Pay by weight for flights?

a cartoon of a woman on a scale

Even though fuel isn’t skyrocketing like it was a few years ago and airlines are in a better financial position than they had been it seems that an economist is thinking they are not pricing correctly.

Economist proposes ‘pay-as-you-weigh’ model for air tickets


Basically they say we can price a few ways: charging per pound or overages/discounts based on weight.  There are many problems with this.  Would it go by the passenger’s reported weight at booking with a rate adjustment at checkin?  Would passengers need to be weighed at checkin?  Would this be fair to people who are within normal weight parameters, but are tall and therefore weigh more than someone a foot shorter?  A 5′ woman would weigh ~100 pounds (45 kg) while a 6’0 man would weigh 178 pounds (81 kg).  That is a 78 pound difference just due to height.  Also would luggage factor into this?  If I’m 150 pounds checking a 30 pound suitcase and 20 pound suitcase and you are 200 pounds with no luggage what does that mean?

Am I against this?  Not entirely.  I’ve flown on Sansa in Costa Rica and Kenmore Air in Seattle and they were very careful with luggage weight restrictions and asked passengers weight on check-in for weight balance purposes.  I’ve heard there are carriers with fees based on weight.

My main argument with this is it is just another method of nickle and diming passengers. We already have checked bag fees, fees for most food onboard, and many other aspects that were part of the ticket 15 years ago.  This is just a continuation of the race to the bottom.


  1. I could see it working as a surcharge over the base fare, but it doesn’t make sense to charge solely on weight. There are a lot of factors the affect cost that are not related to weight. The seats take up the same space on the airplane, the same amount of manpower is required for ground operations, there’s no increase to FAs and pilot staffing due to weight, etc. It’s really only the amount of fuel needed for a flight.

    Just non scientific googling, I found fuel to be 10-12% of a flight cost, and a 757 transcon would cost about $36 per passenger in fuel costs. So really, it only makes sense for them to charge an extra $10-$20 per person for extra weight, and vice versa light travelers would only be saving a similar amount.

    For such a small amount, I don’t think it’s worth the PR nightmare and backlash that would come by charging passengers by weight.

  2. The winner here is the fool who suggested this – he got his name in the media and will probably sell more books or whatever he does.

    As bad a problem obesity is in the USA, the level of moronic leadership by airlines is the source of their inability to make money.

  3. Would this be extra revenue/profit for the airline or would size zeroes get a discount to offset?

    An extra charge because you’re pregnant or maybe no more under-2 free flying (extra punds)?

    Being that obsessed with the weight can lead down many avenues. I would think PR and admin costs would make it a bad choice.

    The economists were probsbly working under a federal grant.

    1. Only time will tell if any of this would actually happen. If it’s a flat rate by weight, wouldn’t that entitle a POS to an extra seat?

  4. The weight of the infrastructure (seat, floor, roof, common area, fuselage, etc.) for each passenger does not vary with the weight of the passenger. Anyway larger passengers pay a huge price already in discomfort, especially those who are simply tall or large framed without necessarily being overweight. The cost of weighing folks at check in would be enormous!

    Luggage weight limits are important to the people who have to handle the luggage by hand. Hence charges for going over (but not charging proportionate to the weight).

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