Samoa Airline to start charging passengers by their weight - Fat-ist or fairest?

Story.

Samoa Air planned on Wednesday to start pricing its first international flights based on the weight of its passengers and their bags. Depending on the flight, each kilogram (2.2 pounds) costs 93 cents to $1.06.

That means the average American man weighing 195 pounds with a 35-pound bag would pay $97 to go one-way between Apia, Samoa, and Pago Pago, American Samoa. Competitors typically charge $130 to $140 roundtrip for similar routes.

The weight-based pricing is not new to the airline, which launched in June. It has been using the pricing model since November, but in January the U.S. Department of Transportation approved its international route between American Samoa and Samoa.

Discrimination against bigger folk, or a more equitable pay-for-what-you-use methodology?

It's seemed unfair to me that I would pay an excess baggage fee for a bag that's 5lbs overweight, but the guy next to me in line who weighs 30lb more than me and has a bag that's 5lbs lighter wouldn't. This seems to rationalize that discrepancy.

Pacific Islanders are hefty people.

Yeah, I think this is more a way of getting more money out of their likely clientele, who tend way more towards the heavy end of the scale.

Not sure if it's worth pointing out that there is a real and significant cost to an airline that scales with the weight of it's payload. I'm going to do some (really) rough math

I'll use a modern Boeing 737 as my test-case. I'm going to assume the biggest variant, (i.e. most passengers, largest take-off weight)

Maximum fuel capacity is 6875 US gallons of Jet-A fuel, which retails at an average of $5.60/gal . This gives us a fuelling cost of $38,500 to fill up our 737 from empty. Of course, you always want to leave a little bit of fuel in the tank (running out of gas in an airplane is a big no-no), so let's assume that for a full-range / full-payload flight, we're going to land with 10% of fuel remaining. So that gives us a roughly $35k fuel bill, for 6187 US gal of fuel.

It's operating empty weight (devoid of fuel and payload) is 98,500lb, with a maximum takeoff weight (fully loaded) of 187,700 lbs. Which means we have 89,200 lbs to load on-board our 737 for our flight.

Density of Jet-A at standard sea-level day is 6.84 lb/US gal, which means that our fuel weight when full is 47, 025 lbs, leaving us just over 42,000 lbs of payload.

Let's guesstimate that consumables (food and drinks, magazines etc) for the 177 passengers weigh 1000 lbs.

Which leaves us with 41,000 lbs of payload that our airline can charge for, passengers and their bags. Divided by the 177 passengers that a full 2-class flight would contain, that comes to only 231 lbs per passenger.

(Interesting sidenote - For years, the airline industry used an assumed weight of 180 lbs per passenger. You know how you often have a 50lb baggage allowance? What's 180 + 50?)

Lets get back to fuel. Remember that $35k fuel bill? For our full-range flight, we're burning all of that, split between our 177 passengers, for a cost per passenger of $197 in fuel alone.

Lets do some basic physics. We're burning fuel to generate thrust to generate lift which raises our airplane, fuel and passengers to some altitude, lets say 35,000 feet. Ignoring the inefficiencies of jet propulsion and aerodynamic lift, high-school physics tells us that the potential energy required to lift something scales linearly with height and with gravity and mass. So it literally takes half as much energy again to lift a 300lb guy in his skychair than a 200lb guy.

That said, we're only really climbing early on in the flight. Maybe 10% of our fuel burn is going to be from takeoff and climb to altitude. The rest of the time, we're just burning fuel to overcome drag (which is largely independent of aircraft weight). So, 10% of our $197/passenger fuel bill is a mere 20 bucks. So the difference in fuel cost to get our big 300lb guy up to altitude versus our stock 200lb guy is a relatively paltry 10 bucks.

With that, I suspect that the argument that this is "fairer" is somewhat limited. However, it certainly removes the risk of undercharging from the airline, and incentivizes it's passengers to pack lightly, as well as maybe discouraging heavier passengers from using this airline, all of which will help the airline's bottom line in what is an industry with razor-thin margins.

Disclaimer - this is all really hand-wavy math, and the reality of the situation is way more complex. I've tried to be conservative with the numbers, and may have ballsed up a bunch of it.

I guess commercial airplanes have finally been downgraded from buses with wings to semis with wings.

Can't it be both fair and fatist?

The numbers will change a lot when you look at the type of aircraft used by Samoa Air. Cessna 172 and BN2A. The BN2A has about 1200kg of capacity and 12 seats. A single big pax can add 5% extra to the total takeoff weight.

