On airlines, should obese people have to pay extra before boarding?

On most airlines, if you have excess baggage, you have to pay extra to check it in before taking your flight, and fair enough… it adds weight to the plane and that means more fuel.

In light of this particular “letter of complaint” to Australia’s Jetstar airline…


I’m interested in your opinions… should seriously obese passengers also have to pay extra before checking in for their flight? It’s the same physics, you can’t deny that. If some dude who weighs 160kg pays the same ticket costs next to some dude who weighs 80kg, the obese dude is getting away with 80kg of extra weight he’d surely have to pay for, if it was excess baggage. The plane still has to burn the extra fuel.

The problem is a little more complicated than it would appear on the surface.

Suppose a person weighs 200 pounds and the average person of their height weighs 150 pounds, how much extra would you charge them?

Suppose a ticket costs $150. The person who weighs 200 pounds weighs one third more than the average person. Should they pay one third more than the avg person? That would mean $200.

What if a person weighs 100 lbs. That is one third less than the average weight. Should they only have to pay $100 (one third of the ticket cost).

How would you handle baggage?

How would you handle older people?

Older people tend to weigh more than younger people. Would you charge them in the same way? (meaning would you charge them a proportionate price based on their age)?

The thing that makes this more complicated is if a person is seriously obese and cannot use the regular seats and other equipment, would you try to find a fair price to charge them to cover the cost of extra equipment to accommodate them? This issue can become as complicated as you like.

I think it should be based on volume, not weight. If you’re dense and compact and you can squeeze your heft into a single seat with no overflow, why should you be charged more?

Why single out obese people? Have a “weigh-in” with all your baggage and have everyone pay a per kg fee.

An obese person with no luggage could pay less than a small person with several large/heavy bags.

(- a heavy person who packs light.)

I think that any person that needs extra accommodation should pay extra. if you are large enough, pay for a second seat or don’t fly.

Charging people by pound, though, is useless. A large frame thin person can be just as intruding into other seats as a large frame heavy person. They should both just buy a second seat.

Or, here’s a thought, air lines could stop trying to cram three people into the space originally designed for two seats. That would be nice and would ameliorate most of the complaints.

Excellent point!

I wish I would have thought of that.
P.S. If the sum of the weight of two people is twice as much as the limit for one person, shouldn’t they be able to pool their money and pay for 3 tickets? Otherwise they would each have to buy two tickets which means the airline would get four times a single ticket price instead of just three times a single price. Hope I explained that OK. I was running out of edit time.

I think airfare should continue to be for transportation of an individual person, and it should be up to the airline to solve problems when their business assumptions don’t quite work out. If they choose a 17 inch wide seat because most of the time people fit in that seat, great, but there are going to be some 18+ inch wide people who are just going to end up taking up two seats.

I don’t see it as being fundamentally different from the airline guessing that most of the time, only 90% of passengers will show up for their flights. Sometimes 91% show up and they just have to solve that problem. They don’t get to charge an extra airplane fee.

I question the premise. At least part of the reason for charging extra for bags is the that the airline has to pay people to load/unload the bags, put them into connecting flights, get them on the baggage carousel, etc.

It’s hard to think of a single benefit of being overweight. So while it truly might not be fair that those of us carrying around some extra pounds get to bring them on a plane without the indignity of a surcharge, and thus pay considerably less per pound for transportation than the 1960s fashion model that the coach seat was clearly designed for, I’m not going to feel too bad about it.

If someone’s space is truly being encroached, the crew should deal with that. Such cases should be fairly obvious to watch out for. I wish there were better options for dealing with that sort of thing other than charging for a whole extra seat, which very few people need.

It’s a nice thought but if seats are bigger then there are fewer passengers which means we all pay more for our tickets.

If that’s the case - then how come airlines impose a weight limit for bags instead of a size limit?

The idea of charging by weight is attractive to someone like me who is on the smaller side.

At the same time, I am uncomfortable with imposing extra charges on, for example, the 6’3 180 pound brick layer…

And if we are not going to charge the 180 pound brick-layer, how do we justify charging the 5’5", 180 pound beach ball?

I don’t see that it can be done…

I vote for charge by the seat.

1 ticket = 1 seat. If your butt don’t fit in one seat you gotta buy 2 or more.

The most reasonable thing to do is to set everyone’s price via a combination of two costs:

  1. An equal share (per seat) of what the total cost would be to operate the plane on the desired route, assuming the plane was empty. This is your “volume cost”, essentially the cost of the space you are occupying in the plane.

  2. A share of the excess fuel cost required to carry all the passengers and baggage, weighted by each passenger’s combined personal + baggage weight as a fraction of the total weight of all the passengers and their baggage. This is your “fuel cost”.

Everyone pays for what it costs to move them and their shit. If you’re fat, you pay a little more, if you’re skinny, you pay a little less, and same for your bags.

If you are really so fat or otherwise large that you must occupy two seats, you have to pay double for your volume cost, but not your fuel cost.

I suppose you could also tack on a per-checked-bag fee to account for the handling expenses in addition to weight.

Any other suggestions are just various approximations striving for this ideal.

So all tickets are sold at cost? And demand is totally absent?

Well, assuming a perfectly competitive market, yes.

Otherwise, you can just include the airline’s desired profit on the route in fee #1.

How exactly is a pricing strategy reasonable if it’s based on something other than the actual world?

The airline’s desired profit is as much as can be squeezed out of passengers, so in reality that figure would just be adjusted based on supply and demand. So nothing actually changes.

So are all seats worth the same? Right now, airlines don’t charge by the seat.

Assume a full flight. Should the large person pay the highest fare, the lowest fare, or their own fare for the second seat? Or since a person needing a second seat on a full flight means someone gets bumped, do they pay the bumped passenger’s fare?

I have a cunning plan: make the seat belts for the kind of person that fits in the seat without inconveniencing the neighbor. If you don’t fit the belt you have to buy an extra seat, then you get an extension.

What’s the price of an “extra seat”? For that matter, what’s the price of the first seat? The fare includes a lot more than just sitting in a seat.

They do impose a size limit. Transporting oversized luggage costs extra. But since most people use standard-sized suitcases, they’re not aware of the size limit.

The luggage weight limit is due to the fact that union rules and workplace safety codes require that items over 50 lbs be lifted by two people, while luggage under that limit can be lifted by a single baggage handler. The added charge for overweight luggage is to compensate the airline for the extra handling expense the luggage requires.