Should Fat Airline Passengers Pay A Surcharge?

We've all thought 'I hope you don't end up sitting next to me' when we've seen an obese person waddling down the aisle on a plane; we've all heard tales of fat flyers being forced to buy a second seat and not even getting the benefit of a second meal. But should fat people pay a surcharge to cover their excess fuel costs? One former Qantas economist says yes.

Picture by Tony Alter

Given that airlines already charge large amounts for excess baggage, the idea of charging people more based on their size isn't entirely inconsistent. Former Qantas economist Tony Webber says the idea is simple enough to implement:

You'd have to work out the total weight of the baggage and the person and then have a critical weight, say 90 kilos or 100 kilos, above which you'd impose a surcharge.

Apart from the potential brand damage, one obvious issue with this approach is forcing the passengers to get weighed, which is tricky given that you can easily check into most flights without ever actually seeing a person. Do you think the idea has merit? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Fat flyers should pay more: former Qantas economist [ABC News]


    I have had many uncomfortable flights because a larger person is sitting next me. Yes we've both the same amount for the flight but they will get more room because of there sheer size. However, airlines should relaise that those lady seats that they have in economy can barely fit and avaerage sized man!

      Yeah, the fat person sitting next to you is lounging around enjoying all the extra space. No, they're stuck in a seat too small for them, putting up with judgemental comments - and now the debate comes round to paying by weight, well if that's the case then I'll have a larger seat to go with my more expensive ticket please! Perhaps one that can actually fit my legs in properly. I'm personally fed up of Mr and Mrs Short and Skinny paying the same price for a ticket and getting loads of space to shift around in.

        I'm all up for the pay more get a bigger seat thing... What makes you think I want to sit next to an overweight guy with all his fat spilling over the arm rest. Not to mention I lost my armrest... make the fat people pay more.. and move them to a bigger seat.. whatever i don't care just don't make me sit next to them.

        Hi Chris, I wasn't saying that the larger person was enjoying all the room, my main point was that airline seats are too small to begin with. The averages they use to make these seats are geared towards making the maximum amount of money not average person size.

          Fly Business class.

        Ain't Mr & Mrs Short & Skinnys' fault that you ain't got space. Ain't the airlines fault that you ain't got space. Wonder whose fault it is?

    I'm pretty sure this wouldn't pass the anti-discrimination test.
    Obesity can have many causes outside of the control of the person and I would think it very difficult for an airline to start having to work out who was fat because they overate and who was fat because they had an underlying medical condition which qualified as a disability.
    Or will they go the whole hog and start charging paraplegics extra for their wheelchairs and blind people for their guidedogs?

      Dave, guidedogs are cute - fat people are not, I know what I rather sit next to on a plane

      I like Dave don't see it happening due to concerns over discrimination.

      The way I see anything like this happening is to have larger seats offered for those whose obesity is a disability. Those who are overweight but not considered medically disabled would likely be offered a larger seat (if available), but I think any airline is going to have a difficult time dictating that certain passengers must pay more for larger seats.

      The only other way I can see the topic progressing, is charging tickets based off "walk on weight" like added below - but in the event of that happening, it won't do anything to increase passenger comfort - all it means is that some unfortunately passengers will still be forced to squeeze in, while airlines walk away with more money in their pocket.

    I don't think there's a problem with taking a person's walk-on weight into account, just as they do now with baggage. However, it should not be based on how fat a person is: it should merely be their "walk-on weight" - i.e. their total weight including carry-on baggage etc.

    If you're below a certain threshold upon boarding, you get a discount; in the midrange your fare doesn't change; above a threshold you do pay extra. Very simple. It does make it cheaper to fly if you're petite and travel light, but it's not as though big and tall people don't get inherent advantages just by being tall.

      I agree! Walk-on-weight is a great idea. I'm a small guy, and far too often to I have to suffer because a 'large' person decides to liberate half of my seat... even at places like concerts, the cinema, or on the train. I have to deal with it if a tall person stands in front of me and I can't see the concert that I paid $100 to go to, but I sure as hell am not giving up half of my seat to someone who weighs as much as a small car

      The idea of a carry on weight would not work. Muscle is much denser and compact then fat. It has a higher mass. The problem with fat is that it adds girth and spill over. Measuring the weight of someone, when you factor in muscle and height, is not a reliable indicator of whether they are fat/obese.

        I'd feel sorry for some rugby players being hit with extra charges due to the idiocy of some people. End of the matter is that it's discriminatory. Next you'll be wanting to charge people who have terrible BO for anotehr seat because no one wants to sit next to them


        What do you mean it wouldn't work? The issue in question was that a greater mass means more fuel needs to be used. Or are you one of those people that think a kilogram of feathers is lighter than a kilogram of lead?

      I agree with your point about walk-on weight. Weighing customers with their bags cuts down on embarrassment and makes it a little fairer, I think. Perhaps larger passengers wouldn't get as much luggage allowance?

      I'm overweight, but not ridiculously so and I have lost a lot. I think that at a certain point morbidly obese customers should have to pay extra. I've been on flights with normal-sized people that steal armrests too though.

