Charging passengers by the pound is unfair

Charging passengers by the pound is unfair

Recently the wires have been active with suggestions that people with obesity pay more for airline travel. This discussion was prompted by a Samoan airline announcing that they would begin charging passengers by the pound. It was also stimulated by Bharat Bhatta, an economist from Norway suggesting that heavier passengers pay a surcharge while lighter passengers are offered discounts.

The logical argument of course is that larger individuals take up more space and use up more jet fuel.  This line of reasoning is sure to find ample supporters, as people who “choose” to be fat must clearly bear the consequences of their gluttony and sloth.

But why stop at airline travel? Here are some additional ideas for where businesses could charge larger individuals more:

1. Cab rides: This is not just to cover additional fuel costs but also to pay for wearing out the suspensions (assuming that these actually exist in cabs);

2. Hotel rooms: Not only will this cover the mattress surcharge but also cover the cost of the increased consumption of water, soap and extra towel required to “service” the greater body surface;

3. Gym memberships: To cover the additional wear and tear on the treadmills and other exercise equipment;

4. Amusement park rides: To pay for taking up more space, using more electricity and taking longer to load and off-load;

5. Ball games: For occupying an extra seat and obstructing the view.

Why not add all of these to the list of things that obese people are already paying more for like health and life insurance, oversized clothing, bigger cars and sturdier home furniture?

That will certainly teach them to finally see the light and begin shedding those pounds.

But wait – did anyone mention that obesity rates are already markedly higher in poor income neighbourhoods, and that being obese already reduces an individual’s chances of employment and promotion despite ability?

The assumption underlying the “pay as you weigh” pricing strategies is that body size is a matter of choice and responsibility.  Unfortunately, for most this is not the case.

Let me state it clearly: Obesity is not simply a matter of laziness, overindulgence or lack of will power.  It is a result of complex and diverse drivers of weight gain, including genetics, medications, stress, depression, addictions, eating and sleeping disorders and gut bugs – to name just a few.

The fact that obesity is far less under individual control than generally assumed is further evident from the fact that fewer than one in 20 individuals embarking on a weight loss attempt are likely to keep any of the weight off. The jury is still out on whether such failed attempts at weight loss are detrimental to health – they certainly are to the ego.

There could also be a number of unintended consequences of such a “pay as you weigh” policy, such as people starving themselves and abusing diuretics, laxatives and anorexic agents (including tobacco) to lose weight prior to boarding a flight. Such unhealthy weight-control practices are already widespread amongst competitive athletes who participate in sports that involve weight categories (e.g., boxers and wrestlers). This could be life threatening when it involves patients who are on medications for blood pressure or diabetes, where even short term attempts at weight loss can result in increase health risks, such as stroke n and hypoglycaemic shock, for example.

A single emergency landing because of a diabetic patient skipping breakfast before weighing in for a flight would by far outweigh any potential savings to the airline (not to mention the inconvenience to other passengers).

Ultimately, however, it is a matter of fairness.

If airlines wish to treat their passengers like cargo, then a pay-as-you-weigh policy may appear justifiable.  But if an airline sees itself as providing a service, namely, transporting human passengers, then the average price of a ticket (and the average size of a seat) should increase. This is the only fair distribution of costs, and the only fair way to accommodate everyone.

Playing a game of blame and shame is not a constructive solution to the obesity problem.

Arya M. Sharma is a professor of medicine, University of Alberta, scientific director, Canadian Obesity Network. and an expert advisor, Evidence Network.  He blogs at Dr. Sharma’s Obesity Notes.

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    “The average price of a ticket (and the average size of a seat) should increase. This is the only fair distribution of costs, and the only fair way to accommodate everyone.”

    No, its not fair, not in the least bit. Why one person takes up more space and costs more to transport is irrelevant. Nobody is blaming people who are large. They’re are however being asked to pay their fair share, and not pass the extra cost of serving them onto others. That is the definition of “fair” in my book.

    • Matt

      “The average price of a ticket (and the average size of a seat) should increase. This is the only fair distribution of costs, and the only fair way to accommodate everyone.”

      Private benefits, socialised costs.

      I might as well demand that because I like to carry three suitcases on holiday, and don’t think it’s faaaaair! that I should have to pay any extra for that, the price of EVERYONE’S ticket must go up in order to accommodate me.

    • querywoman

      It seems logical that the extreme changes in lifestyle could have easily brought out the diabetes in your family. Americans who work 8 or more hours a day in sedentary jobs cannot spend four to six hours a day doing vigorous housework and also rely on a lot of convenience foods. Society has significantly changed. As people live longer, diabetes develops more frequently. Life expectancy in the US goes up all the time, too!

