Should Airlines Charge Fat People More?

Bioethicist and philosopher Peter Singer was in an airport when he noticed that a slender lady with an overweight suitcase has to pay, whereas a fat man with a regular suitcase didn't have to pay anything.

With their luggages, their total weight on the plane would be about the same, but why is the woman penalized?

Tony Webber, a former chief economist for the Australian airline Qantas, has pointed out that, since 2000, the average weight of adult passengers on its planes has increased by two kilos. For a large, modern aircraft like the Airbus A380, that means that an extra $472 of fuel has to be burned on a flight from Sydney to London. If the airline flies that route in both directions three times a day, over a year it will spend an additional $1 million for fuel, or, on current margins, about 13% of the airline’s profit from operating that route.

Webber suggests that airlines set a standard passenger weight, say, 75 kilos. If a passenger weighs 100 kilos, a surcharge would be charged to cover the extra fuel costs. For a passenger who is 25 kilos overweight, the surcharge on a Sydney-London return ticket would be $29. A passenger weighing just 50 kilos would get a discount of the same amount.

Link (Illustration: Tim Brinton) - via The Dish

So, what do you think? Should airplanes charge you by the pound?

We should itemize it. You should have to pay a specific amount for your seat, and a specific amount for the total sum of weight you add to the plane. It should be such that the airliners aren't making any more money but the riders are paying for their proper portions. If everyone on the plane was underweight and brought minimal luggage, the airliners would be making far more profit on saved fuel. Pay for what you use seems pretty simple to me.
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Here is an example of how incorrect passenger weight estimates contributed to the crash of a commercial airplane in Ontario some time back. Apparently, the average weight of the passengers exceeded national averages by about 9kgs per person, and the total additional weight was enough to unbalance the plane.
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And this is why I save up money to take private airline flights.
No extra fees, smaller numbers of people, no screaming children, and you can bring your pet with you. Fat people are missing out. In fact I bet that would be a great niche market for a private airline company.
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We just need to put solid barrier walls in between the seats, and squeeze in. This way, Fatty can be pressed against the wall all he wants...he/she can't take up your square. End of story. :)
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Yes Mitch, the best option is to cross your fingers and hope the plane can take off.

For people concerned about space, there is more room in first class - or so I'm told.

I have a solution, maybe: don't charge more for more weight. Give discounts for less weight - people and baggage.
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The most fair way would be to simply accept that there are different sized people and hope the weight averages out. People who are overweight are ridiculed and humiliated enough. We don't need to add to that by making them pay more for transportation. If one or more very heavy people get in my cab I don't charge extra even though it increases my fuel costs. I'm tactful and fair about it. Everyone gets charged the same and gets the same quality of service from me no matter how their body is shaped.
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If I have to pay more for being fat, I'd like proportionally more room to compensate. If I'm paying 50% more than a regular passenger, I want 50% more seat and 50% more legroom. Because this doesn't just punish fat people, it punishes tall people. And the disabled, who will no doubt have to pay extra for wheelchairs and oxygen tanks.
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I like the total weight idea - if you add the weight of you & your baggage and are billed accordingly. That way a family could come out relatively even, and it would allow shorties like me to do more shopping when we're on holidays without having to worry how we're going to get it all home. :)
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There are absolutely two issues: weight and space. And not just the space taken up by the fat guy squishing into your seat. Airlines also have a limit to the number of bags you can take - because of space. Just because the article only covers weight doesn't make the space problem go away.

As for weight, a simple solution would be to put everyone and their belongings (carry on bags, checked bags, babies, strollers, coats, whatever) on a scale and total it up. Then add a per pound surcharge for everyone. So someone who is taking on 300 total pounds of weight pays 3x the surcharge (not necessarily 3x total price) of someone who is taking on 100 pounds of total weight.
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As Kev p23 says, it's an issue of weight, not space, which is being discussed here.

I barely weigh 55kg, and get given a hard time for my carry-on being 11kg instead of the 10kg limit. Then I take out some clothes and add them all on top of me, and ta-daaah, all of a sudden there's no "weight problem". It's ridiculous, and I agree that the total weight should count.

