Can Pay-As-You-Weigh Ever Take Off?


It’s a debate that has been raging for a while – the so-called “airline fat tax.” And now a study by an economist from Norway’s Sogn og Fjordane University College will no doubt add fuel to the debate. In a paper published in the Journal of Revenue and Pricing Management, Dr Bharat P. Bhatta is proposing three new pricing models to tackle the issue of weight and fuel saving on an aircraft, each one rewarding leaner passengers.

The first solution, according to Dr Bhatta, is to fix a rate per kilogram so a passenger and their luggage weighing 60kg pays half that of a passenger with a total weight of 120kg.

Imagine having to step on the scales when we show our passport to the check-in agent. Did you pack your own luggage? Yes. Are you carrying any sharp items? No. Did you eat a low-calorie breakfast this morning? Um.

Then there’s the privacy issue. As with passenger screening areas, would airlines introduce a modesty screen to prevent prying eyes from leering and sneering while each passenger is being weighed? Would you want others, including your own traveling companions, to see exactly how much you weigh? Would it shame you into passing on the dessert tray in the future? 

Next up, Dr Bhatta proposes a ‘base fare’ plus or minus an extra charge. This one doesn’t reward lighter passengers, with a fixed rate in place for everyone, but heavier passengers would be charged extra to cover the additional fuel costs.

It’s sort of like excess luggage. Pity the poor pricing manager who has to determine at what weight the excess commences. Then there are the geographical challenges: an Asian airline would perceive excess weight very differently to an American carrier.   

Finally, Dr Bhatta proposes a standard fare for “an average weight.” Discounts apply to those below that weight while those above it pay more. 

Again who would determine the average weight? A doctor/nutritionist or an airline pricing manager?

However, never mind hurting a person’s feelings or the ensuing public relations nightmare, an airline is a business after all and shareholder return is the end goal. As airlines continue to grapple with the issue of how to reduce fuel costs Dr Bhatta points out that “charging according to weight and space is a universally accepted principle, not only in transportation, but also in other services. As weight and space are far more important in aviation than other modes of transport, airlines should take this into account when pricing their tickets.”

What do you think of these ideas? Can they really work in today’s society or is a “fat tax” long overdue?

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