A really common response to my piece yesterday about flying fat people is to suggest that, as one person put it, “the only fair thing is for airlines and trains etc. to charge people by weight – just weigh the person and their luggage and charge by the pound.”
I think that when you really look into it, charging people by weight isn’t fair, and doesn’t make sense at all. Let’s move right past the highly questionable notion that people are self-loading freight and look into the reasons why this is a truly terrible idea:
First are the potential issues of discrimination based on size, gender, ethnicity, and ability/health (are we weighing mobility devices, casts, service animals, medical devices and medications that people have to travel with?) Then there are parents who have to pay for the weight of every diaper and baby wipe they need, not to mention juice, milk, snacks, toys, and whatever else they need to keep their kid as happy as possible in the air.
There’s also the issue of how it would work practically – would you enter your weight when you buy a ticket (and have to know the weight of your luggage weeks or even months in advance of your trip?) and then be weighed and have to pay more or get a partial refund if your weight had changed in the meantime (can you imagine the lines – the people who couldn’t afford the extra etc?) Also, what if your weight changes between the departing and returning trip? (If you believe all of the freaking out about holiday weight gain, the airlines should make a killing on people coming home after holiday travel.)
Women who bloat during their menstrual cycle would have to pay more to take the same trip during different days of the month. People on medications that cause water retention would have to pay more to fly than those who aren’t on that kind of medication. Body builders would pay more or less for the same trip depending on if they were on the bulking or cutting phase of their training etc. People who are coming from or going to cold climates (or who are too cold based on the temperature of the airport and plane which they can’t control) would have to pay more to wear appropriate clothing/coats/boots etc.
Not to mention that if the problem we’re trying to solve is everyone having enough space on the flight then this doesn’t help at all since body weight does not indicate space need – some 300 pound people can fit in current airline seats, some 200 pound people cannot. The only thing that this does is charge some people more for the exact same service.
The airline should charge a single price for one person to travel from one destination to another in a seat that accommodates them, I think that’s the only fair thing.
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16 thoughts on “Why Don’t We Charge Passengers By Weight?”
Believe it or not, this actually happens fairly often. On smaller intrastate airlines people are weighed so supposedly the airlines can determine weight and balance of the airplane. As far as I know people aren’t charged more, but can this really be any more than fat shaming that is leading the way for charging more?
I also personally had my weight be an issue flying when my Father bought an airplane after he made some huge money after a real estate investment paid off. He learned to be a pilot in the Navy (I was born in the Navy hospital in Pensacola, Florida while he was a flying student) and all he ever talked about was flying. So when he bought his private plane when i was about 16 I of course wanted to share in his joy and excitement. Oh but lo and behold, I was too fat to fly in his precious airplane. He gave me one of his usual cold dismissive remarks about how I would have to lose the fat before he would let me on his plane. I have no doubt that I could have flown but since he was so fatphobic there was no way he was going to let me. It was another huge wedge between us. Of course my thinner younger brother and sister flew with him all the time. Oh and because of that experience and sharing in the family joy both of them had gotten their pilot’s licenses before graduating high school and went on the the Naval Academy and both are now fighter pilots and my brother was just picked to command his own squadron.
I love it how thin people are so dismissive about being fat while flying…oh just charge them more, they take more fuel to fly anyways (sorry not true), oh just make them pay for two seats (no you create bigger seats), oh if they can’t walk don’t let them fly (sorry but my trip to France is just as important as your business meeting). All things around flying can be torture for fat people. It’s time everyone woke up and made some dramatic changes so we are all safe and comfortable for a fair, equal price.
Actually, Simon, the weigh-in for some very small aircraft is an important safety precaution. It doesn’t bump anyone from the flight, but it gives vital clues for how to arrange everyone/thing for maximum stability.
But the idea that you were too fat to be in a small plane or the idea that you should pay more for/be denied a seat on a commercial jet is just plain wrong on every possible level. Of course you could fly in a smaller plane, and in a commercial liner weight isn’t such an important factor.
I wonder if your father will ever realize the precious times he lost with you. Life is short, and more often than not, the greatest regrets are the times we missed with the people in our lives.
Thank you so much, unfortunately my father is probably a lost cause. He has his two wunderkinds that followed in his footsteps so he’s fine leaving his fat, gay disappointment out of things. Thank god for my mother who will always be there for me. I’ve been her baby ever since I was born and we share a very, very close bond. I also have some great, great friends…so yes my father is the one missing out.
Simon, I’m so glad that you have a healthy attitude about your dad’s horrific one. He is *definitely* the one missing out on having a relationship with you (and not the other way around.)
I’ve had this argument before, too. The other concept I keep running across that makes my head spin is the idea that what we’re paying for is the space to sit down rather than passage to where we’re going.