      I also think that airline seats are ridiculously small and I would be happy paying a bit extra for a normal-sized (read: bigger than current size) carry-on only ticket.

    Yes, or give people a total ticket weight of 100kgs. Then I can fly with 40kg's of baggage and myself. Someone that is 80kgs can carry 20 kgs of baggage.

    I remember flying as an unattended minor years ago and having a large lass next to me spilling over into my seat, I got up and asked the flight attendant to move me, she said i was small and to just move to the other side of my seat. My seat was the same cost as hers, why right did she have to occupy it and why was I punished for being skinny?

      This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted

      Why 100kg? Going by that figure I'd be able to have 1 or 2kg of baggage. I'm 6'3" and slim build (BMI counts for little when you're a wirey bugger).

    I think taking total weight of customer+luggage makes sense.
    It costs the airlines more for fuel and such so adding a bit for every 10Kg from 100 sounds more than reasonable.

      by that logic we should get a refund for being skinnier than the average person...

    I OBJECT! You see, I exercise...a lot! So I tend to be in the region of 90kg to 95kg with little body fat. This doesn't make me obese, but it doesn't make me small either. Does that mean I'm also only allowed 5kg of luggage?

      obviously 100kg is just an arbitrary number- i realise there is plenty of people who are that heavy but make up for it by being unusually tall

      I'm in the same (ish) category, but the fact of the matter is that extra weight = extra fuel/cost, so it's probably going to be the only way this would work. As pointed out earlier, you're not going to be able to do it based on someone's BMI..

      how about not exercising so much, and wasting food keeping your muscle mass.

    Average 6'1 male.....100kg. I know half my friends who are not obese in anyway who are over this weight. Its discrimination and it will never pass. If you have a problem with the person sitting next to you, use your voice, ask them to pull there arms in. But a tax on anyone over 100kg thats outrageous.

      Noone is paying for a seat on a plane! They're paying to get from point A to point B.
      To do so involves burning fuel, and paying for the aircraft, staff, maintenance and general cost of business.
      Walk on weight is not discriminating, it's pure mathematics...
      every Kg on the plane is an extra 10Kg of fuel (or whatever the amount is) required to burn to lift that weight. If your ticket accounts for 100Kg (or whatever) and you happen to weigh more than that before luggage, you're costing the airline more to carry and therefore SHOULD be payng more.

      If anything, the current system of people paying the same price is discriminatory! Light travellers (luggage weight + body weight) are subsidising heavy travellers.

    It's a weird question for me. I'm 130kgs - I'm also quite tall, have lifted a lot of weights over the years and have a build that carries it pretty well. I'm beyond question fat - but it's not any more uncomfortable to sit next to me on a plane than any other standard sized adult man. So if the economics are about other passengers comfort - fuck that noise. I know some short 90kg people who spread out a LOT more than I do. You need a tape measure somewhere to get a fair system, not scales.

    If the economics are about fuel costs per passenger, per flight - I'd want to see the surcharges indexed to fuel prices and discounts for people who come in under weight. If I'm getting burned for being a big guy, I want a discount on my my girlfriend's tickets.

    That is stupid, they don't make any changes to the seats, nor do they make the seats bigger or have areas for larger people to sit in.
    So it changes nothing to the people, skinny people will still have to sit with fatter ones an vice verser.
    The only thing it does is give Qantas extra money, because they a money hungry people who don't care about their customers and just want to be able to frolic in a pool of money.

    Also for the fuel cost excuse it is just stupid, how much extra would it cost a 100kg person compared to a 110kg person in terms of fuel?? Probably only like $1 different since most of the weight is the plane itself!!! Which has to fly anyway!!

      If that's the case, then why do they charge so much for excess baggage (QUANTAS 10kg per extra kilo domestic)?

      Surely the excess baggage prices wouldn't be legal if this was the case.

    we should make black people sit at the back of the bus also

    ...and while we're at it, a levy on people who have heaps of cabin baggage!

    Oh! Also a levy on people who insist on using their 17" laptops and infringing my space!

    While we're at it, a tax on people who have strong body odour!

    How about a tax on parents with screaming kids?

    What about the drunk footballer?

    It's a shared space. Learning to get along in a shared space is a social skill. One we could all stand to develop and exercise.

    In the process, what responsibility do airlines take in this debate? Seats get smaller and closer together in spite of the fact that there's plenty of indications that we have a heavier population. Are they, therefore, ignoring reality in their pursuit of profits?

      I don't see a problem on any of these taxes. It would make flying a much better experience for me ^_^

      You're missing the point, it's fat people we're talking about here! ...and... They're, um fat! They should pay more for being fat!

      ...If the sacasm doesn't come through in the above, I don't know what will.

      David. . . none of those red herring comparisons you made have an effect on aircraft weight.


    Heavy passengers should be charged more, as they make the plane use more fuel, and take up more room. Just like heavy baggage costs more, the same should apply.

      Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. Why make them pay more, when there's no noticeable benefit for us, the passengers?

