Posted by: Frederik Balfour on July 3, 2008
In the wake of the decision by several U.S. airlines such as American Airlines, US Airways and United to start charging for checked luggage, I’d like to share with you an idea I’ve been thinking about for several years. Why not charge passengers for their combined weight by putting them on the scale along with their bags? Is it really fair that those who eat carefully and exercise daily to keep their waistlines small should be constrained to the same luggage allowances as those who can’t fasten themselves in without the extender seat belt?
Before you send your vitriolic screed about the political incorrectness of this idea to my inbox, please first hear me out. The point here is that it takes more fuel to get a heavy airplane off the ground than a lighter one. Not only do thinner people provide less ballast, but garment for garment, their luggage is likely to weigh less too. Obviously 44 inch waist jeans are going to weigh more than 31 inch ones. Come to think of it, I’ve always wondered why extra large clothing costs the same as the smaller sizes, but that’s another matter. At least I can fit more pieces of clothing in the washing machine at one time so my carbon footprint is smaller.
Some of you will say that weighing passengers is humiliating. It can’t be any worse than the indignities we suffer, plump or thin, of having to stand arms akimbo, shoeless and beltless while some humorless homeland security employee gropes us. But as the multi-billion dollar weight-loss industry will attest, most people would like to shed a few pounds. So that’s why the second part of my idea might just work. Why not give people an incentive to help them slim down. How about a small refund—say $2 per pound for anyone who weighs in less on the return trip than they did on the outward segment. I suggest 7 pounds as the minimum to qualify, since that more than accounts for the possible daily fluctuations in body weight.
Of course there are other details to be worked out. Do we discriminate against people because they are tall? I say no. They are already implicitly discriminated against because they have to squeeze themselves into seats with ample legroom for the likes of vertically challenged people like me. [I am five foot eight but when I had Thanksgiving with Paris Hilton last year in Shanghai, I lied about my height to her and stood on my tiptoes when we had our picture taken.] Besides, we have no control over our height, most people can do something about their weight.
What airline would be foolhardy enough to actually try this politically incorrect idea? Probably none currently in existence. But what if someone were to launch an airline for the Jack Spratts of this world? They could call it Svelte Air, and offer narrower aisles and seats, smaller meals, and a weight allowance that includes bags and bodies. [The Germans already came up with an idea for an All-Smoking airline called Smintair]I’m guessing that these lighter planes would be more efficient, and hence the savings could be passed onto the passengers. Come to think of it, I’ll bet that Asian airlines have higher profit margins because the average size of passengers is a fraction of their U.S. counterparts. Maybe that’s why they haven’t had to introduce the baggage surcharge yet. For more insight on Indian carriers please check out blogs by my colleagues Manjeet Kripalani and Bruce Einhorn.
On a related matter, I just came across a June 6 story filed by the Times Bombay correspondent who reports that a judge in Delhi upheld a decision by Air India to ground five flight attendants on account of their weight.