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We’ve all experienced it, in some way or another. For me it was enduring an eleven hour flight to Singapore. My neighbouring passenger took up his seat and half of mine. Maybe it was different for you. Maybe you a passenger double your weight has paid the same price for a seat. Maybe you’ve seen passengers board a plane and worried how it will stay up. Despite your experience, we all had the same thought: is this fair? Samoa Airlines says no to that question. Recently this year they proposed a pay-as-you-weigh policy. Much controversy arose. Some say it is logical and fair. Others say it is unrealistic. But technically, both of these opinions are correct.

When ABC Radio caught onto the topical publicity of Samoa Airline’s policy, they were lucky enough to speak with Chris Langdon – the (in)famous airline’s chief executive. “This is the fairest way of travelling,” he assured the radio. “There are no extra fees of excess baggage or anything – it is just a kilo is a kilo.” Meanwhile in Norway a study was published by Bharat Bhatta, an associate professor in Sogn og Fjordane University College. Bhatta believes that the pay-as-you-weigh system would “distribute the cost of air travel fairly.” It is clear to see that both men have a point. Surely paying for kilograms rather than dealing with paperwork and extra baggage fees and stress is ideal? It sounds simple and fair, and above all, logical – right? Maybe it is so in theory, but in practice, certainly not.

Samoa Airlines is small; a national airline which flies across the islands of Samoa and recently to Tonga and American Samoa. Chris Langdon describes the weighing process simply. He says that you just enter your weight online when you book your flight, and before boarding the plane you are weighed at the airport to confirm authenticity. While this may work for a small, national airline, it is unrealistic to consider it as a policy for every one of them. When Air New Zealand, for example, was asked about the possibility of charging by weight, they made a point of making no comment. Many airlines have expressed their disagreement with Samoa Air’s policy. How many hours would it take to weigh thousands of passengers for an international flight? they queried. Despite Bharat Bhatta’s claims that all airlines will eventually adopt the system proposed by Chris Langdon, airline industry observers unanimously state that it is unlikely carriers would ever price airfare by passenger weight.

The global sparks of outrage and disapproval aren’t just coming from airlines, however. New Zealand-based Fight the Obesity Epidemic spokesperson Dr Robyn Toomath said the policy was “absolutely appalling,” saying that it is “a stigmatisation of people and really just powerfully discriminating.” Dr Toomath points out that obesity is not always a controllable issue, and that that aspect of the pay-as-you-weigh system has been completely ignored. Does it seem fair if it means that underweight people travel more and overweight people less? she says. When it is realised that there are many inevitable factors that determine a passengers weight, including ethnicity, height, and physical capabilities, it is clear that the policy is poorly planned and thought out, and as a result inequitable and insulting.

Ultimately, Samoa Air’s plan to charge passengers based on their personal weight looks good on paper, but it is impractical and dismissive in reality and there is a slim chance of it taking off in a small airline such as itself - let alone in tightly scheduled international carriers worldwide. Regardless of the claims that it is reasonable, fair, and simple, the airline needs to seriously rethink and reconsider the pay-as-you-weigh policy. We already live in an overly self-conscious and judgemental society and one of the best ways of damaging it even further is by charging differently sized fees for differently sized people. So that man who sat next to me to Singapore? Let him confront his own issue instead of having an airline do it for him.



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