Airline passengers may be required to step on the scales at check in before boarding a flight, according to a circular advisory from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Airlines are required by law to ensure a safe weight before taking off and must factor in load averages for passengers and crew, as well as cargo and fuel.
But the data airlines use to estimate passenger weight may be outdated as obesity rates have increased considerably in recent years, and even more so in the pandemic as people stay home, eat more, and exercise less.
Although the purpose is supposedly to improve flight safety, airlines are always eager to improve profits by adding on extra fees for bags that are only slightly overweight, so it’s only a short waddle to charging overweight passengers, warn experts.
This will be especially so once airlines take to the skies again and try to make up for the millions lost during the pandemic groundings.
Indeed, airlines are always eager to find new ways to reduce take-off weight even by tiny amounts, by for example serving beer only in first class, to using less paint on the fuselage, to putting one less olive in each passenger’s salad.
Charging passengers fares based solely on their weight would probably be met by outrage, especially by bigger passengers who are not actually overweight. It might even be illegal since it would have the effect of discriminating against men who on average weigh more than women.
So airlines might begin by simply charging more for the minority of passengers who are very overweight – an obesity surcharge.
This is not a new concept, say experts, as charging the obese more for life and health insurance is common, and people who require much larger sizes in clothing often have to pay more.
Moreover, morbidly obese passengers cause problems for airlines in addition to the added costs of fuel to transport them.
For example, some very large passengers are too wide to fit into a standard economy seat and may require – or even demand – two seats, or an upgrade to wider seats in the business or first class sections of the airplane.
And while they may be able to squeeze themselves into a seat, they may tend to spill over into adjacent seats, prompting complaints from their squashed neighbours.
Indeed, forcing heftier passengers to bear more of the costs they now impose on the slimmer majority by paying higher fares to fly is consistent with the concept of differential health insurance premiums.
So, once people are able to flock back into the skies again, it may not be long before some passengers find their fares have expanded almost as much as their waistlines.