Increase in Weight of Passengers Led to This New Policy — and Discrimination?

A  supposed increase in average passenger weight — as the result of a survey — required one airline to meet the guidelines of the manufacturer and redistribute weight in cabins on its Boeing 767 airplanes by limiting the number of adults per row of seats; and by reserving seats in certain rows for children younger than 13 years of age…

Increase in Weight of Passengers Led to This New Policy — and Discrimination?

…and as a result of this policy, separate complaints to the Department of Transportation of the United States were filed by two businessmen from American Samoa against Hawaiian Airlines, citing that by no longer being able to select seats in advance via the official Internet web site or kiosk of the airline on its flights to and from Pago Pago, the airline is engaging in discriminatory practices against Samoans.

“The new policy has been described as discriminatory against Samoans, with businessman Avamua Dave Haleck saying it is an injustice because it applies only on flights between Honolulu and Pago Pago”, according to this article from Radio New Zealand. “He said nowhere else in the Hawaiian system did it ask passengers to be weighed and nowhere other than American Samoa flights could online seat selections not be made.”

Charged by Weight: Not the First Time for Samoans

Charging for passengers by their weight is not a new policy — although the concept itself is controversial. In 2013, Samoa Air started charging its passengers based on how much they weigh — and this policy still exists today:

A world first: The “Samoa Air System” of pay by weight ‘Pay only for what you weigh’!

Welcome to the fairest system for payment of carriage of anything by air. The world is now aware that charging by weight is the fairest way of paying for carriage. Whether its people, baggage, freight or anything which we might want tot take or consign by air.

At Samoa Air we will do our best to ensure that every passenger is afforded the same level of comfort and travel throughout their flying experience. We want to bring back Air Travel as an enjoyable experience, where you, and your baggage will always travel together. No more excess fee’s are charged and no more discrimination, because as we know: A kilo is a kilo is a kilo!

The Sky’s the Limit!

This initially may sound like a good idea in terms of pure logic — you weigh more, you pay more — but could this lead to discriminatory practices by employees of airlines, as alleged by the two businessmen from American Samoa? What if the passenger has a medical condition which prevents him or her from being able to lose weight or girth through typical means, such as a diet or exercise? Perhaps certain passengers with known physical ailments might be targeting next by the airlines to avoid having to deal with a medical emergency aboard the aircraft during a flight — or consider excluding passengers with mental issues, passengers of a certain age, or passengers with certain acknowledged beliefs and ideals…

…and the Transportation Security Administration could also jump into the act — such as requiring people with mental or physical issues such as Hannah Cohen to contact the agency first prior to travel. Would obese people be required to call ahead to “warn” airlines, lodging companies, rental car facilities and government agencies to look out and here they come whenever they decide to travel?

Also, does this potential ancillary fee pave the way for possible abuse by Samoa Air? Did the airline lower ticket prices as a result of fuel prices decreasing significantly over the past year or so?

Fat chance — pun intended.

…But Is It Discrimination?

Weight is a significant factor in both the operation of an airplane and the economics of an airline. Distribution of weight is important in the optimization of the efficiency of an aircraft to fly; and more weight means more fuel consumed — which leads to more costs incurred by the airline.

“The tiny Samoan islands have among the highest rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in the world — and diet and weight-related health issues have been rising in these Pacific nations since the 1970s”, according to this article written by Maanvi Singh of NPR, which is also known as National Public Radio. “Now 1 in 3 residents of American Samoa suffers from diabetes.”

What does an airline do when it serves a part of the world known for its excessive rate of obesity — should the factor of weight be ignored despite the aforementioned possible consequences to avoid the impression of discrimination?

Although obese passengers could add weight to the aircraft — thereby theoretically increasing fuel costs for the airline — the real issue is the rights of passengers who are forced to suffer being seated next to a passenger whose girth infringes upon the space for which they paid. I know that I like to be as comfortable as possible when I am seated aboard an aircraft — and I want all of the space for which I paid to be available to me at all times.

I really do not believe that is asking for too much.

Possible Solutions?

This does not even address the issue of whether or not obese passengers will be able to have two seats in which to sit if they do indeed pay more. While it is certainly better than attempting to squeeze 500 pounds of human into a single seat, I cannot imagine that straddling two seats with a raised armrest pressing against your back would be all that comfortable. Should the airline not only provide two seats if the overweight passenger pays for them, but also some sort of removable or adjustable alteration to help increase the comfort of sitting in two seats simultaneously?

Despite its potential drawbacks, I suppose this proposal still beats the alternative of being denied boarding an aircraft altogether primarily because of weight or girth.

