Most airlines charge tall passengers a premium if they want extra leg-room, but now at least one airline is charging extra not based on centimetres…but on kilograms!
It was a small aircraft at a small airport in the capital city of a small South American country and I was due to fly deep into the Amazonian jungle for a few days of trekking and exploring. But before I could board, I had to stand on the enormous scales in the tiny terminal building, bags in hand, and be weighed while an airline employee with a clipboard registered my particulars.
My experience in Suriname is not uncommon when flying in smaller aircraft, but it doesn’t happen much on large airliners. Until now.
One of the biggest expenses incurred by any airline today is jet fuel. Every ounce on every plane results in more fuel being burned, which airlines claim is one of the reasons that some of them have removed pillows and blankets from aircraft in recent years. I recall on one long-haul flight from Los Angeles to Fiji that the pilot announced that our take-off was delayed because the fuel supplier had loaded too much fuel onto the plane and he was waiting for them to return and remove the excess. What’s the big deal? Well, as he went on to explain over the speaker, the extra weight of that extra fuel would burn all the extra fuel on our way to our sun-drenched South Pacific destination. In other words, the cost of that extra fuel would just be thrown away. Eventually, the bowser fuel tanker returned, took out the extra and we were on our way.
Wing tanks full of fuel aside, the heaviest things on aircraft—apart from the aircraft themselves—are the passengers and their luggage. All airlines already limit the number and weight of luggage and charge for excesses, but what if airlines started billing actual passengers in a similar manner?
The first to take this step was Samoa Air, the national carrier of the small Pacific Island nation. Several years ago they announced that each passenger would be weighed before boarding the aircraft and their fare would be calculated on a per-kilogram basis based on the length of the flight. When passengers booked their tickets they would be asked to estimate their weight and pay accordingly, with the final calculation—and the issuance of a surcharge or rebate—conducted at the airport. They were quick to point out that some lighter passengers—especially families with small children—would actually save considerable sums of money as compared to the current flat-rate fees for everyone.
Samoa Air added that the decision was not entirely financially-based, but was also done in an effort to promote health and obesity awareness in a country that frequently features in lists of countries with the highest rates of obesity in the world.
While Samoa Air might have been the first airline to actually charge passengers based solely on their weight, more recently Uzbekistan Airways announced that it would start weighing all passengers and their carry-on baggage in the departure lounge to accurately determine the entire weight of the flight. No suggestion was made that the Central Asian carrier would begin charging passengers based on that total, however it would be a very easy second step for them and as we know with most industries, if one company finds a practice profitable, the others quickly follow suit and soon it’s customary across the board.
So, while personal trainers and exercise gurus have long offered “Bikini Bootcamp” courses for people headed south on their winter getaways, perhaps the day may soon come where we’re all dieting and exercising just to get on an aircraft and save a few dollars!