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Will airlines charge by weight?

It started out as a joke, an idea some frustrated traveler or industry analyst blurted out as yet another airline fee or fare hike was announced: “Next thing you know, the airlines will charge passengers based on their weight!” Preposterous, right?

Right—that is, until Air Transport Association spokesman David Castelveter was quoted in a Bloomberg article, saying “You listen to the airline CEOs, and nothing is beyond their imagination.” He was speaking about the possibility of airlines charging passengers by the pound, and by not dismissing the idea, he more or less validated it.

Now fast forward to Friday, June 6, when an ad for Derrie-Air appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News. What is Derrie-Air? A fictional (thank goodness) airline that charges passengers by the pound, created as a marketing gimmick by the papers’ parent company. It was a hoax, sure, but it threw consumers into various stages of panic (and laughter), while fanning the flames of an already fiery conversation.

So, should passengers be prepared for airfare pricing by the pound? In that same Bloomberg article, aviation consultant Robert Mann lays out the logic, saying, “If you look at the air-freight business, that’s the way they’ve always done it. We’re getting treated like air freight when we travel by airlines, anyway.” Mann has a point, and maybe a good one. Why shouldn’t a person be charged a fare equivalent to the actual cost of transporting his or her weight?

The obvious answer is discrimination, as per-pound pricing essentially penalizes larger passengers for simply being larger, a condition some individuals can’t help. Something tells me the airlines will be wary of bad press, lawsuits, and other forms of unwanted attention that could accompany this pricing model. Of course, controversial policies regarding larger passengers are not exactly new. Southwest has had a “Customer of Size” rule for years that requires passengers who cannot fit into a seat with the armrests down to purchase a ticket for the adjacent seat. No other major carrier has a similar policy.

Again, I doubt per-pound pricing will be a reality any time soon, so don’t get on the treadmill yet. But if the airline industry has taught us anything lately, it’s that nothing is beyond reason.

Meanwhile, the fees ante just got raised by United, which joined American in charging for all checked baggage.

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