It can also possibly fend off lawsuits: for example, Shawn Coomer of Miles to Memories reported in this article that James Bassos — a passenger from Australia who sued Etihad Airways because he was reportedly hurt after sitting next to an obese passenger on a flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney back in 2011 — claimed he had to “contort and twist” to avoid the obese neighbor who he said coughed and “expelled fluid from his mouth.”

Not long after that lawsuit seemingly pervaded throughout the media, Katie Hopkins — a television personality in Great Britain — expressed her opinion that overweight passengers should absolutely be subject to hefty fines during a preview of If Katie Hopkins Ruled the World.

The television series lasted only 42 days because of low ratings. I suppose Katie Hopkins is not going to rule the world anytime soon at a time when a Donald Trump or a Hillary Clinton can become president of the United States — I believe that I would be a better candidate for president than either of them — but I digress as usual.

Speaking of the United Kingdom, the only way I know of passengers currently being charged by the pound is if their purchased their airfare in countries such as the United Kingdom — but I digress once again; so please pardon me.

Although I have written several articles over the years at The Gate pertaining to overweight passengers — this article about how the debate continues pertaining to obese passengers being the most recent one — back on Sunday, March 24, 2013, I first reported in this article on Bharat P. Bhatta of Fjordane University College in Norway suggesting three possible methods of airlines implementing a policy of charging in which passengers would declare their weight when purchasing an airline ticket; and they could be randomly selected by representatives of the airline at the airport and pay a penalty in addition to the appropriate airfare:

  1. A straightforward price per kilogram or pound
  2. A fixed low fare with heavier passengers paying a surcharge and lighter passengers being offered a discount
  3. Divided passengers into three groups — heavy, normal and light — and have them be charged accordingly

Summary

Obesity is not only an issue with the airlines; but it is also a problem for overweight people who travel themselves — as expressed by one anonymous person:

“Everyone is uncomfortable in airplanes. They’re designed to fit as many people as possible , which doesn’t lead to comfortable seats for anyone. Flying is costly, uncomfortable, stressful. Bags get heavy; flights get canceled; relationships get strained. No one is having a good time. And at the peak of all that stress  —  boarding the plane —  the person my fellow passengers see is me. Rather than being a compatriot, stuck in the same frustrating, uncomfortable situation, I become a scapegoat for all that frustration. I become an effigy of every slight they’ll face, a symbol of every inconsiderate passenger, every unwelcome reclined seat, every oversold flight.”

Until there is an equitable solution to this controversial issue, people who are considered obese are generally resigned to this lamentation from the same anonymous person:

“Air travel is a microcosm of what happens to me so often as a fat person. I am watched,  and judged harshly,€”  as I try  and fail  to fit into a space that was made for someone else. I am always too big, always too much, always unacceptable. I must make myself smaller and smaller, reducing and reducing endlessly, my stubborn body resisting at every turn. Still, I am never quite small enough to make anyone else comfortable.”

Meanwhile — as for those separate complaints which were sent to the Department of Transportation — well…let’s just say that the two businessmen from American Samoa hope that personnel from that federal department eventually weigh in on this issue…

Photograph by FatM1ke, which is used under the Creative Commons 3.0 license and is found here.

2 thoughts on “Increase in Weight of Passengers Led to This New Policy — and Discrimination?”

  1. Mser says:

    What we buy as a passenger is space. Simple solution would be to have all passengers walk thru a device that measures their width (similar as what happens with carry-on luggage). Those that don’t meet the width criteria pay for a second seat.

    Or maybe there are a few wider seats adjacent to narrower seats so that a small person gets a discounted seat and the wider person pays a premium.

  2. Ryan says:

    While I suppose a majority of the passengers on flights to/from PPG are Samoan, not all of them would be. Passengers of all ethnicities, weight, age, etc. are subject to the same restrictions that HA has imposed.

    As a private pilot, I certainly understand that keeping weight and balance within the proper ranges are critical to safe aircraft operation. Otherwise, the aircraft can lose control and crash. Normally there is enough margin on a large jet airliner that it isn’t necessary to take steps such as these to ensure that weight and balance are within the operational envelope. But it seems that in this case it’s been determined that a more precise weight and balance must be determined for each flight. Would the PPG passengers rather die in a loss-of-control crash?

    (I have no knowledge of what went into that analysis, but absent evidence to the contrary I take the airline at its word. I can’t imagine they would have made the decision capriciously given the potential PR concerns.)

    Regional jets and turboprops sometimes have to make adjustments due to weight and balance issues though not to this level of detail. On small scheduled and charter airline flights, such as with aircraft in the <10 seat range, it's not unheard of to get specific passenger weights due to weight and balance requirements.

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