Sounds fair to me, I have wondered for a while when airlines would move to this model. My guess it they want to but logistic and PR problems prevent them.

Lets not just do fat vs. not fat. How about two people of similar build, equal health, but one is several inches taller than the other. Do you charge someone extra for their inherent attributes? How about a pregnant woman?

Just throwing some scenarios out there. I am neither for or against this policy as I'm not likely to fly with them anyway.

obirano wrote:

Lets not just do fat vs. not fat. How about two people of similar build, equal health, but one is several inches taller than the other. Do you charge someone extra for their inherent attributes? How about a pregnant woman?

Yes. I have no problem with an airline basing price on total weight (person plus baggage). To be honest, I really only like this policy because airlines are already charging for checked bags and baggage overages. As mentioned in the OP, it's quite annoying to pay a baggage overage fee when me + my one bag weighs less* than a handful of the people on the plane do without including their baggage.

Don't several airlines require people of a certain weight to purchase two seats?

I like Edwin's comment that this policy is both fair and fatist.

I think it is quite insulting all in all.
Besides that, it's not that the average weighing person is going to pay
less either. It's all about charging more, not paying your fair price.
They are going to up the price per kg or pound, slowly but surely.

Vector wrote:

I like Edwin's comment that this policy is both fair and fatist.

It sums it up very well. Passenger weight is much more important for the small small planes they use than the large one Jonman used in his example. His hand-wavy math does tell us that it probably wouldn't be fair if a company tried implementing this pricing scheme on larger planes where differences in passenger weight isn't as important.

Vector wrote:

I like Edwin's comment that this policy is both fair and fatist.

I do as well. One other consideration is that if they charge per weight then the weight of your carry-on starts to matter. I do not even want to consider the number of times my carry-on was overweight. I gather they will still charge extra for more bags as that requires more people to handle the bags.

Up to :12

As a fat guy, I wouldn't mind paying fare based on my weight as long as I got a seat that fit me. If I'm twice as big as the person next to me, I'm going to be twice as miserable in the small seats.

Edited for a missing, critical word

It almost makes you regret how many times we bailed them out, doesn't it?

For this to be truly "fair", the airline would need to introduce just a single threshold for the total onboard weight allowance. Say, 200lbs, 250lbs or whatever. It's up to the passengers how they make use of that -- i.e. through which particual bodyweight/luggage/carry-on combination. Anything above that is charged with an excessive weight fee. Anything below that gives you a discount.

But as it stands, the airline is the only entity that benefits. Skinny passengers, or those that are traveling light, aren't getting anything out of this arrangement.

I guess parents with kids would benefit...unless they were fat kids.

Kids typically already pay a reduced fare, though.

Little people make out like bandits.

LouZiffer wrote:

Little people make out like bandits.

IMAGE(http://i.imgur.com/sDOx1pI.png)

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

For this to be truly "fair", the airline would need to introduce just a single threshold for the total onboard weight allowance. Say, 200lbs, 250lbs or whatever. It's up to the passengers how they make use of that -- i.e. through which particual bodyweight/luggage/carry-on combination. Anything above that is charged with an excessive weight fee. Anything below that gives you a discount.

But as it stands, the airline is the only entity that benefits. Skinny passengers, or those that are traveling light, aren't getting anything out of this arrangement.

Think you missed the point - that's exactly what they are doing. Charging by the kg for passenger + baggage.

Don't know if it's worth posting here or in a separate thread, but here's another example of a "fattism or fairness" question. More and more companies are demanding weigh-ins, blood test results, and other private medical information. Overweight or obese workers are going to be charged much higher insurance premiums. Here's an article about CSV, but I read in the Wall Street Journal that other major companies like Goodyear are following suit.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/0...

Im torn on this because technically a company can make any demands on its workers within reason. If you don't like it, you can go get another job. On the other hand, I don't like the idea of having to turn over personal medical info or be subjected to regular weigh-ins. Also, I've read that there is all sort of genetic factors that affect weight, and while everyone can avoid being morbidly obese, not everyone can easily maintain normal weight. So there are questions of whether this is discrimination on factors you really can't help.

