In what is either a carefully crafted PR stunt or a genuine attempt to distribute fuel costs equitably, a Samoan airline has split opinion by becoming the first carrier in the world to charge all passengers based on their weight.
“It’s always going to be a sensitive issue,” said Chris Langton, Samoa Air’s chief executive. “We try to keep it lighthearted and try to keep people on the positive side, particularly for those that are carrying a fair bit of bulk.”
Passengers wishing to travel on one of the carrier’s flights enter their approximate weight at the time of booking—although the airline adds, helpfully, “don’t worry; we will weigh you again at the airport.”
The difference in price is not insignificant. Using the company’s demo fare calculator, a person weighing 65 kg with 20 kg of baggage will pay around US$49 for a one-way ticket on the short hop from Falelo to Asau, while a passenger at 100 kg with the same amount of luggage will fork out US$69.
The airline’s website emphasizes that it believes the pricing structure is fair. “We at Samoa Air are keeping airfares fair, by charging our passengers only for what they weigh. You are the master of your Air’fair’, you decide how much (or little) your ticket will cost. No more exorbitant excess baggage fees, or being charged for baggage you may not carry. Your weight plus your baggage items, is what you pay for. Simple.”
It becomes less simple when Langton moves on to talk about how this policy is the “concept of the future.” Samoa Air was formed last year and runs a small fleet of Britten Norman BN2A and Cessna 172 aircraft across a handful of destinations around the Pacific Islands—while few major carriers would consider the practical implications of weighing passengers at check-in, never mind the potential for negative publicity, to be worth the risk. Some airlines such as JetBlue do, however, have a policy of charging overweight passengers for two seats if it is deemed necessary.
Samoa Air is sure the idea is striking a chord with passengers and, as Langton told ABC News, “people have always traveled on the basis of their seat but, as many airline operators know, airlines don’t run on seats; they run on weight and particularly the smaller the aircraft you are in the less variance you can accept in terms of the difference in weight between passengers.”