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Pound For Pound Better Value?

Pound For Pound Better Value?

Our World | On 25, Apr 2013

Samoa Air has just become the first airline to charge by weight, not just your luggage but you! Apologies in advance but you just can’t avoid “excess” and “over-weight” unintentional puns!

When you book your ticket you declare your weight and buy a luggage allowance. Your “total weight” determines the fare. When you check in, you and your luggage are weighed. If you are over-weight you are charged an excess fare. Chris Langton, CEO of Samoa Air told press that he believes this will become a standard global fare system soon. What do you think?

You can argue from a purely commercial basis that this is fair. The more weight you take on board the more fuel expended, and this rule has applied to luggage for many years. However, is it right, will it be allowed and is it discriminatory?

Fair fares?

First and foremost, let’s get the “F” word out of the way. Being heavier than someone else does not mean you are necessarily fat or indeed even overweight. Take someone like former world cup winning England rugby captain Martin Johnson; he is not someone I would ever call fat, but at six foot seven I suspect he weighs a lot more than me. I, in turn, weigh more than my 19 year old son – the curse of middle age girth! Is it fair that we all pay a different amount for the same service? I have to say that, possibly, yes it is. If you want to buy more of anything it tends to cost more, and if you want to send any form of “goods” in transit, weight and size are always a factor.

Now the tricky bit, do you make exceptions for people with medical conditions that cause excess weight? What about people who need heavy medical kit? What about people in wheel chairs who need special assistance boarding? These are all costs and ultimately, if you are working on a purely commercial basis, they should be charged no matter what the circumstance. If you make exceptions have you just discriminated against medically fit able bodied people? The word “minefield” springs to mind.

A weighty problem

Is this a realistic proposition? In Europe, I can see someone like Ryanair trying this first and also maybe getting away with it. This could potentially lead other budget carriers down the same path followed by the more cost conscious scheduled carriers and ultimately even BA and Virgin. After all, budget carriers already have about 26 different fare levels for the same seat, based on how full they are when you want to fly, how you want to pay, where you want to sit and do you want luggage. So why not one more, where you buy a “weight package” based on you and your luggage?

I don’t think this will raise its head unless companies like Ryanair and Easyjet can overcome the time consuming and commercial practicalities of weighing people at check-in and are convinced that they can make more net profit. BUT, if they do, I don’t think it will be the airlines who decide if this is acceptable, it will be up to what the EU thinks. I am fairly certain that this sort of policy would spark a legal challenge by a number of organisations, and if the EU courts ultimately deem this as discriminatory, then it’s all over.

Nigel Cooper