PS - I'm saying this as a guy who is currently overweight and actively working on getting rid of it.

jdzappa wrote:

Don't know if it's worth posting here or in a separate thread, but here's another example of a "fattism or fairness" question. More and more companies are demanding weigh-ins, blood test results, and other private medical information. Overweight or obese workers are going to be charged much higher insurance premiums. Here's an article about CSV, but I read in the Wall Street Journal that other major companies like Goodyear are following suit.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/0...

Im torn on this because technically a company can make any demands on its workers within reason. If you don't like it, you can go get another job. On the other hand, I don't like the idea of having to turn over personal medical info or be subjected to regular weigh-ins. Also, I've read that there is all sort of genetic factors that affect weight, and while everyone can avoid being morbidly obese, not everyone can easily maintain normal weight. So there are questions of whether this is discrimination on factors you really can't help.

PS - I'm saying this as a guy who is currently overweight and actively working on getting rid of it.

Part of the problem I have with my weight has to do with the drug cocktail I take in order to manage my depression. It took me years to find a doctor who was thorough enough and patient enough to actually do more than prescribe the anti-depression medication of the week and hope for the best. However, that drug cocktail comes at a cost: side effects including weigh gain and weigh retention. All of the side effects are preferable to not having the drug cocktail. So, I would be in a bit of a nightmare scenario where I would be penalized for actually managing a health concern because it leads to another health concern. In essence, I have a choice: I can keep the weight and my sanity and face a penalty, or I can stop the medication, lose the weight and go back to playing with razor blades.

Lovely.

Employer: "so, you are prone to excessive weight AND depression?!" /REDFLAG!

Welcome to 21st century employment

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

Employer: "so, you are prone to excessive weight AND depression?!" /REDFLAG!

Welcome to 21st century employment :(

Not to mention this little ditty from my last place of employment:

HR: "We want to do biometrics on you and offer you this wellness program so you can be healthy!"

Vendors: "We want to bring in donuts, cakes, bagels, and a chocolate and caramel fountain, as well as sodas, burgers, and food trucks!"

HR: "Okay!"

Me: *facepalm*

jdzappa wrote:

Don't know if it's worth posting here or in a separate thread, but here's another example of a "fattism or fairness" question. More and more companies are demanding weigh-ins, blood test results, and other private medical information. Overweight or obese workers are going to be charged much higher insurance premiums. Here's an article about CSV, but I read in the Wall Street Journal that other major companies like Goodyear are following suit.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/0...

Im torn on this because technically a company can make any demands on its workers within reason. If you don't like it, you can go get another job. On the other hand, I don't like the idea of having to turn over personal medical info or be subjected to regular weigh-ins. Also, I've read that there is all sort of genetic factors that affect weight, and while everyone can avoid being morbidly obese, not everyone can easily maintain normal weight. So there are questions of whether this is discrimination on factors you really can't help.

PS - I'm saying this as a guy who is currently overweight and actively working on getting rid of it.

I'm not so torn. I mean, if I get a bunch of speeding tickets, my car insurance premiums go up, because I'm showing behaviors that correlate with a higher risk of the insurance company having to pay out, right? That seems fair to me.

Regardless of the reasons why one is overweight, whether through lifestyle, genetics or side-effects of necessary medications, that still puts you at a higher risk of health implications that mean that your health insurance would need to pay out. It's not about discrimination, it's how insurance operates.

jdzappa wrote:

Im torn on this because technically a company can make any demands on its workers within reason. If you don't like it, you can go get another job. On the other hand, I don't like the idea of having to turn over personal medical info or be subjected to regular weigh-ins.

Of course the writing was on the wall when some companies began refusing to hire and even firing smokers. It was only a matter of time before the scale joined the nicotine tests.

Yes, but overweight people already pay more because of the health issues related to obesity (high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.). Health insurance isn't really insurance...it's coverage. It isn't generally based on risk like automotive insurance is.

Nevin73 wrote:

Health insurance isn't really insurance...it's coverage. It isn't generally based on risk like automotive insurance is.

That makes my brains hurt. Insurance isn't insurance?

And it is absolutely based on risk. Were I to seek private health insurance on the open market, the fact that I have a heart condition that means that at some indistinct point in the future, I will need heart surgery, means that I'm going to pay higher premiums than if I had a perfectly healthy heart. Likewise, my bipolar wife's premiums would be sky-high due to her having a chronic condition that requires ongoing and indefinite care.

The fact that for many of us, our insurance comes by way of our employers simply means that that sliding scale of risk is pushed up to our employers, and we don't see it. What we see here is an attempt to push that back onto the insured.