Should overweight fliers have to pay more?

A Norwegian professor proposes 3 pay-as-you-weigh approaches to airfare, but carriers aren't biting -- yet.

By Jason Notte Apr 1, 2013 8:54AM
Image: Overweight (© ULTRA.F/Getty Images)In Italy, pizza isn't sold by the slice, but by weight. The thinking is that heavier slices eat up more of the pizza maker's ingredients and, therefore, the price should cover more of the cost.

That sounds just fine, until economists consider applying the same standard to overweight airline passengers.

Bharat Bhatta, an associate professor at Norway's Sogn og Fjordane University College, wrote last week in the Journal of Revenue Pricing and Management that airlines should consider charging by space and weight. According to Reuters, Bhatta suggests that such a move would not only help airlines recoup some of the fuel costs associated with carrying additional weight, but it would also offer passengers motivation to drop a few pounds and get a discount.

Bhatta has devised three pay-as-you-weigh pricing plans that may be coming soon to the airline of your choice. The first would charge passengers according to how much they and their baggage weighed so that someone weighing 130 pounds pay would half the price of someone weighing 260.

The second would use a fixed base rate that rises for every passenger above a specified weight threshold. It's by far the most unwieldy option because every passenger would pay a different fare. The third option, Bhatta's favorite, would set three fares: One for passengers of average weight, one for overweight passengers and one for those below average.

Carriers like Air France and Southwest Airlines (LUV) already require heavier passengers to pay for extra seats if they're too large to fit in one, but they offer refunds once the flight is over. In Southwest's case, a very public run-in with "Clerks" and "Chasing Amy" director Kevin Smith that resulted in him being taken off a flight because of his weight in 2010 has put that airline's  policy in the spotlight. United Air Lines (UAL) also requires customers too large to fit in one seat to buy another.

With airline fees already stacking up, the flying public may not be so receptive to a new one that requires them to hit the scales. While no airline has admitted considering such a policy, don't be surprised to see major carriers funneling frequent-flier miles toward gym memberships.

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Apr 1, 2013 10:44AM
There is overweight and there is just plain obese. If they are so large they are taking a seat and a half,  yes, they should buy and pay for two seats. It is too much to ask a passenger to have to share the seat he or she paid for with the overhanging fat from the next person. I know this sounds cruel, but there is hardly ever a real medical reason for someone's being too big to fit in a seat.
Apr 1, 2013 11:33AM
I think 100% YES! I don't think fat passengers should be allowed to WEDGE themselves into seats and take up half of mine. I fly a lot. I'm 6'2" tall and 195lbs. I don't encroach one bit on a person next to me. I was on a flight last Thursday and had to sit sideways because the fat @ss next to me hung over inches into my seat. It was disgusting.

Apr 1, 2013 11:50AM
I spent most of my career on airplanes and some lard a$$ sitting next to me was always a serious issue. My ticket did not include misery and that's what it is sitting next to someone who overflows their seat and sucks up half of yours.  And they are almost always the chatty type, another form of airline torture.
Apr 1, 2013 9:41AM
This sounds to granular to me.  Really by the pound tickets?  Now for someone that requires more than one seat or who hangs over into their neighbors seat (unless family member) should pay extra and have to pre-book 2 seats next 2 each.
Apr 1, 2013 10:33AM
All payload in the flying business is based on weight. The right way to equate cost of travel is the total weight of the passenger. That means, everyone should be placed on a scale along with their complete baggage and charged accordingly. This is how it works with cargo. Also, the pilot gets a true estimate of the total payload he is responsible with for the flight.

Apr 1, 2013 12:07PM

Before we start talking about paying more how about making seats people actually fit in. At 6' 3" 220lbs I dread having to fly and do to the discomfort will drive very long distances when ever possible to avoid it!

Apr 1, 2013 11:37AM
What will end up happening is that heavier passengers will end up paying more but the lighter ones will not get any discount nor the passengers discomforted by heavier passengers will benefit any. Airlines will just pocket the cash and they will not increase the size of the seats or anything to accomodate the heavier passengers who would also be paying more.
Apr 1, 2013 9:23AM

Yes, Lighter passengers should pay less and heavier should pay more.  If you and your luggage are more or less a burden to get off the ground and stay in the air, then the fee's should be commensurate.


Apr 1, 2013 12:07PM

Totally agree.  If you can't fit in a seat then you buy an extra seat.  I am tired of big people expecting it is OK for them to take their seat and half of mine.  I had a man get mad at me because I wanted to sit in my seat at a NASCAR race. No arms between us so he just sprawled into my seat.  He really got mad. Lose weight or buy 2 tickets. It should not come as a surprise to you that you are over weight.

Apr 1, 2013 11:40AM
Why not?  If you are shipping more "cargo" than I, you should pay more than I.  Makes me wonder why it was not set up this way in the first place.  Flight is all about weight.
Apr 1, 2013 11:26AM
 Make the seats bigger,they are uncomfortable for even smaller people.UNLESS YHEY ARE TREMENDOUSLY OVERWEIGHT.
Apr 1, 2013 10:22AM
I think this is fair. Nothing worse than a smelly overweight person ruining my flight. My company offers first class but when flights are only a couple hours ill sometimes take a lower class. Ive been stuck in front of or beside overweight individuals and if they don't care about their body odor or size why should I... I understand some cant help it due to a heredity but their are ways to combat this.
Apr 1, 2013 11:09AM
yes. call it the "portly portage" fee
Apr 1, 2013 12:27PM
Let the airlines do what they want. Eventually one will figure out the average size adult will not fit in the hi chairs they currently provide 
Apr 1, 2013 11:45AM
Sounds like a great idea to me, we've been paying postage based on weight forever - same basic idea.
Apr 1, 2013 11:44AM
I'm not going to argue whether I think this is wrong or right, but just my two cents below.

If you're going to look at this strictly from a weight perspective then you should look at the fixed and variable weight "costs".

The typical operating empty weight on a 737 is somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 lbs depending on the model (from what I've found online). Also these planes seats somewhere around 200 people (using a round number to keep the math easy).

So if you take 70,000lbs and divide it by 200 people you get that each person is roughly paying for 350lbs of fixed weight (400lbs if you assume 80,000lbs). You should then add on the variable weight of each person and his/her luggage to find the percent more.

So if two people are each carrying 50lbs in total luggage, with the first person weighing 200 and the second person 250, then total weight for the two would be 600 and 650 pounds respectively. 

If you take into account the fixed and variable weight the second person would only be 8% heavier then the first, so their ticket would be 8% more.

Going strictly off variable costs is ridiculous because you need to consider fixed costs into almost all pricing models.
Apr 1, 2013 12:19PM
sure, if the seats are a managable size instead of 18" wide. (Shrunk several inches over the years from when people were actually thinner, and given more leg room.) What a scam 
Apr 1, 2013 12:27PM
The airlines could offer me a discount for sitting next to an obese person.  Make it my decision to sit next to them or not...That would be fair.  
Apr 1, 2013 11:44AM
I totally agree on this one, put all the pax on the scale!
Apr 1, 2013 11:30AM
This would put companies and traveling employees at odds.  When the company needs to cut back on travel expenses would they cut back across the board or allow lighter employees to fly while parking the heavier ones at their desk?  Would companies hire women over men for traveling positions because women are about 2/3 the size of men?
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