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Airline Charges By Weight, Accused of Discrimination


Instead of the dreaded weigh-in at your doctor's appointment or Weight Watcher's meeting, you now could have a new place to hate the scale: The airport. Samoa Air has become the first airline in the world to introduce a "pay as you weigh" price plan for its passengers.

In an era where huge baggage fees and and two-seat purchase policies for some overweight passengers are the norm, this could seem like a good solution. "People have always traveled on the basis of of their seat, but as any airplane operator knows, airplanes don't run on seats, they run on weight," Chris Langton, CEO of Samoa Air, told ABC Radio in an interview.

Samoa Air is a smaller airline serving the South Pacific region with planes that hold fewer passengers than major international airlines. "Particularly the smaller the aircraft that you're in, the less variance you can accept in terms of the differences of weights between passengers," Langston added in the interview.

Not helping the issue, Pacific Islanders are a notoriously overweight population. With 80.4 percent of Samoans having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher it is the sixth fattest nation in the world, according to Forbes.

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The concept of charging by body weight was brought about by Norwegian economist Bharat P. Bhatta, Ph.D., and published in the Journal of Revenue and Pricing Management late last year. However, there are people who vehemently oppose the policy and its implementation nationwide.

In a press release from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) on March 28, NEDA president and CEO Lynn Grefe writes, "This is a misguided policy suggestion that attempts to account for fuel cost, but completely fails to account for the human cost of stigmatizing people with larger bodies. Dr. Bhatta clearly has no knowledge of eating disorders." She continues to say that by implementing this policy, it enforces someone who is sick with anorexia by giving them a "special discount" while taxing a healthier person who may weigh more.

Chevese Turner, founder, president, and CEO of Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), agrees that it is a simplistic approach to a very complicated issue. "Those of us who are in the world that I am look at this as a very discriminatory act that is not going to help people achieve health," she says. "Shame does not lead to thinner bodies. Every single study shows that that does not help."

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In a blog post entitled, "Charging By the Pound," James Zervios, director of communications at the Obesity Action Coalition, also believes the new policy is a discriminatory act. "Airlines accept a myriad of responsibility when welcoming passengers onboard," he writes. He continues by saying that other disabilities are accomodated on airlines like the availability of defibrillators and oxygen tanks, yet people who use them are not charged extra, so why should people who weigh more be discriminated against in this way?

However, Langton says that he feels that charging for your body weight is the "concept of the future" and that it is the fairest way to travel. Samoa Air's website reads, "Your weight plus your baggage items, is what you pay for. Simple."

However, "It's just not that simple," Turner says. "When we are talking about someone who is living in a larger body, it's certainly not because they want to [be overweight]."


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