Fat passengers should pay more for their plane ticket: economist

27 March 2013 - 12:43 By AFP Relaxnews
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File photo
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An academic’s inflammatory suggestion that overweight passengers be forced to pay a surcharge for their plane ticket is grabbing headlines around the world.

It’s an ongoing issue for airlines, whose main expense is the cost of fuel: the heavier the load – so to speak -- the more fuel required.

And while some airlines have come under fire for requiring obese passengers to buy an extra seat if they can’t fit between the armrests, the paper penned by a Norwegian economist and picked up around the world has refueled the debate, throwing academic weight behind the controversial policy.

Published in the "Journal of Revenue and Pricing Management," Bharat P. Bhatta of Sogn og Fjordane University College in Norway argues that the pay-what-you-weigh model could help struggling airlines – many of which have only been marginally profitable in recent decades – and serve as a more equitable fare scale.

Citing a story published in The Economist, the paper points out that a reduction of just one kilogram of weight on a plane translates to fuel savings worth $3 000.

After all, if passengers have to pay extra for overweight bags, why not overweight passengers, goes the argument?

'Fat people pay more, slim people pay less?'

In his paper, Bhatta proposes a few different possibilities: a price-per-kilogram scheme; a fixed surcharge for overweight passengers and a discount for lighter travelers; and a third model in which passengers would be slotted into tidy categories of high, average and low fares – allusions to their body mass.

The paper also acknowledges, however, that implementing a pay-what-you-weigh scale could be viewed as discriminatory against heavier people.

In 2011, Southwest Airlines suffered a major PR crisis when the media caught wind of an incident in which an overweight passenger was told by a ground agent that she was “too fat to fly” and would have to buy a second seat. The woman weighed between 240 and 300 lbs (108 kg – 136 kg).

Currently, their policy on 'Customers of Size' now states that passengers will be accommodated with a complimentary additional seat if it’s determined that a second or third seat is needed.

Air France, meanwhile, requires “passengers with a high body mass” to buy a second seat at a 25 percent discount in their economy cabin. Should there be at least one unoccupied seat on the flight, the airline says they will reimburse the entirety of their second seat fare.

Click here to read the full paper.