For all the tall people complaining that they would risk paying more and it's unfair, oh come on. I'm 1m65, and every bloody rock concert I've ever paid for looked the same: the shoulders of the tall people in front of me. We pay the same price, yet you guys always completely block my view.
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All part of the ongoing campaign to ensure that if you're over about 5'10 you have to be rich to fly. So not only will tall people be crushed into seats which don't have enough legroom, they have to pay extra for the privilege. Sat next to a short person you know that not only are they more comfortable than you, they also paid less for your seat.
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@some fat flyer:
I'll gloss over the space issue, as I can't imagine the idea of selling two seats to fat people being applied at any point. I just want to concentrate on the point made in the post.

Yes, weight is the major issue when it comes to air travel, so charging "by the pound" would be fair from an economic standpoint. Kids and old people may give the cabin crew more work, but that doesn't increase their salary, hence the cost to the airline is the same.
So the question is: should everybody pay for the increase in cost due to the increase in the average weight of the population, or should the compensation be proportional to a person's weight?

Then please don't blame airlines for things they have no relation to! Airport security is there because of governments, and the rest of your complaints (parking, fast food, airport construction) are clearly not the airlines' fault.

"And then with luck, you get where you are going on time and with your luggage intact." How often has it happened to you, say in the past decade, that you:
A) Didn't get to your destination?
B) didn't get your luggage?
I don't think the problem is as bad as you make it sound.

Finally, airlines are a notoriously bad business if you want to make profits. Most major airlines only still exist because of governmental help. Putting them in the same basket as banks and oil companies is preposterous, just compare their revenues!

If they ever implement such a policy (which by the way none of them have even proposed, only a philosopher), it won't be to screw you over, it will be to stay afloat.
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"For a large, modern aircraft like the Airbus A380, that means that an extra $472 of fuel has to be burned on a flight from Sydney to London."

Based on the million/year figure, this is per flight, not per person (472 * 2 ways * 3 times per day * 365)

The Quantas A380 is outfitted for 450 seats.

So you are talking a little more than a dollar per person.

Which makes this entire conversation completely stupid, and the suggestion clearly based on the whims of a very petty individual. This cost is already covered by the most minor of hikes in fares - there are much bigger issues to deal with for the airlines, and more realistic and serious issues to deal with when managing grossly overweight passengers (and not just the tall ones because they weigh more).
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A bioethicist is considering the merits of charging people more based on something physical that arguably can't be adequately controlled? Really? That's not at all what I imagined bioethics to look like.

First, let us forget this idea that people wouldn't be fat if they just applied enough will power. Diets generally don't work in the long run. Any other procedure with such a high failure rate would be discouraged. And loads of fat people spend their entire lives ceaselessly fighting to lose weight, while putting up with poor treatment from individuals and institutions.

Listen: we don't penalize people for their bodies - not for their weight, not for their height, not for their color, not for whether or not they choose to have babies, not for the stress-related illnesses they may have gotten from having to work for rotten employers, not for their weird-smelling coffee and cigarette breath.

People are not luggage. We don't measure them by the same standards, and we certainly don't treat them as though they're objects.

Planes are crowded; if folks can't handle being squeezed in among diverse people, perhaps they need to find other modes of transport.
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The question is one of weight people, not space. Didn't you read the post? Talking about a fat guy spilling over into your personal space is a different issue. The post is talking aobut how it takes more fuel to fly a 300 lb. man across the country than a 150 lb. man. Joy commented above saying she would be pissed to pay more just because they were taller than average. What about all those tall guys who have to pay more for "tall" version of shirts and pants? Is that unfair? People over 6 ft tall need more fabric to cover their bodies than a 5 ft person. Life's tough I guess. You expect others to subsidize your increased expenses because you happen to be taller than everyone else? Crazy. BTW, I am just under 6ft and weigh 300 lbs, so even though I wouldn't be happy about it, I would have to admit that it would only be fair if I paid more for a plane ride because I am burning more fuel than most of the rest.
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"What if I were to buy four tickets for a family? They’d still charge my husband extra for going over the weight limit, even though the total for the entire family would be WAY less than the weight limit for four people."

There are two issues: (1) Weight, (2) Space. The solution is the same for both.

