The travel adviser: A weighty issue

Are the scales balanced on the matter of passenger vs luggage weight?

Checking in at the airport in Athens (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Checking in at the airport in Athens
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
It’s the middle of summer, the days are long, the breezes rare and if you’re not on vacation then I urge you to plan one.
I’m often asked to weigh in on the issues of the day regarding travel and I take this hefty responsibility quite seriously. Throwing my weight around is one that takes considerable thought.
It was back in 1729 that Dr. Jonathan Swift presented his Modest Proposal, an economic treatise designed to alleviate poverty among the lower classes. With deep appreciation of Swift’s mind and his method, let me introduce you to the sizable issue at hand. It was a Sunday morning when Harriet sauntered into my office looking splendiferous in her outfit yet her facial expression showed deep consternation.
Ushering her into my office she conveyed a deep dissatisfaction with El AL, and in fact every airline she had flown of late.
Almost every time she had flown in the last few years, primarily to North America, she was forced to pay a not inconsiderable amount for overweight.
Perish the thought, dear reader, if you think that Harriet was on the hefty side. I can assure you that soaking wet she barely weighed 60 kg. Her overweight fees were connected solely to the weight of her checked bag. Not a frequent enough flier to be eligible for two or three free checked bags, nor financially able to afford business class and unwilling to fly the few airlines that still permit a second checked bag, she chose to fly non-stop to each destination.
Subsequently she was forced to content herself with the 23 kg. that most airlines permit for the paltry one checked bag.
It’s one of the last untapped energy sources, and one in which the United States leads the world. It’s not just renewable, but almost impossible to get rid of.
We’re talking about fat. At about 7,000 calories to the kilogram, a 130-kg. American contains the energy equivalent in fat of roughly 50 liters of gasoline. How long will we let this resource go untapped? OK, so Harriet was not proposing drilling fat people for fuel. But when most of us are looking over our shoulders at our carbon footprints, the obese seem a, well, fat target.
Most people persist in the belief that it’s fat people who consume more than their share of resources, rather than, say, politicians flying private jets to Washington.
And since existing social disincentives to obesity haven’t worked, people keep suggesting ways to enhance them, including weight surcharges for airplane tickets.
It is indisputable that heavy people are more expensive to fly. Recently writing in the Journal of Revenue and Pricing Management publication, Dr. Bharat P Bhatta said weight and space should be taken into account when airlines price their tickets.
Airlines should charge a “fat tax” on obese travelers because their extra weight burns more fuel, says Bhatta. He says overweight passengers generate higher costs for airlines and suggests they pay more when they fly, while slim people pay less. A paywhat- you-weigh airline pricing scheme should be introduced because heavier people cost more in fuel to fly, the professor has claimed. Heavier passengers would pay more for their plane tickets and lighter ones less under plans that he put forward.
NAAFA begs to differ, dashing cold water on this issue and determined to let those cookies crumble.
Founded in 1969, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance is a nonprofit, all volunteer, civil rights organization dedicated to protecting the rights and improving the quality of life for fat people.
Peggy Howell, of the organization’s public relations director, disagrees with the professor.
“I don’t believe people are willing to stand on a scale in public,” she says.
She happens to weigh 136 kg., but points out that even thin people would probably object.
No spring chicken Harriet, she reacted coolly to my objections to a fat tax being implemented and suggested instead there had to be another way to reward those weight conscious flyers. Her proposition is to reward those who weigh less by increasing their weight allowance. Say for example that the airlines set a maximum weight of 100 kg., which includes the person and his checked luggage only. Scales would be available to those who choose to participate; those too embarrassed would continue to be charged accordingly.
If a woman fully clothed, weighs in at 60 kg. and her allowed checked bag is 23 kg.
her combined weight is a svelte 83 kg. So in essence she can take an extra 17 kg. in that same checked bag for no extra fee.
And few bags will ever weigh 40 kg. This doesn’t penalize heavier people, but simply rewards people who maintain a healthy body weight.
The airline industry counts on small people and kids to equalize the maximum weight a plane is permitted. When planes combine cargo with passengers, people are bumped once the plane is at a certain capacity. So if someone’s waif like little girl sits next to her obese mother it evens out. Practically speaking, vertically challenged fliers and young people are using far less jet fuel than those sumo wrestlers and portly passengers. Why should those little people pay for the bigger people to fly? Why doesn’t the corpulent consumer pay their own way based on their body weight? Even Falstaffian flyers should see the logic in this.
Harriet points out that in the clothing industry, the same garment comes in a multitude of sizes and each is priced accordingly. She asserts that this is because it takes more fabric to clothe that larger consumer. The analogy to flying is that it costs more to fly an overweight person, kilo per kilo than a small person. More and more airports are getting rid of the human service provider. At LAX one is met at passport control by a huge machine, conversant in 12 languages that has you scan your passport and with its metallic neck snaps a photo of you that is quickly printed.
London’s Heathrow Airports Terminal 5 advertises that the check in procedure is done with barely any human interaction.
The passenger hefts his bag on the scale, enters his destination and a luggage tag is printed that he or she must attach to the bag and deliver it to the conveyor belt.
Now let’s envision Ben-Gurion Airport where those sparkling new shiny silver self automated check in machines have a scale next to them. Forgoing that extra piece of toast and wondering why you need to schlep so many clothes for such a short trip, you cautiously look around to make sure nobody you know sees you as you step on the scale. Your weigh in takes a mere second and your next move is to place your packed bag on the scales.
Two things will then occur – either a large happy face will appear indicating you’re combined weight meets the airlines criteria and your luggage tag is printed.
You drop the bag off, head over to the duty free where you wolf down a croissant and gulp two cups of heavily sugared coffee.
Or a red light comes on the scale with a shrieking sound bellowing how much you need to pay in excess weight fees. Rapidly swiping your credit card, you promise yourself that tomorrow you’ll start that diet and definitely will return to exercising. You also drop the bag off and head over to the duty free there to drown your embarrassment with a warm cinnamon bun.
Could this work? Do elephants fly? I leave this paunchy proposal precisely placed in the trusting arms of my readers.
Your feedback is welcome.
The author is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem.
For questions and comments: mark.feldman@