Should Thinner People Fly Cheaper?

A story on Yahoo news mentions that the Philadelphia newspapers are running advertisements for a fake airline, Derrie-Air (get it?). The airline advertises that it is carbon-neutral, and that it charges per passenger pound — $1.40 from Philadelphia to Chicago, $2.25 from Philadelphia to Los Angeles.

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While quite mythical, this pricing structure is not unreasonable: the heavier people cost more to ship; and at a time when fuel prices are so high, this seems especially important and a good way of letting price reflect marginal cost.

Also, heavier people spill over onto their neighbors’ seats, generating negative externalities for the other passengers. So I hope a few real-world airlines take notes and think about charging heavier passengers extra.


I am certainly for this new proposal. I believe that obesity is not genetic and that personal weight can be controlled. It all comes down to how lazy people are now-days. If you wouldn't want to pay more then do something about it. Isn't it quite comical how "genetic" obesity only seems to show up in the western civilizations? Take a look in other civilizations and other countries like Africa for example. Take a look at the number of obesity in African compared to the number of obese Americans and it brings you right back to lifestyles. That terminates the idea of obesity being genetic. In order for this to work, airline companies should charge heavier people more just because of the simple fact that it cost more to ship their fat asses across the country.

the inscrutable chicken

If the fuel used by the plane is positively correlated to its overall weight then why not do the obvious and replace those heavy, fixed-sized "safety" seats with lightweight (and stretchy) hammocks.

Let's face it - nobody is going to survive a 20,000 foot fall in a giant cigar tube by assuming the crash position.

Bryan Hong

I have noticed lately that airlines are decreasing luggage weight limits and charging more to those who exceed those limits. I find it puzzling that a 300 pound person with 30 pounds of luggage will not get charged extra while a 100 pound person with 60 pounds of luggage will be charged extra even though the 300lb person is bringing more than twice as much weight on board in total.

I don't see how a system of ticket pricing based on total weight including luggage could be viewed as discriminatory as the planes themselves do not really care how many souls are on board, but rather, how much weight they are carrying with them.


There could be a set "opt-out of of being weighed" price, and then a reduced price for people willing to be weighed (and weighing less than average).


"I think an approach similar to the one taken with smokers should be followed. Just as it is illegal to smoke aboard an airplane, it should be illegal to be overweight aboard an airplane. If one wants to be overweight in one's own home, so be it, but regular people should not have to be exposed to it."

Some people have medical problems. Do you think that we should charge disabled people more because they take longer to get on the plane. No, they can't help it. Therefore they should pay the cost of the negative externality.

I also think that it might not be a negative externality. As the large people might derive some pleasure from being large. In which case the social benefit could be even be postive depending on how effected the guy sitting next to the large person is.

I can also see many airlines getting on board with something like "We won't charge you for being diffrent" and then getting a large group of people converting to that airline simply on principle.


Ian I fly somewhere hot or that somehow requires me to exhert a lot of energy... like, a natural hike vacation...and, if i were to LOSE a lot of weight during the trip... when i get back on the plane for my flight home, do I get some kind of cash refund or other considerations?

Likewise, for people who fly somewhere, eat a ton, gain weight and hop back on their return flight, do they pay some corrective fee adjustment at the gate?



Anyone who proposes weighing customers (with or without their luggage) has a serious problem. The economic justification for this proposal is dubious at best. As others have mentioned, it's impossible to implement without further delaying, frustrating, and humiliating people at airports.

Instead of trying to devise ways to further antagonize their customers, maybe the airlines should invest money and effort into giving better service. How about putting more than a single armrest between seats, so I don't leave long flights with shoulder pain because the passenger next to me has muscled my arm out of the way? How about regulating the gigantic bags people try to get away with hauling on board in the guise of "carry on" bags?

Customers of any other service-based business would've demanded changes for service this poor. Why don't airline customers?

Warren R

Easy solution, charge everyone a higher fare, but let people have the option of weighing in (with their luggage) to receive a rebate.


I'd be in favor of the following formula: Seat price (flat cost for everyone) plus X dollars per pound including luggage checked plus X dollars per pound carried-on. Simple and fair. Yes it does cost airlines per pound to fly. You'll be aware of this rule when taking smaller routes where you get bumped for too many people and luggage.


> I've never heard of someone becoming fat by sitting next to an overweight person.

Well, actually if you know him well, yes. It's a surprising result that obesity statistically looks like an epidemic, but bad eating habits are contagious.

> Should students who get lower grades have to pay a surcharge because obviously they would have taken up a disproportionate share of the teacher's attention and focus?

You should consider externalities for the entire society to have poorly gifted students maing an effort, etc. All in all this is included in experimental attendance program (giving money to the student or his parents if he attends) that appear to be at least incentive.

As a person with legs one inch longer then what seat makers have in mind, I would advocate for adding space between the seats for a fee. (It actually exists, it's called decent airlines.) I have to agree that the added fat if not such a cost to the airline to justify a full paying system -- but the extra space. . . That would cost more. And it doesn't sound like it is offered.

