PhotoAirlines are charging fees for carry-on bags, checked bags, boarding passes, snacks, drinks, aisle seats and just about every other option you can think of. And yet, they're missing an obvious opportunity to jack up the rates for a large portion of the flying public -- charging by the pound.

After all, freight and delivery service charges usually include a flat fee plus an additional charge for each weight increment. Why not airlines? After all, it takes more fuel to transport heavier passengers and there's more wear and tear to seats and other aircraft parts.

So says Dr. Bharat P. Bhatta, a professor at a Norwegian university writing in this month's Journal of Revenue and Pricing Management.

"Charging according to weight and space is a universally accepted principle, not only in transportation, but also in other services," he said. "As weight and space are far more important in aviation than other modes of transport, airlines should take this into account when pricing their tickets."

"According to a recent article published in The Economist, a reduction of 1 kg (about 2.2 pounds) weight of a plane will result in a fuel savings worth $3,000 a year and a reduction of CO2 emissions by the same token," Bhatta wrote. "Air Canada's regional carrier has removed life vests from all its planes in order to save weight and fuel that makes each flight about 25 kg lighter."

Some airlines, most notably Southwest, already require oversized passengers to buy two seats. Air Tran, recently acquired by Southwest, has started doing the same.

Where to weigh?

Implemention might prove a little burdensome. Since most passengers now get their board passes online, how would the airlines know how much they weigh? Would we have to go to a weighing station before making a reservation? That hardly seems workable.

Putting scales at check-in boarding would make the resemblance to a barnyard even stronger than it already is at most busy airports. Maybe passengers could be weighed as they go through security. What's one more indignity, after all?

Perhaps someone will publish an app that records our weight on a minute-by-minute basis and automatically uploads it to Google and Facebook, where it will be available to anyone who wants it.

Three models

Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg could require weight-based air fares at NYC airports?

Lightweight comments aside, Bhatta presents three possible pricing models in his paper:

  • Fare according to actual weight: Charging passengers according to how much they, and their belongings weigh, fixing a rate for kg per passenger so that a person weighing 60kg (132 pounds) pays half the airfare of a 120-kg (264-pound) person.
  • "Base fare" minus or plus an extra charge: This option involves charging a fixed base rate, with an additional charge for heavier passengers to cover the extra costs. Every passenger could have a different fare according to this option.
  • Same fare if the passenger has an average weight, but discounted/extra fare for low/excess weight below/above a certain limit. 

It seems unlikely this will come about, but if it does, it would at least provide yet another reason to lose weight, which would probably be a good thing for everyone. On the other hand, Mayor Bloomberg may make it a requirement for airlines that fly in and out of New York City.

Not a new idea

In the spirit of full disclosure, it must be noted that this is not a new idea. I proposed it in a letter to the editor of Frequent Flyer Magazine back in 1980 when I had an assignment that involved frequent air travel.

One gloomy Monday morning, I watched nervously as my boss, who modeled himself physically and temperamentally on Ed Asner, thumbed through the magazine, stopping at the letters section.

"Here's some idiot saying airlines should charge by weight," he scowled. "That sounds like something you'd dream up, Truman."

I nervously suggested we adjourn to the Pastrami Palace without further delay, successfully distracting my hot-tempered superior before he read further. 


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