  • Matt

    Ridiculous. They’re not being “punished” for being fat, any more than I’m being “punished” by being charged extra for a heavy bag.

    What would be most “fair” would be for the airline to charge an overall fee based on the weight of the passenger and their luggage. Therefore 60kg me plus a 20kg bag would cost the same as an 80kg you or a 70kg friend with a 10kg bag. 60kg me with no luggage would cost less than 80kg you with no luggage.

    Just charge by the kilo, full stop.

    Weight is weight. It’s not suddenly made Holy just because you’re carrying it in the cabin rather than in the cargo bay.

    • M.K. Caloundra

      I think there would be too much backlash if any US commercial carrier tried this. It could turn into a public relations nightmare. Weighing someone’s luggage isn’t /personal/ … weighing THEM, is.

    • PAM221

      I am a 5’2″, 110 lb woman. My husband is a 6’4″, 220 lb man. Neither of us chose our bodies, but we both work hard to care for them. Should he really be expected to weigh what I do in order to pay what I do?

      • Guest

        I can see the logic, which is that it costs the airline the same to fly a 110lb person with 110lbs of luggage, as it does a 220lb person with no luggage, so why should the 110lb person get charged for his or her “excess” 110lbs of cargo, while the 220lb person gets to carry an extra 110lbs for free? Maybe instead of charging your husband more, they should allow you to carry several suitcases free of charge ;-)

        • querywoman

          Airlines do have to calculate weight and estimate normal expected weights. A football team on one plane pushes the plane well over the average weights.
          I had a relative who was a military trained pilot, from the Vietnam years. He became a private cargo and tour pilot. He went down in a crash.
          Years later, on the net, I learned that he was carrying a heavier cargo load and inadequately trained to carry that heavy a load.
          He was much, much better trained than John F. Kennedy, Jr., and not a risk-taker. I would have been thrilled to get in a small private plane with him.
          Theaters have larger seats for heavier people but thin people like them too.
          I don’t fly much. I wrote about having lost 80 pounds, but, even at my max, it was packed on me tightly and don’t think I would have been TOLD to buy an extra seat.
          All travel exhausts me. If going a distance, I used to prefer plane. But the last time I flew a few hours I was really whipped! From what I read about ever-increasing tensions in those metal cabins in the sky, rail is starting to look mighty good to me!
          Everybody’s different, but I find it hard to believe that many fat people are actual flying!
          The Canadian legal system has already decided that fat people cannot be charged for 2 seats. We need to play this one out in the US court system.

  • wr

    On the contrary, the complete lack of shame and judgment in today’s society is at the root of a lot of problems including obesity.

    • Guest

      I remember when there was shame and judgment about people being on welfare. I technically “qualified” based on my family’s low income for my school’s free lunch program, but my mother took great pride in packing me a healthy and hearty lunch from home every day. She wasn’t going to have strangers pay for her kid’s lunches, not if she could help it.

      Now it seems like half of America is on food stamps, and they have no shame about it in the slightest. It has become normalized, just like being fat has, and in accusing someone of being “judgmental” you might as well accuse them of burning a cross on someone’s front lawn.

      • querywoman

        I was a welfare worker for years! There is still great shame and blame for the food stamp program. On internet blogs, it seems being on food stamps is the biggest love-to-hate issue.
        That’s one of the reasons I post under pseudonyms.
        By the way, everyone on food stamps is not fat! I got screamed at by plenty of people, “I don’t have any food,” who wanted their food stamps immediately. It doesn’t work that way!
        I regret that food stamps has become the way a lot of people eat. Wal-Mart and the other cruddy-paying employers need to pay higher wages. Then the cost of everybody’s goods will go up! It’s become a nasty cycle!

        • Guest

          As the minimum wage has gone up, so has the number of Americans on welfare.

          • querywoman

            It’s a complex weird economic cycle! Reagan never wanted to raise minimum wage, but the number of food stamp recipients grew under his term! I never saw anyone get his training wage during my welfare years!
            I was working in welfare when Clinton was in office. Clinton made some kind of changes and strange statement that a family of four could do well with a little bit of food stamps. Seems like his hypothetical statement was about $20 per month!
            That, regardless of your politics, was insane! For a working parent to take off work, sit in a busy welfare office for several hours, and do the necessary compliance stuff – it’s simply not worth it!
            It would be better for the worker to make better wages.
            As I have posted elsewhere, even in Texas, there is plenty of medical care, also food! We grow it! I would rather see lower income policies focused on housing!
            Obamacare,. if applied properly, would allow lower paid workers to see doctors by appointments and not miss as much work as for a public or church clinic. Also to fill meds at a retail pharmacy.
            I’m learning from this blog that the big issue is the expanding need for primary care providers (I hate that term) to provide them with those services by appointment.. It may take us 10 or even 20 years to get to that point!

