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Airline 'fat tax:' Should heavy passengers pay more?

Published On: Mar 27 2013 11:55:31 AM CDT
Updated On: Mar 27 2013 12:34:17 PM CDT
Fat passenger
(CNN) -

An economics scholar in Norway has recommended that air ticket costs be calculated according to a passenger’s weight.

Dr. Bharat P. Bhatta, associate professor of economics at Sogn og Fjordane University College, Norway, is proposing three models that he says, “may provide significant benefits to airlines, passengers and society at large.”

In his paper, published in the Journal of Revenue and Pricing Management, Dr. Bhatta noted “a reduction of 1?kilo weight of a plane will result in fuel savings worth US$3,000 a year and a reduction of CO2 emissions by the same token.”

Weighing in. He cited a move by Air Canada, which removed life vests from its planes to make each flight 25 kilos lighter, and other initiatives by low-cost carriers such as charging for excess luggage and making oversized passengers book two seats.

“Charging according to weight and space is a universally accepted principle, not only in transportation, but also in other services," Bhatta said. "As weight and space are far more important in aviation than other modes of transport, airlines should take this into account when pricing their tickets.”

His three “pay as you weigh” models are:

Total weight: A passenger’s luggage and body weight is calculated, with the fare comprising a per kilo cost. In this scenario a passenger weighing 100 kilos with 20 kilos of luggage (120 kilos total) would pay twice that of a passenger of 50 kilos with 10 kilos of luggage (60 kilos total).

Base fare +/- extra: A base fare is set, with a per-kilo discount applying for “underweight” passengers and a per-kilo surcharge applying to “overweight” passengers.

High/Average/Low: A base fare is set, with a predetermined discount applying for those below a certain weight threshold and a predetermined surcharge applying for those above a certain weight threshold.

Bhatta prefers the third of these options. He goes on to say that weight could be ascertained through passenger self-declaration, with one in five passengers randomly selected and weighed to dissuade cheats (with penalties for cheaters) or by weighing all passengers at check in.

This latter option, however, would “incur huge transaction costs” and “would require a passenger to arrive a couple of hours early to have time to get through weigh-in, security and passport control.”