Economist predicts airlines will soon charge obese passengers more

An economics professor in Norway is predicting that airlines will start charging people based on their weight.

Considering the mania the airlines have for always finding extra “fees,” nothing is out of the question, so charging customers based on their weight no longer sounds so crazy (well, it still sounds a bit crazy, but I’d put nothing past US air carriers).

As someone who flies more in Europe than in the US, I already find US airlines tickets at the big airlines to be extremely high compared to traveling the same distance in Europe. Even worse, the Americans are always slapping on additional charges for luggage – a fee which I personally find outrageous – much like we see with the low-end European discount carriers.

Airplane via Shutterstock

Airplane via Shutterstock

At least in Europe when you’re charged for luggage or other fees, you’re paying discount rates – I’m talking 20 dollars for a flight. In the US, flying is a much more expensive venture, plus the normal unpleasantness that can only be delivered by US carriers and the humble and lovable TSA. (Normally it’s Europe that has the surly service industry, but not when you’re flying.)

Looking at this trend, an economics professor in Norway published a study that proposes three potential “pay-as-you weigh” options that could be coming in the future.

  • Fares according to actual weight, in which carriers would set a fixed rate per pound so that a person weighing 130 pounds would pay half the airfare of a 260 pound person.
  • A fixed “base fare” for average weight passengers, with airlines either charging an extra fee for heavier fliers or offering a refund to skinnier ones.
  • Three separate fares based on whether passengers are at, below, or above average weight.

Smaller people have had the same luggage weight limitations as larger people for years, even though we’re told that the weight of luggage – even going over 3 pounds – is so critical that they have to charge you another $100 or whatever.  Then why is passenger weight irrelevant, unless the luggage limits are a joke? I’ve always thought smaller people deserved the right to carry more luggage weight, if we’re going to play the “weight” game at all, but somehow it never worked out that way.

Then again, this might raise some interesting legal questions.  Women, on average, tend to weigh less than men.  Is there a legal argument for gender discrimination if the airlines routinely charge men more than women for the same seats?

Assuming we’re all in agreement that the airline industry is gouging customers, would charging per weight be fair?  It feels like it’s going too far, but at the same time, no other charge has been too much for the airline industry.

And in any case, if the airlines did charge based on customer weight, they’d simply charge overweight people more – the rest of us would never pay less.  Everything’s a new fee with these guys.


An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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