  • Margalit Gur-Arie

    Yeah, let’s do that… charge for transportation by the pound. Make it completely fair and non discriminatory, i.e. no minimums, maximums or arbitrary discounts based on gender or anything else.

    Here is what’s going to happen: women will always pay less for airfare and cab fare and hotel fare and whatever else you want to attach to this. Corporations will be most likely to hire petite women for sales, consulting and other jobs that require travel and eventually lead to executive positions that also require lots of travel. In a decade or so, just by making this one small change, you will accomplish what a century of bra burning couldn’t accomplish. When do we start?
    Oh, and I wouldn’t worry about poor people being more obese, because there are almost no poor people on airplanes anyway (or cabs, or hotels, or cruise ships…). We took care of that little problem already.

    • Dana

      “women will always pay less for airfare and cab fare and hotel fare and whatever else you want to attach to this”

      Only on airlines and in cabs and for hotels (etc) which _choose_ to charge per pound. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the government make this a universal mandate. In a free and open market, let entrepreneurs try what they like. Just as the convention for charging for luggage on airlines is not the same across the board, I don’t think charging for total poundage carried would be either.

      As far as it altering hiring patterns, even if a corporation had to fork out an extra hundred or two hundred dollars a month in excess flight-poundage charges for a heavy executive (male or female), that’s a pretty insignificant portion of an executive remuneration package. If they’re the best person for the job, you’re still going to hire them regardless.

      And in any case, most companies are happy to pay extra for executives to travel business class or first class. Airlines who currently do charge for luggage weight generally give those people flying on premium fares a larger “free” allowance on luggage weight, so it may be that they decide to give those passengers a larger “free” allowance on personal weight (or waive it completely).

      This really is a silly debate.

  • Suzi Q 38

    Stop eating.

  • Dave

    It should be said that Samoa air has a fleet of 3 aircraft that carry 9 passengers each and a Cessna 172 that seats 4 but only carries 2-3 adults depending on weight, and that includes the pilot. Weight is extremely important in small aircraft, and 20 or 30 extra pounds can really make the difference and cancel the flight. You have to trade fuel or other cargo for any addition payload and for an airline flying fixed routes between islands, you can’t just add a fuel stop in the water.

  • Mandy

    No airline would ever undertake a policy like this in order to provide “a constructive solution to the obesity problem.” The airline industry is not interested in solving public health problems, nor is that their remit.

    They would be doing it solely for commercial reasons. They would weigh up (pun unintentional) the potential logistical and financial benefits versus the potential public relations costs, and make their decision accordingly. Just as they do for so many things, be it charging extra for meals or for aisle sets or for checked bags. If the modeled benefits outweigh the modeled costs, they’ll go for it. If not, they won’t.

    Memo to government-supported ivory-tower academics: This is the way non-taxpayer-funded enterprises in the real world work. Don’t sabotage them: they are the ones paying your wages.

  • buzzkillerjsmith

    Oh let’s just get it over with and identify everyone who has some characteristic that is even mildly irritating–too much weight, too tall, too short, bad breath, poor fashion sense, piercings in the wrong place, ugly kids, not enough food on the climbing trip and lousy sleeping bag and wrong-sized ice ax (that one really makes me see red), inadequate knowledge of the details of Confederate military strategy in late 1863-early 1864, unkempt yard, gas-guzzler, you name it–and execute them. Then we’ll have a perfect world.

    • Mika

      Add “drivers who put their indicators on three miles before the intersection where they’re going to turn” and “campers who simply lightly cover their toddler’s 4 day’s worth of soiled disposable diapers with leaf litter and think they’re just going to, like, DISAPPEAR or something”, and I’m in.

      • buzzkillerjsmith

        Those things bug me, too. What Mika said.

        • M.K. Caloundra

          Summary execution for public transport patrons who use Axe body spray in lieu of regular bathing.

          • buzzkillerjsmith

            No lie.

    • querywoman

      As a high functioning autistic (Asperger’s), what bugs me is noise! It gets harder for me to leave my home all the time with the constant ringing and screaming on cell phones!
      Also the proliferation of noise, like electronic cash registers. Old mechanical cash registers don’t bother me!
      I’ve even had home health workers come in here and scream on their phones when my papers list autism as a dx.

