According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Samoa Air will begin a new policy of charging customers based on how much they and their luggage weigh, with overweight passengers paying proportionally more for every pound they weigh. Spokespeople for the airline claim that the new system is the “fairest” way of traveling since it institutes a uniform, weight-based rate without charging more fees for extra luggage.
Samoa Air CEO Chris Langton told ABC News that the so-called “pay as you weigh” policy will “promote health and obesity awareness” in the obesity-stricken Pacific Islands. “When you get into the Pacific, standard weight is substantially higher [than south-east Asia],” he said. “That’s a health issue in some areas. [This system] has raised the awareness of weight.”
But implementing the new system is bound to raise a host of privacy concerns, as passengers will be weighed at the airport before boarding their flights in addition to being forced to enter their weight online when purchasing a ticket:
Under the new system, Samoa Air passengers must type in their weight and the weight of their baggage into the online booking section of the airline’s website. The rates vary depending on the distance flown: from $1 per kilogram on the airline’s shortest domestic route to about $4.16 per kilogram for travel between Samoa and American Samoa. Passengers are then weighed again on scales at the airport, to check that they weren’t fibbing online. […]
Public relations and marketing representative for Samoa Tourism, Peter Sereno, said he believed that the policy would also help with safety standards.
“When you’re only fitting eight to 12 people in these aircraft and you’ve got some bigger Samoans getting on, you do need to weigh them and distribute that weight evenly throughout the aircraft, to make sure everyone’s safe,” he said. “At the end of the day, I don’t care who they’re weighing or how they’re weighing them as long as it’s safe.”
The driving factor behind the airline’s decision is likely its own bottom line. Samoa Air’s new program closely tracks a Norwegian business professor’s suggestions in an article published in the Journal of Revenue and Pricing Management. That publication’s editor, Dr. Ian Yeoman, starkly admitted, “For airlines, every extra kilogram means more expensive jet fuel must be burned, which leads to CO2 emissions and financial cost. As the airline industry is fraught with financial difficulties, marginally profitable, and has seen exponential growth in the last decade, maybe they should be looking to introduce scales at the check-in.”
And while obesity and its associated medical problems are undoubtedly a public health dilemma, proposals like this are only likely to propagate stigma and a counterproductive culture of “fat-shaming.” More effective methods of promoting public health usually involve aggressive childhood nutrition policies, exercise programs, and regulating harmful ingredients in food and beverage products.
As obesity levels continue to rise, more companies may put the financial onus on their customers and workers to lose weight. In March, CVS initiated a new policy to force their workers to either declare their weight or risk paying a $600 fine.