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Should airlines charge by body weight too?

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.

Reader Comments


July 3, 2008 8:55 AM

I've always thought it'd be smart to launch an airline called "Anesthesia Air" ... they anesthetize you, slide you into a drawer, then resuscitate you on the far end.

Thomas Crampton

July 3, 2008 10:30 AM

Your imaginary airline should also offer the "freegan" meal plan proposed by Cory Doctorow.

CORY: "after they cleared the dishes in all the cabins (including the posh nosh in First Class), people who took the Freegan option would get a chance to go to the galley and check out what's left over and edible. Some flights, you'd get fillet mignon; some flights, you'd get small, sickly bags of carrot batons."

Cory's Ninja airline idea is similar to Bibec's:

Actually, I’ve got a better idea: Ninja Airlines. Right? In the middle of the night, a ninja sneaks into your room and blow-darts you, saran-wraps you, sticks a routing tag onto you, packs your suitcase for you, ships you to the other side, takes you to your hotel, slips you onto the covers, unpacks your suitcase, stands on the windows of your hotel, blow-darts you with the antidote, slips silently out the window while you stretch your arms, yawn and go: “I’ve woken up in Hong Kong”. That… THAT would be a perfectly safe airline.


July 3, 2008 4:30 PM

I got a better idea. Charge fat people the same price, but make them sit together with each other. That way they can suffer through the flight while innocent thin people can have plenty of room for a relaxing trip without being squeezed.


July 3, 2008 9:54 PM

oh... the airline will be swamp by law suits : discrimination against fat people


July 4, 2008 12:28 AM

Do the air hostesses of "Hooters" Airlines weigh more than the average person?

And so as not to be accused of being sexist. Do big muscly men weigh more or less?

Think it through


July 4, 2008 2:22 AM

1) In Freddy's PAY BY THE POUND world, men pay more for everything than women do. Class action suits follow. The war between the sexes gets hot again.

2) Because boy children cost more to raise, parents make new choices -- female infanticide and abortion rates go down, male infanticide and abortion rates go up. This becomes especially true in certain Asian least developed and developing countries. China becomes a nation of women who import short, skinny husbands from Chicago.

3) The Dutch pay more than any other people on the planet. They are the tallest, and therefore the heaviest. But because the Dutch are so cheap, they cannot stand the situation and commit suicide en masse, except for one group of Dutch scientists who devote the remainder of their austere hungry lives to finding ways to shrink themselves. They fail and starve to death because they cannot bear the thought of emptying the last pile of euros from the treasury to buy food for the four of them.

4) Fat people get thin, fast. If you cannot afford anything, you are soooo motivated to lose that weight. The entire North American continent starts to rise.

5) Anorexia becomes the new black. Thin is in again. Amy Winehouse becomes an icon for healthy living and makes the cover of FIT magazine every month, that is until she dies of boredom three months later.

6) No more enhancement surgery of any kind. Those silicon gel sacks weigh real ounces you know.

7) Clothing manufacturers do the math and decide to start providing only the sizes that optimize their profit lines. Big and small ranges go the way of the dodo bird; they are no longer cost justified. The only exception being big-size prairie dresses supplied by break-away Mormon sects via their new online outlet -- Polygamy Couture for the Tall, Big and Pregnant

8) There are scales everywhere. We all suffer from a newly defined obsessive compulsive behavior disorder that entails jumping on and off the scales while exhaling frantically and screaming the numbers.

9) Fast food franchises all morph into colonic irrigation spas.

10) Just because he's so very contrary and provocative, your correspondent Freddy Balfour decides to get really, really fat.


July 4, 2008 3:56 AM

Have you seen:

It's the same idea, in parody form.


July 5, 2008 9:14 AM

This is insanely funny. So YOU! :)


July 6, 2008 8:57 AM

I am sure Pam Ann would have something to say about this idea.... I wonder if she subscribes to BW? :)

Cabin Service:


July 7, 2008 2:06 AM

What is the fate of pregnant women on Svelte Air? How about overweight pregnant women?


July 8, 2008 10:39 AM

Author, You started this, you need to answer TT's question

Robert Alan

July 8, 2008 12:00 PM

Of course this brilliant idea was prosed by a 5'8" pencil-necked geek. Most large people are not their size, simply because they simply eat too much, there is genetics and their socio-economic backgrounds to consider as well.
Why don't they charge by the amount of wasted space between the ears. Carrying around an empty head is a waste of space.

Bob Schlau

July 8, 2008 1:09 PM

combining a persons weight and the weight of their baggage makes perfect sense. Why should a 130 pound person with a 50 pound bag pay more than a 300 pound person? A way to avoid the humiliation mentionned would be to say anyone who, with their baggage, weighs under 220 pounds pays no fee. That way only those requesting a break would be subject to weighing.


July 8, 2008 1:52 PM

I absolutely agree with Frederik's article. After traveling for some time, I have noticed that people generally overpack and not to mention, those traveling from the South seem to weigh more, in body fat.

The article is not saying that those who are overweight/fat/pregnant cannot fly. The article is just stating that your body weight along with the weight of your bags should be taken into consideration.

I do not believe that there will be an anorexia epidemic. You are giving the article way too much credit if that were to happen.