      • buzzkillerjsmith

        I hear you (softly).

        • querywoman

          Buzzkillerjsmith, does your medical job force you to travel more than you want? Oh, you are talking about the noise issue!
          I like you!
          I hate cell phone abuse! Some of these people claim the calls in my home are Mrgencies! No! Current nurse takes few calls and goes outside with them!

          • buzzkillerjsmith

            I don’t travel much for my job. I was trying to be funny but wasn’t. I’m sorry.

          • querywoman

            Buzz, I gotcha I was typing it! Aren’t you a family doc? Ever work emergency room? Ever see cell phone-related broken ankles, etc? You don’t need an EEG or a CAT scan to dx brain damage.
            You can look at lots of idiots on their cell phones and see the brain damage!

          • buzzkillerjsmith

            Hi query, I have worked in the ER but have not seen cell phone related broken ankles. I agree that many folks don’t use their cell phones appropriately.

          • querywoman

            Hee! Regulations probably require that you do some kind of test to dx cell phone related brain damage. The abusers have this peculiar twisted walk!

    • querywoman

      Buzz, some nasty characteristics have some self-destructive dangerous problems.
      I do not need studies to show me that cell phones cause brain damage. Look at the, “cell phone walk,” some clown walking down the street with a cell phone stuck to the ear and the shoulders, arms, neck, and head twisted.
      We hear about cell phone injuries while driving; how about while walking? The risk of tripping, slipping, busting an @ss,etc.

      A friend was traveling down a 45 mp major road, slowing at an intersection, when a woman on her cell phone walked into his car, knocked his passenger side window off, and cracked his windshield! I don’t know what kind injuries she had on top of her already worsening cell phone brain damage.

  • EmilyAnon

    If a passenger is charged more for being overweight, shouldn’t the person sitting next to them get a discount?

    • guest

      I had the worst trip of my life, squashed next to a humongous woman whose rolls of fat were overlapping her seat and encroaching into my space. Her thighs, her middle, and her shoulders took up more space than the seat she had bought and paid for allowed, so the whole 5 and a half hours not only did I have someone else’s body touching mine, I didn’t get the whole seat I had bought and paid for. The flight attendant couldn’t/wouldn’t move me, and I was afraid to make any more of a fuss for fear of being called fattist/sexist/racist. I don’t care whether airlines charge obese people more or not, but they must stop letting the “rights” of the very fat supercede the rights of the normal-sized.

      Maybe they need “super-sized” seats, charge extra for them,and make the very fat buy and sit in those seats.

      • Lynda Schwemmer

        Agreed. I think you can lay the roots of this problem at the feet of the airlines and their ever decreasing seat width and pitch. We are all being treated like cargo. I have never been seatbelt extender fat, but I am overweight even when trying hard to lose. I don’t spill over to the next seat, but I never fly without extensive bruises on my hips the next few days. This and the stupid ability of seats to recline in this age of being squashed together are a result of what airlines have found they can get away with, which is certainly not human friendly.

        • Guest

          I am not overweight, but I am quite tall, and agree with you 100% on the reclining seats issue.

  • Mengles

    Life is not fair. Also just because you deem something to be a “matter of fairness”, doesn’t mean that it is. It is just as deeming something to be a “human right”, when it isn’t.

  • Vickie Ward Gillespie

    I was born with a genetic condition that puts me in a class where I can’t get insurance let alone get it at the going rate, when I worked I paid extra for insurance. Having sat next to a woman on a flight who took both her seat and the one for her small child, people who are so obese that they take up 2 seats should have to pay for 2 seats. This woman tried to hold her infant and the 3 year old who was supposed to have the seat in her non existent lap for a coast to coast flight. Life’s not fair! Get over it. I had this stranger’s 3 year old in my lap most of the flight and neither child stopped whining the entire flight. I’m 6 foot tall and didn’t have enough room to begin with. Take care of yourself or pay up. There is no excuse for being so big you take two seats. Get medical help if you can’t do it yourself.

  • Molly_Rn

    As someone who flys a lot, I think extremely obese folks should have to pay for two seats if they cannot sit and actually fit in one seat. I have been forced to “share” my seat with morbidly obese people that essentially had me trapped in my window seat. If their size interferes with the person or persons sitting next to them than it is an issue that they must pay extra for the space. Also they cause the plane to need more fuel to fly their body compared to a normal sized person. If you fly in a small general aviation plane, the weight of the passengers counts very much to what you can carry in the plane and where you put it for center of balance.

