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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Samoan Airlines to charge passengers by weight and not by seat

"People generally are bigger, wider and taller than they were 50 years ago."

The recent start of the new school year was greeted with reports of a dramatic rise in demand for extra-large uniforms for primary school pupils. Going by newspaper reports, in England, the % of obese or overweight people is on the increase and includes 61.3% of adults and 30% of children aged between 2 and 15. People who are overweight have a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. It came as no surprise to Carol. Her two nieces were wearing size 14 skirts by the age of 11, the average size worn by a grown woman in the UK.  Obesity is a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it may have an adverse effect on health.

Heard of this Country which was earlier under occupation by New Zealand and attained freedom in 1962 ~ the country dropped "Western" from its name in 1997.  It is stated to be a postcard of natural beauty consisting of ten islands, each offering very distinct and different environments to explore. It is touted to be a tourists’ paradise with rainforest covered rugged volcanic mountain peaks to  coastline ringed with a necklace of white sandy beaches; having lush green fertile valleys, full of tropical blooms and numerous varieties of vegetation.

It is ‘Samoa’ ~ officially the Independent State of Samoa, a country encompassing the western part of the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. The two main islands of Samoa are Upolu and one of the biggest islands in Polynesia, Savai'i.  Samoa is in news as ‘Samoan Airlines’ earned the dubious distinction of becoming the  world's first airline to charge passengers by their weight - rather than under a normal fare structure ~ the Airlines claims that  the policy is helping to raise obesity awareness and improve public health.  It is not without criticism as the Samoan airline's policy is being attacked by  obesity expert and community leaders as insensitive and lame. Samoa Air is a national airline which flies between the country's two main islands, Upolu and Savaii, and has started flights to American Samoa and Tonga.

Passengers pay a price per kilogram they weigh, and the price varies according to the length of the route. The rates range from 1 tala (NZ52c) a kilogram - for the weight of the traveller and their baggage - on the airline's shortest domestic route to 3.8 tala ($1.98) a kilogram for travel from Samoa to neighbouring American Samoa. The airline, established last year, says the fare system is helping people understand the issue of obesity. Its Chief executive Chris Langton is quoted as stating that it was fairer than standard fares, and that some families with small children were now paying substantially cheaper fares. "This is the fairest way of travelling," he told ABC Radio. "There are no extra fees in terms of excess baggage or anything - it is just a kilo is a kilo.

New Zealand-based Fight the Obesity Epidemic spokeswoman Dr Robyn Toomath said the policy was disgusting. To him it is a stigmatisation of people and really just powerfully discriminating. He opines that this shows a dreadful lack of understanding for there are many things that cause obesity ... and that not all persons have control over that.  

Some reports put it that Pacific Island nations have some of the world's highest rates of obesity. Mr Langton believed charging by weight was the concept of the future. "As any airline operator knows, airlines don't run on seats, they run on weight."  It is not totally new as reportedly Air France and Dutch airline KLM caused protests when they said in 2010 that anyone with a waistline of more than 135cm would have to book a second seat on their aircraft.

In India, till a couple of decades ago, Air Travel was considered a great luxury and people would look with awe at an aircraft…. No longer… the fares were drastically cut in a price war and budget airlines flexed their muscles, making more people travel by air. All along, the fares have been based on the seat ~ though the passenger sitting next to you might have bought the ticket at a varied rate – depending on many aspects including Corporate booking, the time of booking, frequent travel  and more….. there are some luxury airliners which offer plush  extra-wide seats – of course ‘luxury always comes at a cost’….

Just as we had 3 tier AC, there have been talks of having additional two 20-inch seats installed on each side of the aisle, sacrificing the space for three regular 18-inch seats on board the A320 to allow extra large passengers purchase extra large seats at an added cost; but this move of Air Samoa would mean that some people would end up paying less to fly.  Mr Langton  said - "People generally are bigger, wider and taller than they were 50 years ago."

Years ago, in its outlet at Peters Road, Hotel Saravana Bhavan introduced the concept where customers would weight their plate each time and pay according to the weighment…. ‘pay what you take to eat’ – that novel concept did not pass the test of time though.  Perhaps the worth, value, price and weight need not go together all the time

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.  
3rd April 2013.

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