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The world’s first airline to charge passengers by their weight rather than per seat says the policy has helped to raise obesity awareness and improve public health.
Samoa Air, the Pacific national airline which flies domestically and last week began connecting Samoa to American Samoa, allows passengers to nominate their weight and then measures them on scales at the airport.
Passengers do not pay for a seat but pay a fixed price per kilogram, which varies according to the length of the route.
Analysts believe other airlines around the world are likely to follow suit, especially as the rising weight of populations adds to fuel costs. Some airlines in the United States have already begun forcing passengers who cannot fit in a single seat to buy two tickets.
The Pacific island nations have some of the world’s highest rates of obesity, with Samoa usually included in the top ten countries for obesity levels.
The head of Samoa Air, Chris Langton, said the new system was fairer and that some families with small children were now paying substantially cheaper fares.
“This is the fairest way of travelling,” he told ABC Radio. “There are no extra fees in terms of excess baggage or anything – it is just a kilo is a kilo is a kilo.”
Mr Langton said he believed his airline’s new payment policy was helping to promote health and obesity awareness.
“When you get into the Pacific standard weight is substantially higher [than south-east Asia] but it can be quite diverse,” he said. “People generally are becoming much more weight conscious. That’s a health issue in some areas. It has raised the awareness of weight.”
The rates range from $1 (65p) a kilogram – for the weight of the traveller and their baggage – on the airline’s shortest domestic route to about $4.16 per kilogram for travel from Samoa to the neighbouring nation of American Samoa.
An economist in Norway, Bharat P Bhatta, proposed in a recent journal article that charging passengers according to weight would help carriers recoup the cost of the extra fuel required to carry heavier travellers.
Mr Langton said he believed charging by weight was “the concept of the future”.
“It’s a new concept,” he said. “As any airline operators knows, airlines don’t run on seats, they run on weight … People generally are bigger, wider and taller than they were 50 years ago. It is an area where the industry will start looking at this.”