Viewpoint: ‘Pay as you weigh’ air prices close to discrimination

The airline Samoa Air is introducing a new flight-pricing program today. Passengers are to pay based on their combined personal weight and luggage weight in kilos.

Chris Langton, the head of the airline, has been quoted on several different news sources, including Australia’s ABC Radio, that this program is “the fairest way of traveling.” “He also said: “Airlines don’t run on seats, they run on weight.”

The airline is based in Pago Pago, American Samoa, where the population is struggling with a growing obesity problem. Samoa has one of the highest levels of obesity, according to the CIA World Factbook. The factbook has them listed in first place with 74.60 percent of the population with a body fat percentage of 30 and above.

Airline rates range from 93 cents to $1.06 per kilogram of weight for flights from Samoa to American Samoa. This would mean that for a short domestic flight, the flight cost for 130 pounds (58.96 kilos) would be nearly $61.73. Or for their longest route, it would cost the same person $257.04.

This program is very straight-forward and logical, and I have no problem with the pay-by-weight system. With a heavier weight comes more cost in fuel. It’s quite simple.

Also, families with children flying on this model are expected to pay less overall because children, who weigh less than adults, wouldn’t be charged the price of an adult ticket. That really sells in an age where it’s extremely expensive to fly as a family. In my opinion, this could encourage family travel. I always wanted to travel more as a kid.

But there is another potential side to this I do not like; the problem comes when you vary the total. In a CNN article, an economics professor named Dr. Bharat P. Bhatta talked about a paper he published, which included three proposals for “pay as you weigh” airline pricing.

These models, according to CNN, are:

  • Total weight, which, like with Samoa Air, includes a passenger’s personal and luggage weight.
  • Base fare +/- extra: A base fare is set, but there is a per kilo discount for people who are “underweight” and a per-kilo surcharge applying to “overweight” passengers
  • High/Average/Low: It is the same as the base fare +/- extra, but with predetermined charges above or under a certain weight.

Now, I reiterate that I agree with the total weight pricing system. However, applying discounts or surcharges based on these criteria are discrimination to me.

Who are the airlines to decide what underweight is and what overweight is? If the designation is based merely on pounds, it could skew a picture of health. What about people who are healthy and muscular? Are they to be penalized for being fit? Sure, they’ll probably have doctors involved in the decision. But unless every person is thoroughly examined, going just by body weight or by body weight and height isn’t going to cut it. This treads into dangerous waters. It sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

I do not think it’s fair that a lighter person gets a discount or for a person heavier than me to be penalized. I think paying for every kilo is “punishment” enough for people who are heavy. I don’t understand why one should be penalized further for it. It seems like a jab, but perhaps that is because I am overweight myself.

Ashley Pereyra is a senior journalism major from Austin. She is a reporter for the Lariat.