A Girl

July 9, 2008 5:09 AM

Can people carrying heavy food baskets on Vietnam Airlines?


July 9, 2008 8:08 AM

Dear TT
Pregnant women would be very welcome on Svelte Air and subject to no penalty. Afterall, competitor airlines allow infants to travel for free as long as they sit on Mom or Dad's lap. Foetuses are much quieter than toddlers too!

Keep those comments coming!


July 13, 2008 6:51 AM

The weight difference between the world's naturally small-framed/short humans to large-framed/tall is probably not that much different that the difference in weight between "average" weight and overweight.

Ticket prices based on weight would have nothing to do with people being overweight and everything to do with outright discrimination based on natural body size.

This doesn't have anything to do with not being able to ride Splash Mountain as a child does it?


July 14, 2008 12:09 PM

I've been thinking about this myself - what's wrong with charging passengers based on their total combined weight (body & luggage)?

Some benefits that I see:

1. It's completely objective and measurable.
2. There's a direct link to the airline's fuel costs.
3. If weight becomes a factor, people will be more conscious of what they pack.
4. This would be another incentive to reduce obesity.

There's no discrimination here - weight is weight.


July 14, 2008 5:20 PM

I see no problem with this. If send a larger package via UPS, you pay more shipping. If you buy a larger car, you pay more in fuel. If you eat more in at the Burger joint, you have a larger food tab. How does it not make perfect sense that we should all pay based on our consumption. You consume more fuel, you pay more for your ticket. And just because you are naturally larger than the next guy because you a re tall, how does that exempt you? Larger people tend to eat more and therefor may more when they go to a restaurant. But nobody bats an eye at that. Guys who are 6-8 and 250lbs can't take advantage of the low priced econobox cars - they have to buy mid-size or up, thus pay more. But somehow it seems that many of you think this should be different for the airlines.


September 15, 2008 1:10 PM

i dont think it is discrimination against fat people in anyway to put this idea into practice, because all it does is making you pay for your own weight. Nature does that too. if you are overweight you suffer numerous health problems now or later, does that mean you are discriminated? if you think it does than you should go and sue the nature for this discrimination against fat people.

I feel so bad that i have to pay extra money for my luggage but if i had that much extra weight on my body-no extra money charged! They covert every extra pound of luggage into a dollar every time there is any excess baggage but there is no problem however much excess fat you carry along because that is shared by every thin person onboard for you through their tickets! Airplane discriminates luggage because of weight it has to carry while flying but not the people as if their weight is not in their hands to control and is god's gift.

I think BMI is the ideal criteria for charging people the air tickets. so it is not a discrimination againgst tall people who obviously do not have control of their height.

I hope someday airlines will realize this discrimination against slim people and change their system.


January 9, 2009 12:43 PM

"I hope someday airlines will realize this discrimination against slim people and change their system."

Hear, hear!! I have been extremely peeved at weighing 55 kg and being charged for 3 kg on my suitcase by BA when the next person on the flight is twice my size to start with!


January 22, 2009 5:06 PM

as a heavy person myself, i am totally humiliated and saddened that a narrow minded, egotistical, bone-head would come up with such an idea. here is what i think, since 67% of the US is now told to be obese, lets start to charge the "skinny people" double. just shove them in the cargo bay like suitcases. lets face it, the airline would make out! they could more than triple their capasity!

Nir Padan

June 6, 2009 4:02 AM

Passangers weight issue:

My company submitted a PCT patent application related to accurate preflight determination of passenger's weight in civil aviation. This system and method integrates the following advantages:

Increasing airline profits

1. Quantity of fuel loaded on an aircraft essentially derives from its overall weight. Accurate determination of passenger's weight allows decreasing this quantity whenever the passenger's actual weight is lower than the predicted average. The resultants weight reduction decreases fuel consumption during the flight.

2. Processing passenger's weight prior to flight enables to control their sitting distribution / location, controls the desired center of gravity (C.G). Controlling C.G improves aircraft range and endurance performance.

3. In flights when passenger's actual weight is lower than the predicted average, alternative freight or mail could be carried by the airline, allowing increased profit.

Safety improvement

4. Accurate determination of both weight and C.G improves crew and aircraft performance on diverse emergencies.

We apply for a patent related to any electronic information related to weight of passengers being electronically transferred (via internet / travel offices, ext).
Entering the "weight" value is a must precondition / will allow ticket to be issued (failing to do so may prevent issue).
Real measuring / validation may be done from a time to time - to fortify the data collected

My company intends to commercialize the technology and the patents.

Interested in any of the above, please contact us.
Sincerely yours,

Nir Padan, General Manager
FAR Technologies Ltd.

Address: Beit Izhak Moshav, POB 36, ZC 42920, Israel
Mobile: 972-54-2512138
Phone: 972 - 77 - 4001719 / 8866228


September 24, 2009 9:51 PM

"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?"

Maybe you aren't very swift, so I'll explain this simply. First, taller people and people with larger bones (yes they do exist) are heavier than shorter and smaller-boned people in the same level of physical shape. Second, some people take medications that make them gain all kinds of weight. Being self-righteous because you got short, small-boned genes is and don't have to take meds is not attractive, k?

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