"A kilo is a kilo is a kilo!" That's the chipper-yet-blunt tagline of Samoa Air, the airline that recently took the plunge by instituting the first "pay-as-you-weigh" fare system for flights, in which heftier passengers paid a heftier price. In its wake, the public reacted with a collective exchanged glance. While the concept seemed to make economical sense—charge according to combined body and luggage weight—it was a bold move for an airline to so directly address the issue.
Now, the airline is introducing the first seat specially designed for larger passengers. Says the airline's CEO Chris Langton, "The new seat is like a two-person couch, created from two adjacent seats without an armrest." By removing the row directly in front, the new design results in a whopping 14 extra inches of legroom. They have also replaced steps to get on the plane with a boarding ramp.
These moves haven't come without their own scrutiny. Some claim the upgrades promote the same type of widespread unhealthy eating that made the changes necessary in the first place: as of 2007, 80% of Samoans are overweight. The tiny airline comprises of three planes, each of ten seats or less, so customers are already bound to be squished. Supporters cite this to claim that the upgrades make everyone's flying experience more comfortable, while the pay-as-you-weigh scheme entices overweight customers to be healthier in order to minimize cost. The company even struck a deal with a local gym, in which members who lose weight receive Samoa Air vouchers giving them three kilos for the price of one.
And despite the criticism, it does seem to be working. Bookings have doubled among tourists and locals travelling to and from American Samoa and between Samoa's two main islands, Upolu and Savai'i, and the company's website is seeing unprecedented traffic. Heavier customers are now getting what they pay for to some extent, so the higher price tag is actually driving demand. In fact, Samoa Air now has its sights on a future as an international carrier, with flights to other Pacific islands as well as New Zealand and Australia. As for the pay-by-weight system, current plans are to limit it to Samoan flights only. The new seat design becomes operational in one plane on June 26, as a precursor to its implementation in the airline's 100-seater planes, which will become operational in three to six months.
We Americans certainly love all things jumbo-sized, from Slurpees to seats. So who knows?Do you think we will see similar plans stateside?
Photo credits: Courtesy of Samoa Air