ‘Secret Internet Fattie’d reduced to nil, men will shell out. Maybe you’d even upgrade the dimes to first class, free of charge, just to get some tycoon to drop some coin for her presence. Meanwhile, she’s getting liquored up, to the delight of the man now next to her.
If it became popular enough, airlines would compete to get babes in their seats. That means lower airfares for the girls, even to the point of being free. Look sexy and score a free ticket on your next
hoedown vacation to Vegas? I can’t think of a better incentive for the women of the West to slim down and doll up. With babes shedding pounds to score free seats, carbon emissions from flying would decline. Even Captain Planet would get behind this – it’s a win-win-win-win. On the busy routes, entire planes could be players and babes. The glamor of aviation of days past is due for a comeback.