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Gone are the days of affordable full-service airfares. The trend towards offering a la carte services — with customers incrementally paying for everything from checked baggage to seat assignment and refreshments — has benefited the bottom line of many airlines. In some cases, this itemized approach has even offered passengers a wider array of relatively inexpensive flights, particularly on budget airlines like Spirit Airlines and JetBlue. Yet, a number of industry experts believe that one airline has taken this strategy a step too far.
Samoa Air recently implemented a "pay-by-weight" fare structure that charges a fee based on the total kilograms of a passenger and his or her baggage, depending on the route. Airfare Watchdog's President George Hobica tells dealnews that he does in fact see the logic behind the carrier's move, but is certain that "this policy would be a logistical nightmare for a large U.S. or international airline."
"They'd have to install scales at check-in to weigh passengers and it would delay boarding and ticket sales enormously," Hobica explains. "Not to mention how annoyed passengers would be." Hobica goes on to say that he expects U.S. airlines to move towards "charging passengers for their bags by the pound before we see them charging by the pound for passengers."
While U.S. airlines have indeed not ventured into pay-by-weight territory, they have had to implement new policies amid rising fuel costs. Nowadays, most stateside airlines operate with "Passenger of Size" rules that address folks who don't fit comfortably in average 17" to 18" standard economy seats. Some airlines require that larger flyers buy a second seat or pay an up-charge or fee for a larger seat. (Delta calls these roomier rows Economy Comfort seats.) Other carriers offer heavier passengers complimentary upgrades to first class where available.
However, a few airlines have policies in place that, under certain circumstances, permit airline agents to change a passenger's seat or flight in the event of the plane being overweight. And in extreme cases, heavy passengers may even be denied boarding at the gate. Hobica says of the last option: "The airlines will do everything they can to accommodate your size needs safely and sometimes that means taking another flight, but that's the last resort, usually."
Surely safety comes first when flying, but comfort may be taking a backseat altogether. Recently, European airplane maker Airbus announced that it had plans to install 20"-wide aisle seats on its A320 jets in order to accommodate the growing number of larger passengers aboard its planes. But these roomier 20" seats come at a price to all passengers. Not only will these larger accommodations cost more than middle or window seats, but they also demand an inch off each of the other seats' dimensions in order to maintain the existing aisle space.
While "standard" seats aboard Airbus jets will still measure 17" wide after the reduction, surely passengers who opt for the (already unwanted) middle seat or the window won't be charged less. The only instance wherein smaller is better might be in the adoption of a policy similar to the Samoa Air pay-by-weight model; kids and lighter, smaller adults will benefit from Samoa Air's new fare policy.
Unfortunately, no matter how you package it, airfare costs are on the rise, both for passengers and for carriers. But is paying by the pound — for luggage and persons — a fair way to determine fares? Or are a la carte airline services just getting out of hand? Will any of these new options or policies affect your choice of airline? Sound off in the comments below.