Samoa Air’s ‘Pay What You Weigh’ the First of Many?


Going on a diet before a beach vacation isn’t the craziest thing; after all, you want to look good in your bathing suit. For passengers in the islands of American Samoa, however, there’s another reason to consider slimming down pre-flight: travel is now priced based on weight. The local carrier, Samoa Air, introduced a policy recently where passengers pay based on what they (and their bags) weigh rather than per passenger or per bag.

"We at Samoa Air are keeping airfares fair, by charging our passengers only for what they weigh. You are the master of your Air ‘fair’, you decide how much (or little) your ticket will cost. No more exorbitant excess baggage fees or being charged for baggage you may not carry. Your weight plus your baggage items, is what you pay for. Simple."

Flights in American Samoa are operated by Britten Norman BN2 and Cessna 172 airplanes; these are small aircraft carrying around a dozen passengers at most. They are also very limited in the total amount of weight they can carry relative to larger jets. This creates a scenario where the airlines are challenged to get both customers and their bags on board. Samoa Air is changing the game, making every pound carry a fixed price (variable based on distance of the route), and ensuring that they can account for everything which goes on to the plane.

Plenty will argue that charging by weight is unfair, but it is also the closest thing the airlines have to charging relative to their actual costs of running flights. Charging by distance flown makes sense, too, but that doesn’t explain why airlines often charge far more for short flights than longer ones, so that’s not fair, either, right? Of course, in American Samoa, there aren’t other choices for passengers so they’re stuck paying these new rates.

As for the rest of the industry, no one else appears to be following the trend just yet. Yes, there are other airlines operating similar size planes which weigh passengers and bags to ensure that the planes are properly loaded, but none are charging based on the absolute weights. Yet.

Will the rest of the industry move this direction? Probably not, at least not any time soon. It’s interesting to note that this move on the part of Samoa Air comes just days after this concept became part of the national conversation, as sparked by Norwegian economist Bharat Bhatta. He proposed a pay-what-you-weigh model that "would charge passengers according to how much they and their baggage weighed," as well as a second model that "would use a fixed base rate, with an extra charge for heavier passengers to cover the extra costs. Under this option, every passenger would have a different fare."

There is something to be said for building a pricing structure based on the costs to deliver the service. That seems unlikely to happen in the airline world in the near future. What do you think?

Photo credit: Fastening seatbelt in airplane via Shutterstock