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Professor Touts ‘Pay-As-You-Weigh’ Model For Airline Tickets

Dr. Bharat Bhatta Thinks Idea Is Efficient, Fair & Environmentally Sustainable
Airlines Seats (credit: Getty Images)

Airlines Seats (credit: Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Should overweight airline passengers pay more to fly?

It is a concept that was recently highlighted in the Journal of Revenue and Pricing Management by an economics professor from Sogn og Fjordane University College in Norway.

In an exploratory analysis, Dr. Bharat P Bhatta writes that the so-called pay-as-you-weigh model can be “technically and economically feasible.”

Bhatta published his controversial findings saying “Charging according to weight and space is a universally accepted principle, not only in transportation, but also in other services.”

However, some people who spoke with 1010 WINS’ John Montone at Newark Liberty Airport disagreed.

“It’s an infirmity. People don’t want to be fat. I don’t want to look this way all the time,” one man said.

While he would not go so far as to say such a policy would be discriminatory, another woman did.

“I think it’s unfair, I think it’s a bias — prejudice,” she said.

However, Bhatta believes the model could be a powerful tool to achieve greater “efficiency, fairness and environmental sustainability.”

Bhatta cites an article in The Economist, saying “a reduction of 1 kg (2.2 pounds) weight of a plane will result in a fuel savings worth $3,000 a year and a reduction of CO2 emissions by the same token.”

His arguments stem from the notion that the more weight a plane is carrying on a business class from Atlanta to Johannesburg, the “stronger an engine is needed and the more fuel it requires to carry” that weight. He also states that additional space is required to accommodate a heavier person.

The end result being a ticket cost that is “not fairly distributed among passengers,” according to Bhatta.

Bhatta suggested three potential ways of implementing such a model.

The first is to charge fares according to actual weight — both body and bags. That would require fixing a rate per pound, allowing every passenger to have a different fare and be charged based on their weight.

The second option is to charged a fixed base fare for average weight passengers and then subsequently refund or charge per pound for low or excess weight to “cover more fuel burn, more wear and tear of seats and planes, and so on.”

Finally, Bhatta said another option is to charge the same fare for a passenger falling plus or minus 25 percent of a fixed average weight and effectively dividing passengers into categories of heavy, normal and light and then charging them accordingly.

Attorney Golda Poretsky is a self described “fat activist,” who worries larger people may engage in dangerous dieting before flights or employers may opt for thin employees who travel a lot.

“It has these broader effects,” she told CBS 2′s Dave Calin. “Maybe the seats have to be bigger again, maybe you have to put less people on a plane and raise ticket prices a little bit on everybody.”

Bhatta does acknowledge there would be push-back in the form of charges of discrimination of heavier people, humanitarian concerns about treating “human beings as goods,” and increased transaction costs and implementation problems for airlines.

In the end, however, Bhatta concluded that many of those objections could be addressed “with appropriate policies.”

“The model rewards passengers who weigh less than average and/or when they reduce weight, providing financial savings and improved health benefits,” the abstract of the article reads.

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