That makes – if possible – even less sense than the passengers as luggage argument. After all, our size makes no difference whatsoever how much space we are offered to sit in, we wouldn’t be sitting there if we weren’t trying to get somewhere, and I can’t get on a bus/subway for free if I offer to stand the whole way or if there are no seats left.
Yes! Standing like sardines ain’t free.
I was on a plane one time in Brazil where all the seats were huge. All seats were the same. Also everybody gets a caramel to chew for the ear hurting pressure effect that happens when you take off and land.
You know what the interesting thing is? When the airline makes all the seats bigger to accommodate more body types, then thin people get a better seat too! Why do they not seem to realize that? Do they enjoy being crammed in sardine style so they can brag that they didn’t spill over into the side seat? I’ve never seen someone complain about that the seat they’re going to be crammed into for the next several hours is too wide for their butt.
So everybody gets a great seat. The only thing lost was that there was no first class area on this plane even though it was a large plane. First class takes up a disproportionate amount of space per person to justify the high prices.
The US is known for having a high obesity rate. Yet we’re also known for having the most uncomfortable airplanes. How does that make sense?
The airlines legally sell you a trip, not space on the plane. This is why they can double book legally. This is also why it should be illegal to tell anyone to buy two “seats” (ie trips) because how does one person simultaneously take two trips at the same time?
Another issue on charging by weight:
How many people will do foolish things to try and shave a few pounds in order to save a few dollars? I can quickly drop from five to ten pounds by taking a long ride on the trike. I’ll sweat out enough water that my weight will be measurably lower for a day or so after the ride. If I hold off on replacing those fluids, I can prolong that “loss.” It’s not healthy to be dehydrated, of course, but how often have we seen people do unhealthy things for lesser reasons than saving money? Similarly, one could lower their weight by using laxatives to purge their digestive tract.
This is bad enough when we think about doing so to ourselves, but what about people traveling with children? What happens when they start using these same techniques to save a few bucks on their children’s fares? What about when they save a few bucks by traveling without sufficient supplies for their infants? If we think it’s bad now that parents don’t carry enough diapers, formula, etc. for their babies on the flight, imagine when they are going to be charged by the pound to carry that stuff.
If major airlines shifted to a “pay by weight” system, I suspect the number of passengers getting sick on flights would increase dramatically, due to those suffering from dehydration and low-blood sugar. During exercise, that’s called “bonking,” and while it sounds a bit funny, it can be deadly serious. I’m sure it wouldn’t be any less serious at 30,000 feet.
Not to mention what would happen the first time someone recovering from an eating disorder encountered a situation where they were weighed and charged money based on the result. I have a few loved ones I could see getting triggered into a purging/starving/over-exercising cycle by, say, being charged a few £ more than a friend taking the same flight. Or even just being charged “not enough less”.
Very small airplanes must weigh passengers and cargo because if they don’t stay under the listed weight limit for the plane, and furthermore carefully distribute that weight, the plane will crash and people may die. It’s happened before in Alaska.
The amount of fuel a passenger jet carries may weigh more than an entire small plane. Weighing people at that level is just being a jerk.
Amen to all the reasons everyone lists here for why this is a bad idea, but as Ragen points out it’s also just a POINTLESS idea. Charging people by weight will have no effect whatsoever on the size of seats. Zero. Zip. So what would it accomplish? Fat people, tall people, muscular people, people with lots of luggage, would all be charged more … and would still have the problems they now have of trying to cram their bodies into miniscule seats. So what would this solve, exactly????
It would make you feel shamed. The shame would make you want to lose weight. I think that’s the idea. You wouldn’t actually get a bigger seat or anything different.
Why don’t we make the seats larger so eveyone fits and most people are comfortable? I just saw a map showing some stupid statistics, including the percentage of fat people in each state. It was anywhere from 29% to 45%. Why don’t airplanes have to make seats for the “average” person? I sat with 2 very normal sized men last time I flew. (I’m about a size 16 – just above average in Indiana) None of us had room to bend down and get anything from our bags under the seats in front of us. Our shoulders and knees were touching. I had the window seat. I was scrunched against the window & still felt like I was not able to move without bothering the man next to me. Why do we put up with these tiny seats? They don’t fit anyone!
The reason they do not make the seats larger is that they increase their profit margin by cramming more people onto each flight. While total payload weight has an effect on fuel consumption for the flight, in most cases a full passenger load with luggage is not coming close to reaching the maximum payload for the average passenger jet. If they have the choice of making the flight with a “full” plane carrying 150 paying passengers, versus the same flight with 200 paying passengers, those extra fifty passengers make a big difference in the bottom line for the business.
They could make the same money on that hypothetical flight by increasing fares so that the total for the 150 passengers equaled the total for the 200 passengers, meaning each passenger would pay about 33% more. However, since the typical consumer would rather save that money than be comfortable, they have found they can sell more tickets with lower fares than with roomy seats.