Samoa Air the first airline to charge passengers by weight is to introduce what it terms “executive row”, with extra space and no armrests, to seat its largest passengers.
The airline, with a motto of “a kilo is a kilo is a kilo” hit the news last year when it announced its pay-by-weight policy.
Chief executive Chris Langton told ABC News in Australia that the airline was “in the process of changing the space between the seats. What we’ve done is create what we call the executive row, where they’ve got an extra 14 inches (35cm) between the seats. There’s also a ramp so people have easier access. They’ve got added space as there’s no [arm] rest between the seats. It’s basically like a two- or three-person sofa.”
Passenger fares range from $1a kg for the weight of traveller and baggage on Air Samoa’s shortest route, to about $4 a kg on the longest to American Samoa.
The growing size of passengers is causing headaches for airlines.
In 2000, the American Journal of Preventative Medicine estimated that the increasing weight of passengers was costing US airlines $275 million for the additional 300 million gallons of fuel required to lift the extra pounds.
With fuel costing four times as much today that figure could be over $1 billion.
But it’s not just a US or Samoan problem the World Heath Organization says that today more people – 2 billion – are overfed than malnourished.
In 2005 the US regulator the Federal Aviation Authority average male passenger weight figures for payload calculations were adjusted upwards from 185lbs to 200lbs. Female weights also climbed from 145 to 179lbs.
And the problem is ending up in the courts. In 2002, Virgin Atlantic Airways paid out $20,000 to a female passenger after she alleged that she suffered serious medical complications including a blood clot after sitting next to an overweight passenger.
And downunder the bronze Aussie is turning into a myth with over 50 per cent of women and 70 per cent of men overweight or obese. Those numbers have doubled in the past 20 years.
Compounding the problem the population is getting taller. According to R. W. Howard’s “Interrelating Broad Population Trends,” the world’s population grew 7 cm. from 1945 to 2000.
Airlineratings.com understands that the only airline, apart from Samoa Air, with a clear policy on “passengers of size” is Southwest Airlines in the US. Its policy, which has been tested in court, states that if a passenger does not fit into a 17 inch wide seat two seats must be purchased. However if the plane is not full the passenger gets a refund.
In 2002 that policy drew some unfortunate publicity on US late night television with comedians suggesting that at least the passenger would get two meals.