If you're taking up part of my space, you should pay for that space. And by that I mean pay ME (not the airline) for that space. If you take up so much space that no one can fit beside you, then you just bought another seat from the airline. If you can squeeze in your kid beside you in the next seat, you'd still pay for two seats, only you're using 1.5 and your kid is using 0.5.

A similar solution could be drawn up for total weight for a group.

But none of the above would generate maximum profits for the airlines, so they're all nonstarters.
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So I'm 5'9" and my husband is 6'4". My 160 and his 220 is much different than if our friends (5'2" and 5'6") weighed the same. If the four of us flew on a couples trip, I'd be pissed to pay more simply because we're taller than average.
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what about the muscular man who is over 7 feet tall and a large build , when put on the scales, goes over your alloted weight limit... even tho he doesn't encroach your seat space... but because of his height and muscles he tips the scales? Is it fair to charge him move when your justification is 'well the heavier weighted people are the ones to blame- they take up my seat space!'
or the short woman who is more round than lengthy who WILL take up your seat space because she's wide... but because of her lack of height doesn't tip the scales over your arbitrary number.. is it fair that she skates by out of sheer luck?
And yes- I saw the comment about having a seat there. I'm ignoring that to make my point :D
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I am a fat man
I weigh a lot
I also fly a lot

I would pay more for my ticket if I got more space. but I do not.
I get the same size seat as anyone on the plane. I fit into it snuggly, but I fit.

What if I bought my ticket early and got a discount? am i penalized when I show up at the gate?
If I do have to pay for two seats - do I get two seats? Do I get that full seat next to me with all the privileges (double the snacks? double the frequent flyer miles? two head sets?) - or am I still squeezed into one seat and thus the airline got double money cause they sold that seat next to me to someone else. That's not fair.

Tyg, is your idea like that fat seat in front of the Roller Coaster - cause you know its great to be told at the last minute "Hey you're a fat person so there is a penalty" - there goes all the joy from whatever trip you are going on. And a bitchy fat person on a plane is the BEST!

What about pregnant women? shouldn't they pay more then? What about people that are dense - that weigh more cause of compact muscles?
Or what about the frail woman who HAS to wear a big bulky coat but it doesn't weigh much - it just takes up space. And has carry-ons that are far and above the legal limit?

and does this then set a standard - should movies or theaters charge more if you can't squeeze into a seat.

Ok so lets say fat people have to pay more cause they cost the airline more....
so what about old people who need assistance to get seated... charge them more too
kids? flight attendance pay attention to them a bit more too, so what about charging them more -
or if your kid is screaming, shouldn't you pay for the inconvenience of your fellow passengers?

Maybe the best idea is couches on an airline instead of seats? or beds so they can jam even more of us in there.

Travel is has become no fun at all with the airlines already - and it aint because I'm fat. It's the hassle and indignity of security, it's the feeling like you are getting screwed at the airport from parking to fast food to airport construction. It's being told you have to pay for extras - being nickel and dimed through out the flight. And then with luck, you get where you are going on time and with your luggage in tact.

Airlines, Banks, Oil Companies, Fast food Chains - all of them are in the news about how they are trying to help us by charging us more and if we don't use them they cry foul!
This is another story of bleeding the public of even more money - and whats sad is I have a feeling thin people will side with it cause it will save them money.

But i hope it doesn't.
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What if I were to buy four tickets for a family? They'd still charge my husband extra for going over the weight limit, even though the total for the entire family would be WAY less than the weight limit for four people.
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I'm tempted to object to any proposal put forth by Peter Singer just on general principles.

The solutions put forth by Tig and Fae seem quite reasonable to me.
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I think all luggage, checked or unchecked, should be taken into account too- and say that the total allowed weight would be 100kg- that way someone on the chunkier side can compensate by packing less, and someone slimmer can bring a little extra for free.
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They should have a sample seat next to where you get your boarding pass. If you fit into the seat with both armrests down and without spilling over onto another seat then you are fine. Otherwise you pay for 2 seats. It's as simple as that.
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Missing from the discussion is the cost of handling the baggage. Note that one doesn't have to pay a checked bag fee if they carry their bag to the gate. Handling the bag in the airport appears to have an associated cost.
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