Why we won’t see “pay-your-weight” pricing in the rest of the market anytime soon

There has been a ton of noise lately (including one story by me) about the announcement earlier this year that Samoa Air is going to start charging passengers based on a combination of their weight and distance traveled. Some are calling it discriminatory or a recipe for disaster at the counter when the passengers are weighed in for their flights. Others seem more concerned that the approach may spread to other airlines or regions. As for me, I’m not worried at all. I know it won’t happen on most flights at any point in the near future.

Why? Because it actually might make sense, and we know that airline pricing simply doesn’t.

Love it or hate it, nearly all airlines price their fares based on market demand. They aren’t based on distance traveled. They aren’t based on differences in the in-flight service offered. And they aren’t based on the cost to provide the service rendered. There are even (reasonably often) scenarios where premium cabin seats can be had for less than certain coach fares. Any outsider looking in to the industry has to wonder how the airline business makes any sense at all.

And that’s the rub; the business doesn’t make any sense and there is no motivation – much less opportunity – to change it. No carrier with a route network more than a couple routes which are roughly all the same distance can get away with such an approach. Pricing JFK-SLC at 10x JFK-BOS just won’t work. And intercontinental flights would be a whole different mess.

The other argument being made is that it would cause issues at check-in as passengers are weighed. Except that already happens. Sure, only on smaller planes, but it does. And I’m still waiting to read the story about a riot at the check-in desk at one of the many commuter carriers where passengers and their bags are weighed. They have to do it so that the plane actually flies. That seems like a pretty good idea in my book. Weigh more people more often and the odds of someone freaking out about it will increase, but I don’t think we’re looking at an impending epidemic.

So, yeah, Samoa Air made some news as the first to institute such a plan. But there really is no need to worry about it spreading. It might just make too much sense for the airline industry.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Love it. Straight to the point as always: “Because it actually might make sense, and we know that airline pricing simply doesn’t.”

  2. This can never happen in the US as there are too many overweight people…..in Marin in California which purports to be California’s healthiest county (cept for alcohol consumption) over 40% are overweight……..sad but true!

  3. Good one, totally agree. Although it might be fun to see an all out argument (but not on my flight) unfold if someone is asked to pay more due to be carrying some extra pounds. I bet it won’t be pretty!

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