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Economist proposes ‘pay-as-you-weigh' model for air tickets

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Should overweight customers be footing the bill for their excess baggage? (iStock)

Should passengers be charged for airline tickets based on their weight?

That idea is being floated in the Journal of Revenue and Pricing Management by Bharat P Bhatta, associate professor of economics at Sogn og Fjordane University College in Norway.

Related: A fine for being fat?

Bhatta published his controversial findings saying, “Charging according to weight and space is a universally accepted principle, not only in transportation, but also in other services.”

He suggests three methods of implementing the scheme: a simple price-per-pound, a fixed low fare with heavier passengers paying a surcharge and lighter passengers being offered a discount.

Bhatta said that charging overweight fliers more would help carriers recoup the cost of the extra fuel required to carry them, saying that reducing the weight on a plane by a little more than 2 pounds will result in fuel savings of $3,000 a year.

Many argue that such policies are discriminatory and humiliating.  But the debate over "passengers of size" has been growing since 2008 due to the rising price of jet fuel. About 30 percent of  American adults are considered obese, according to the Center for Disease Control. 

Samoa Air, which operates out of the Pacific, is already charging passengers based on their weight.  Many U.S. carriers have also been tightening up their policies.

Southwest Airlines requires that passengers either fit in the 17 inches between the armrests, or they must buy a second seat. American Airlines states that passengers unable to properly buckle their seatbelt  must “address their seating needs” when booking.

“Some people consider that charging air travelers according to their body weight is not appropriate because this policy treats human beings as goods. They think that charging based on personal characteristics is discriminatory,” Dr. Bhatta notes. “Nevertheless every business does this already. This is not different but just a little hard to imagine because we are not used to weight-based fare yet.”