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Marginal Utility: Charging Extra For Weight

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Apr 5, 2013    •    799 Views

On Samoa Airlines, weight makes a big difference. With small planes and passengers that tend to be large, Samoa Air has begun to charge passengers by the kilogram (42 cents a pound). They say that knowing weight beforehand lets them appropriately configure seating and calculate capacity. It facilitates land, labor and capital efficiency.

One British journalist disagrees. Saying, “The policy is a dehumanising, degrading and mechanistic approach to customer service,” he believes the decision is discriminatory. Its source, he claims is the unhappy fliers who sit next to very large people.

The Samoa Air pricing policy reflects the spread of obesity in the Pacific Islands. Among the world’s most overweight nations, Samoa has close to a 50% obesity rate (note that the data appears to date back to 1995). Wondering why, I discovered a Foreign Policy article that suggests the main reason is globalization. When the world arrived during WW II, it brought industrialization, processed food and a sedentary life style that transformed a traditional subsistance fishing economy.

Looking at the following map, you can see which nations have the most overweight populations.

From the International Association For Studying Obesity (IASO)

From the International Association For the Study of  Obesity (IASO)

In a recent econlife post, we looked at airlines’ pricing policies. Food, baggage, reservation switches, aisle seats and now weight are all examples of the extras for which we can pay if we decide their marginal utility is worth it.

This youtube news report is a good firsthand look at Samoa Air and Samoans’ reaction to the weight policy.

Sources and Resources: For more about Samoa Airlines’ new fare policy, this Washington Post article provided the detail while this Guardian column presented the opposing view. Perhaps, though, the real issue is obesity which you can read more about here in Foreign Policy and here at the IASO website.


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