Sunday, October 23, 2016

This heavy post won't fly!

Every day, I seem to have some interesting memory-recall instances.  Why should today be any exception, right?

Even as I glanced at the headline, I thought to myself, "I have discussed this somewhere."  The headline was this: An American airline wins the right to weigh passengers on its Samoan route.

I spent a couple of minutes thinking about where it was ... and then it came to me.  It was the blog that this lazy business-focused guy has stopped working on.  I tracked down his post and my own comment as well.

The other day, I told students in one class that understanding the world, which is what learning is about, is to a large extent nothing but conversations--with those around us, with authors of texts that we read, with speakers we watch, and--heck--even with Socrates.  So, along those lines, I suppose this post is a continuation of the conversation from three years ago ;)

First a recap of the issues for those who are jumping into the conversation without any idea of what happened: "Samoa Air in 2013 became the first airline to charge passengers by weight."  That was what the retired businessman had blogged about in joy.  Since then, Hawaiian Airlines came to the same idea of weighing the Samoan passengers:
The problem for Hawaiian Airlines began when the carrier discovered it was burning through more fuel than anticipated on its route between Honolulu and the small Pacific island territory of American Samoa, according to reporting by the Associated Press. The airline ruled out explanations like strong winds and decided to conduct a voluntary survey among its passengers on the route. The results were clear: passengers and their carry-on luggage were, on average, 30 pounds (14 kilograms) heavier than expected.
So Hawaiian Airlines instituted a new policy. People flying between Honolulu and American Samoa would no longer be able to select their seats before arriving at the airport. Instead, they would be assigned seats when they checked in so that the carrier could distribute their weight evenly around the plane.
Now, if Samoans weighed only as much as the sports-maniac did, then nothing to worry about.  But, Samoans "have among the highest rates of obesity in the world."

Three years ago, my comment was this:
Hmmm ... you should be happy that you are not in the US--by now, a lawyer would have sued for a pound of flesh from you. Oh wait, you don't have a pound on you!!!
Well ... in a way, yes, this Hawaiian Airlines decision did not go unnoticed.  The people complained that:
Hawaiian’s decision is discriminatory because it applies only to that one route, most of whose passengers are Samoan or of Samoan descent.
How do you think that the U.S. Department of Transportation ruled on this?  I will leave it to you infer that from the headline of the article ;)

One of the comments in response to the article is interesting:
As a small person who has been subsidizing large people on airline flights forever, all I can say is get over it. You've had it lucky for years. A truly just and equitable system would be to charge everyone by total weight (body plus luggage). We seem to accept that principle for freight. Well, that's what we all are, human freight.
We are human freight?  It is one heck of a strange world in which we live.  Am reminded of the Brazil minister's response to the notorious memo authored by Larry Summers back when he was the World Bank's chief economist: " reasoning is perfectly logical but totally insane."  Hey, that's another memory recall; how about that! ;)


Ramesh said...

Yayayay. My pet peeve has come back.

I remember my first ever domestic flight in the US some 25 years ago. I was on a two seater. A generously endowed man had already occupied one of the seats and ,in reality he was spread over both the seats. I had nowhere to sit. The plane was completely full and there were no other seats. I was too timid to raise a protest and I really did a 2 hour flight occupying 2 inches of my seat.

The commenter is absolutely right. The key variable of the cost of flying is weight. ANA even went to the extent of asking passengers to pee before boarding a flight in order to reduce weight. No I am not joking; I even blogged about it. So I join the commenter in railing how much I have subsidised airlines for so many years without even getting a "thank you for weighing so less" smile :):)

Sriram Khé said...

"reasoning is perfectly logical but totally insane."

The Economist points out something important: the airlines might have won this logic battle, but has lost the PR war. It is also this PR issue that prevents most other airlines from treating us as "human freight" ...

Anne in Salem said...

I wonder what an industry-wide weight policy would do for obesity rates? Would heavy people not fly because of embarrassment? Can you imagine how long security or boarding would take???

Sriram Khé said...

I would venture that a much higher percentage of obese do not fly ... because, oddly enough, obesity and incomes have a highly complicated relationship. My point is that if we are truly concerned about obesity as a public health issue, then most of that problem is outside the airports of the world. And, if we in the outside world we won't shame and humiliate the obese, then why do that in this select group of airline passengers?

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