    • Cyndee Malowitz

      I agree – I’ve been forced to share my seat too and I was NOT happy about it. They should be forced to buy 2 seats.

    • f. lusu

      there is also a big safety issue. not only were you trapped in your seat,but she would have blocked people from exiting the aircraft in an emergency.

  • Fred95

    Unlike the other examples provided, weight is an important factor in air travel. Charging by weight is standard in that industry for legitimate reasons, and is not an attempt to coerce travelers to shed pounds.

    The notion that overweight travelers are “victims” or being discriminated agains “unfairly” is just silly.

  • Rusty Shackleford

    People who weigh more use more fuel.

  • disqus_gSP53HuvDg

    Ok now. We all have benefited from sitting next to a morbidly obese person. With the airlines cutbacks and cost saving process, we no longer get those blankies to keep warm. So by sitting next to a morbidly obese person, you are benefiting from the excess heat generated by this person by conduction and not have to carry a jacket or something to keep warm..Also, extra cushion in case of a hard landing too.

    • Guest

      And now that airlines are charging for snacks and meals, sitting next to a morbidly obese person saves you money because you can hardly think of eating when there are jiggly-joggly belly-fat rolls overlapping the arm rest.

      • Disqus_37216b4O

        You all are racist. Not wanting to sit next to a grotesquely obese person is exactly the same as not wanting to sit next to a black person. Apparently.

  • Ty Baumann

    The comments on here show the attitudes towards obesity.I lost a hundred thirty pounds nearly 25 years ago and I’ve kept it off. I don’t know if any of you have ever read the book “Black like me” but that is often how I feel.The book is about a white man in the early 60′s who dyes his skin and spends the year as a black man in the Deep South.Though mine is just the reverse .I was fat and then entered the world of the “normal”people.He learned what it was like to be black and I learned what normal people felt about overweight people. Of course, when I was heavy people didn’t tell me how disgusted they were by people who were overweight.How they found them lazy and worthless. Of course I sensed this but I thought maybe it was just my perception and maybe I was playing victim. To a certain extent there was some truth in this, but I was completely amazed how blatant and socially acceptable it is to bash fat people behind their back.The ones that truly amazed me we’re the ones that assumed I felt the same way as them since I lost weight. They quickly found they were mistaken.I am NOT better then those people who haven’t lost weight. I am blessed to be healthier but that doesn’t make me better.I am the same person I was, just at a different weight.I found support,otherwise I’m quite certain I would have put the weight back on. Why you may ask? Because I thought the weight was my problem. That’s what everybody told me. Lose some weight and you’ll have a great life.You see everybody’s obsession including my own with my weight made it so I didn’t have to look at other issues in my life. Those same issues that made me not care enough or be aware enough that I was destroying myself with food.You see being told overtly or covertly that being fat is ugly becomes pretty hard to not internalized and believe you’re ugly and worthless. Yes you can make an argument that when people to fly is strictly business but if you believe that, I’ve got some ocean front property here in Nebraska to sell you. Its a passive aggressive way,consciously or not, to reinforce that fat people are a lower life form.The sad ironic part of this is,the reason most people feel this way, is fear. They’re afraid they may become fat someday. And we’ve been taught that there can’t be anything worse than that… Well there is,it’s the people who are judging fat people and not even taking the time to get to know them as people. blood is boiling as I write this… I did have one advantage as an overweight male with some athletic ability. Other men may have despised me but they had a certain respect,also. Why? Because they knew I could beat the hell out of them. And believe me, I’ve had to learn a lot of self control to not revert to this defensive behavior when I hear them bashing another guy or a woman who is overweight.

    • M.K. Caloundra

      Alrighty then. Being fat is JUST LIKE being black. Except that no one is born fat, they make themselves fat… and they can make themselves un-fat. Whereas if you’re black you were born black, and no amount of trying is going to tun you white.

      But anyway. Airlines wanting to charge for excess weight are just raaaaacist. I concede that point.


      • Ty Baumann

        I was speaking from a perception standpoint. No black person should want to be white.A heavy person should want to lose weight for their health.but not be ostracized if they don’t.

        • Disqus_37216b4O

          Back before we were taught that to be judgmental of fat people was akin to being racist, we had a lot fewer fat people.

          It was actually something to be ashamed of, being grotesquely fat, and people actually did make an effort to moderate their eating habits because they wanted to avoid the shame.

          Being fat is not OK. It’s ridiculous to try to browbeat people into pretending it is.

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