My friend Greg and I just had a fascinating and extensive discussion about the concept of airlines charging their customers by the weight of their bodies + luggage.
The way we envisioned it, all airlines tickets would be composed of exactly two fees: a seat fee (fixed) and a weight fee (variable). This is hardly our original idea; I’ve seen similar suggestions pondered on the web before. But nonetheless, I thought it’d be interesting to reflect upon some implementation ideas as well as pros and cons.
Get estimates up front.
Ask for estimated weight in airfare comparison sites and airline sites to avoid shock and extra processing work at the airport.
Get money up front.
Collect money for seat fee plus weight fee upon booking. Offer a refund for cases in which people overestimate their weight. Levy strong surcharges (e.g., 25%) for those who significantly underestimate their weight.
Be discreet about each individual’s weight.
Present a total of person-weight + luggage-weight, or even just a surcharge total.
Price the weight fee as a pound/kilogram per mile.
This makes sense, since extra weight costs more on a long trip than a short trip.
Incorporate increases and decreases in fuel costs into the $/weight charge.
Instead of levying a separate fuel surcharge, airlines could simply increase the $/weight charge on all their flights (e.g., from $1.20 per pound-mile to $1.42 per pound mile).
Avoid pissing off frequent flyers re: mileage points
Grandfather in earlier ticket purchases, and for a limited time let people redeem the same number of points for the same class of flights as before. After that, charge something like 15,000 miles for a round trip flight (instead of 25K) + weight fee, or 25,000 miles for a round trip flight inclusive of [x] pounds/kilograms. Establish a ratio so that for the average or median flyer, they’ll get exactly the same $/point(mile) as before.
Benefits / pros
Greater fairness in charges
People who are light-weight (in body and/or luggage) will no longer subsidize those whose bulk costs the airlines appreciably more in fuel expenses.
Greater incentive to pack light
This in turn may reduce luggage handling costs (fewer people and machines and conveyor belts needed) and decrease luggage delivery delays. It’s also likely to reduce the cramping of overhead space in planes.
Possible extra push for people to lose weight
Especially those folks who are both obese and frequent travelers will be incentivized to lose weight. This will contribute to their health, and also the comfort of those flying next to them.
Potential optimization in seating
Particularly if airlines request both person-weight and luggage-weight estimates from passengers, they could theoretically optimize seating for safety, fuel efficiency, and comfort (e.g., not placing too large people next to each other).
A potentially big revenue boost in Q4 for airlines
Given the carriage of Thanksgiving food and Christmas gifts, airlines could see a nice bump in their income in November and December.
Disadvantages / cons
A huge outcry from privacy advocates
People might be loathe to tell airlines how much they weight, and would likely be equally horrified at having to step on scales in front of others at the airport.
Uncertainty of final ticket price
Many people—especially those barely scraping enough cash together for a family vacation—might be frustrated by the uncertainty of airfare prices and/or stunned and dismayed by weight overage fees levied at the airport.
Greater inefficiencies at the airport
The last thing we all want is MORE delays at the airport. Imagine the extra time required to weight every single passenger and assess extra charges (or issue refunds)… particularly to those without credit cards (yes, I know it’s hard to imagine, but there are apparently people who pay cash or write checks even for things like airfare!).
Claims of discrimination and unfairness
I bet we all have at least one friend who is quite obese… perhaps even obese and financially challenged. I can imagine that many of these folks would simply be unable to afford flying to visit family and friends with the imposition of weight fees.
A potential mess online
Ultimately, it doesn’t seem that it’d be so outlandish for airfare comparison sites and airline sites to ask for folks’ weight and—using airline-provided $/weight numbers—provide total estimated costs for each flight fare inquiry. But at least initially, there’d likely be a lot of confusion and havoc.
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Are weight-surcharges a good idea? Do you think the airlines would be able to successfully implement them? And have I forgotten any key pros or cons?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this 😀