      When talking in-flight comfort, you pay higher rates for more room. Not higher rates just to get on the damned thing. It's already apparent that the airlines still turn a profit with the current system.

      In saying that, I'm not here nor there. As a tiny guy, (I weigh 55kg on a GOOD day) I'm still paying the same amount as people three times my weight. I don't like it, and sadly I don't know what can be done to alleviate this issue.
      Perhaps next time they'll allow me to spend the flight in the overhead cabins.

    I'm tempted to buy another seat when I fly anyway, just to get some space between me and the other passengers. Though usually I just go business/first.

    Look, if transporting a larger person costs more and is happening so frequently that the cost can't be absorbed, then sure, pass it on. But if we can reasonably absorb the cost (i.e. not operate the flight at a loss -- a reduction in profit is okay, because you're not losing something you didn't have to start with) then I say the airlines should just absorb the cost.

    (Full disclosure: I'm fat.)

      Just charge more or less depending on magnitude of deviation from a threshold (say 100kg) where 95-105 is standard fare and up or down from there. Makes costs far more reasonable. People should stop looking at it as buying a seat, but rather purchasing transport from A to B for the totality of the mass they intend to transport, with the price proportional to that mass.

      Much fairer system, whereas now light travellers subsidise fatties.

    It could always be based on bmi. The 6'6" fit person would pay the same as a 5'8" fit person and the 5'10 fat person would pay a premium. I'm all for it.

    This is BS. I will never fly an airline that starts pulling this type of money grabbing antics. If they want to charge over weight people extra then they better damn well give them better seats.

    It's nothing but humiliation and all about the bottom dollar!

    Fat people should get bigger seats but have to pay more.

    How is paying more going to help the person sitting next to them? They don't get a discount, they still have to suffer. all a surcharge would do is give the airline more money.

    It's simple if you take up more than one seat, you should have to pay for more than one seat.
    I'm a larger person too.

    Should be a charge by weight in total if they're going to go down this path...
    110Kg/person is included in the ticket price, then you start to pay...
    If you weigh 60Kg, pack yourself 40Kg of Luggage, if you weigh 100Kg, cut your luggage to 10Kg (and make sure you visit the toilet before checking in! :-)

    So it's okay for airlines to charge more for the seats over the emergency exits where the wings are because they have more leg space? I'm 6’5″ and I have to have my legs on an angle when sitting behind in a standard seat just so I can fit my knees in.

    All aircraft's have a restriction on the amount of weight that they can carry and they have space they have for cargo/passengers. They already charge people for extra space in the cabin, why aren't they charging for extra weight?

      you're not paying for extra space, you're paying for a better seat BY CHOICE... this proposal doesn't offer better seats or comfort for anyone, it merely forces some to pay more for zero benefit

    The fuel argument is justified.
    If you were going to go down this line then charge people per Kg for everyone. (Possibly with a per seat flagfall)

    Setting an arbitrary cut off is discriminatory without any real justification.

      charging per kg is disciminatory just by itself, though. I'm 95kg, but I'm also 201cm - I don't take up any seat room but I'd be paying as much as an overweight guy of average height.

      The only way around that would be a 'handicap' option, where if you have a reason for your weight outside your control you get, say, 20kg free. (unusually tall, unable to exercise due to a physical issue, etc). It'd get very complex, very fast.

      I'd say it's not workable, but they already use the exit row seats as a way to levy 'tall person tax'. They'd find a way.

        I didn't see it as a punishment for unhealthy weight. Just that heavier people might well use more fuel. So if you can help that or not is irrelevant - you pay what you weigh.

        Having said that I've since read there are far too many other factors to make something like this justified.

    A friend of my wife literally takes up 1.5 economy seats and simply has to pay for two tickets for his own comfort. He was not forced to, but chose to otherwise he doesn't fit in the seat with the arm rest down.

    From a fuel perspective ... no, I don't think people above a specific weight should pay more.

    From a girth perspective ... they should have to pay enough to ensure the seat next to them is empty.

    Sitting in the seat next to someone who spills into your lap is deeply unpleasant - possibly for both parties.

    I acknowledge that enforcing such a rule would be hard.

      I agree. For passenger comfort, girth should be taken into account.
      If I pay for a seat on a plane, I want the whole seat. The seat's are small enough as it is.

    Pro charging heavy people more. Also pro charging people who don't fit in the one seat a surcharge to fit them into a second seat. (They shouldn't have to pay for the second seat if they have a medical cause of their obesity, ie: their action or inaction is not the cause of nor would have an effect on their obesity. The reason "I eat too much McDonalds" obviously isn't good enough.) Otherwise they can just pay for their own weight, which makes sense for the fuel reasons. (One hilarious comment on Herald Sun website claimed that since people are super light compared to the aircraft itself, this shouldn't be a consideration.)

    I'm also in favour of reserving exit-row seats for those taller than 180cm, and bumping our taller brethren and sistren up to Premium Economy or Business gratis when seats are available.

    Disclosure: I'm a 175cm, 80kg female who lugs around a 20kg suitcase and tucks her goddamn elbows in on economy flights.

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