I'm assuming (if this is not a joke) that, in addition to the buzz, the airline is not only trying to have fit hostess, but also fit passengers, probably improving its image. People pay to fly with big boobs (it's called Hooters) why not pay to avoid all the fatties? TV has been showing a America far slimer than it really is: why not maintain the illusion, or the ostracism, or avoid the contamination. . .

Regarding children: noone under 12 shoud be allowed to flight without a strong sedative. I used to favor corporal punishment, but I was told international law still applies in the US, so let's go chemical.

Seriously, I don't think this is the real problem. What are insurance allowed to do -- and how do they organize their incentive programs is much moe important. I'm positive that a "if you loose 50 pounds, you save 500$ on your policy" program would be very efficient, and far more relevant then arlines. What portion of US incomes goes to air travel anyway?


Peter O'Reilly

This happens presently. I pay less for my toddler's ticket and even less for my baby's ticket. Severely obese people are commonly required to purchase a ticket for their adjacent seat.


Some other ideas...

First, just as they trade carbon credits, perhaps we can trade "weight credits." That is, while I may pay more to FLY, I should get some sort of counter-balancing credit for easing up on all the pressure I am putting on the ground when I walk or ride.

Second, if it's all by weight, I can send my baby boy FIRST CLASS from now on! My wife will have to go Coach, of course. Me? I'll be back with the cattle.

Hey, maybe we ought to have a "Cattle Class" on airplanes! Why should I spend hundreds of dollars (even if by the pound) to be crammed into a too-small seat, and then have a headache the whole trip because I know I'm making the strangers on either side of me very uncomfortable due to my padding taking up a quarter of their space! Hey, I rather be loaded in the back into little stalls with beanbag chairs--IF IT MEANS RELAXING!

Further, even though I stand up for us big folks, I have to admit that it's not fair to our average size brothers and sisters for them to pay for a flight, having the reasonable expectation of comfort, and then two women have to endure my arms and love handles making them uncomfortable throughout the flight (or, in my fantasies, very hot and bothered for me).

Thankfully, most of these folks are very polite. They could sigh and curse and make me feel like a worm (for which I would be imprisioned for sending them skydiving, and then punching the CEO of the airplane company right in the nose for putting me in that predicament), but usually they just smile and handle it as best they can.

That being said, I want to say THANK YOU to all the "good guys," male or female, who are so kind in such situations. Believe me, being big is not a CHOICE someone makes. Yes, there's an element of responsibility, but the responsibility is too great for a person to handle, for the most part.

So, thanks for being kind when some big guy waddles to your row and says, "Hello, looks like we'll be flying together all the way to Rome!"



I have long thought this would be a great idea (as long as luggage is included). I think of the current system much as if gas stations charged per mile driven instead of per gallon. If every time you got gas they looked and saw that you'd driven X miles and charged (multiplier times x) for your gas, you bet that people driving a prius would be furious at the people driving hummers. As many have pointed out, there is no great way to build infrastructure around charging airline customers per pound, but it does seem like it is possible to charge a marginal cost per 50 or 100 lbs--the combined weight of the passenger and their luggage. And if it caused people to pack lighter, that's only a good thing. Just put a pad by the check-in desk/kiosk, the passenger has to stand there while they are checking in anyway, and the marginal cost would be factored in to their ticket.


Awesome suggestions and thoughts.
Interestingly, i've seen this same argument on a forum for mountain bikers with much more enthusiasm to have this enforced. Granted they probably have very little knowledge of economics, but i'm also willing to bet that they weigh significantly less than the average Freakonomics reader.


Hey Corn, next time I'm sitting between two overweight people who are spilling into my seat from both sides, I'll gladly switch seats with you.

M Todd

One factor that is not included is the airlines charge the same cost for a child who takes up a seat as an adult. Fact is the weight difference does not come close to the loss of revenue from unsold seats.


I always assumed, before this extra-fee-for-everything absurdity, that overweight baggage was charged extra because of labor for baggage handlers, not for fuel. (Perhaps bags over 50# result in more hernias.) Was I wrong?

bulgarian solicitors

If airlines want to start offering that deal they should by all means be allowed to do so.


I think the principal is basically sound -- the heavier the craft, the more fuel it must use to obtain and maintain velocity; it seems reasonable to pass that cost on.

There would, of course, have to be a base cost, since just taking up a seat has a minimum fixed cost to the airline.

However, a point I didn't see anyone make is the potential ramifications of charging extra for someone who is heavy as the result of a disability -- e.g. a thyroid condition. It might be a lot more rare than claimed, but it is a real disability, and I think there might be liability issues with charging someone extra as the result of a disability.

At the very least, it could be a PR disaster.


Bad idea, but its an interesting thought. How would the people be weighed efficiently? There is already too much going on at the airport, why add 1 more step. And in order for this to happen, how would you buy tickets online? The price of the ticket is determined long before the passenger arrives at the airport. And then what happens if you gain/lose weight between the time you bought your ticket and the date of the flight. Think people, think.

Also, assuming that somehow all of these problems are taken care of, the airline would end up with only light weight passengers. Why would an overweight person fly this airline, they would be paying more than average fares. Which bring up my final argument, how much gas does 100 lbs of weight cost to fly? $5-$10? Not significant, but its an interesting post.