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Higher Fares For Fat Flyers?


Sitting in an airport watching a petite woman pay a fee for her oversized bags while a man who was oversized all on his own went unpenalized, Princeton University bioethics professor Peter Singer devised an eyebrow-raising idea: allowing airlines to base their ticket prices on each passenger’s weight.

Singer presents two plans: one based on a standard passenger weight, while another combines the weight of the ticket purchaser and their bags. Given the increase in fuel costs, the academic believes that a weight-based surcharge is fair, whether your suitcase is supersized or you are. “Flying is different from, say, health care,” he wrote. “It is not a human right.”

In an essay for Project Syndicate, Singer goes into the economics and rationale for his proposition. This is the stuff that makes for interesting discussions.

Singer does have some interesting ideas associated with his premise. He says, “Friends with whom I discuss this proposal often say that many obese people cannot help being overweight – they just have a different metabolism from the rest of us. But the point of a surcharge for extra weight is not to punish a sin, whether it is levied on baggage or on bodies. It is a way of recouping from you the true cost of flying you to your destination, rather than imposing it on your fellow passengers.”

Perhaps the most neutral method of gauging fees is to set a weight standard for passengers and luggage. On check in passengers would be asked to get on the scales with their luggage. That would have the advantage of avoiding embarrassment for those who do not wish to reveal their weight.

While making pure economic sense this may be a very difficult proposition to sell to the public. Imagine the marketing challenge associated with launching this initiative.

An option is to offer oversized seats available for oversized flyers. Of course there’s the risk of petite flyers desiring the ability to curl up with their iPad on a flight from A to B.

The only advice I can give is that whichever airline chooses to go down the path of higher fares for heavier flyers probably should avoid the going after the SkyRider seats I wrote about in my post “An iPad With A Cup Holder” back in September 2010.

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