A fat bastard tax on fliers

Project Syndicate: Peter Singer

An Australian grasps the issues and gives the fatties a good slap. The corresponding jiggle is as mesmerizing as a lava lamp to a stoner.

Webber suggests that airlines set a standard passenger weight, say, 75 kilos. If a passenger weighs 100 kilos, a surcharge would be charged to cover the extra fuel costs. For a passenger who is 25 kilos overweight, the surcharge on a Sydney-London return ticket would be $29. A passenger weighing just 50 kilos would get a discount of the same amount.

Another way to achieve the same objective would be to set a standard weight for passengers and luggage, and then ask people to get on the scales with their luggage. That would have the advantage of avoiding embarrassment for those who do not wish to reveal their weight.

Friends with whom I discuss this proposal often say that many obese people cannot help being overweight – they just have a different metabolism from the rest of us. But the point of a surcharge for extra weight is not to punish a sin, whether it is levied on baggage or on bodies. It is a way of recouping from you the true cost of flying you to your destination, rather than imposing it on your fellow passengers. Flying is different from, say, health care. It is not a human right.

Maybe Air New Zealand could offer more airpoints or upgrades to those with a BMI under 30. That would really piss off pinkos, and Pinko.


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  • BJ

    Now theres an incentive if I’ve ever seen one. Maybe passengers could forfeiting having the weight of their meal onboard as a bargaining tool.

  • Ratchet

    So that penalises pretty much well ANY Rugby or League player who is at the peak of their fitness,  having more lean muscle mass and a much lower body fat percentage than 90% of the population? You find very few of those guys less than around 90kg and virtually none at 75kg.

    • Steve P

      Indeed. I am 190cm ( 6’3), and my weight of 85kg puts my BMI firmly in the normal range. If I have to pay a weight surcharge then I’ll have a little extra legroom, thanks very much.

      •  Hey I’m sweet – even though my doctors suggest I lose 10 kilos, 5′ 10″ in old money and 95 kilos. Whoohoo!!! What a bloody laugh genetic engineering of the population by commercial interests – might even be more successful then Health adviseries…..

    • Bunswalla

      Read WO’s comment – he suggests only charging people with a BMI over 30. BTW, anything over 30 is considered clinically obese.

      • Steve P

        Which just goes to show that BMI is an utterly useless indicator of obesity. At his peak bodybuilding weight Ahnold Shcwartzengg-whatever had a BMI of over 33.

        OT, from the quoted article: “Flying is different from, say, health care. It is not a human right.”

        Really? Health care is a human right? Cos it doesn’t say anything about health care being a human right in the NZ Bill of Rights Act or the NZ Human Rights Act (although NZ BORA gives you the right to refuse medical treatment).

        And Australia does not have any constitutional or legislative bill of rights.

      • Steve P

        Oh, and what about an obese dwarf; someone with a high BMI but whose actual weight is average? An airline cannot justify charging extra or otherwise penalising this passenger purely on his or her weight!

      • SHG

        By that mark three quarters of the All Blacks are clinically obese, since the entire forward pack and half of the back line have BMIs over 30.

      • Bunswalla

        The All Blacks don’t count – they always fly business or first class and you can be as fat as you like when you pay that much for a ticket.

  • nasska

    It doesn’t matter why a person is heavy……the airline is accepting payment to transport an item (a person) plus luggage of their choosing from point A to point B.  The costs the airline is incurring relate to holding a certain mass in the air while pushing it to a destination.

    Why not simply charge a passenger on a kilo/kilometre basis.  Eg 100kg customer with 15kgs of baggage Auckland to Sydney  @  $2/kg = $230.

    Done & sorted.

  • Mbw1964

    Gonna cost the fatties a fortune, my mother just paid $90 per kilo (yes you read it right $90 per kilo) excess baggage weight with Emirates, her luggage, not her!

  • Gazzaw

    Get a grip everyone FFS. How are you going to implement this? Is everyone going to have to weigh in as well as their bags? We already have checkins by cellphone and at auto-kiosks that have radically decreased the demand for manual checkins. Do you really think that airlines & airports are going to do a 180 degree turn to allow for the collection of a few bucks from overweight passengers and refund underweight passengers?
    A concept dreamt up by people who have no knowledge of airline procedures or airport operations.

  • parorchestia

    The Tongan airline used to weigh passengers as well as luggage.

  • Le dahu libre

     “Flying is different from, say, health care. It is not a human right.”

    Health care is not a “right” either.

    Any “right” requiring other people’s work is a false right, as it is
    necessary to partially enslave (= violate the fundamental rights which
    are freedom and property) these other people to enforce them. This is
    valid for health care, drinking water, food … and obviously air travel, where there is no “right” to an equal ticket price among not equal people.

    If the price of a flight has to be the same for A who weighs twice as B, I guess we should enforce a law so that A’s meal – likely to be significantly bigger – costs the same as B’s meal… When you need more, you pay more, whatever the reasons why you need more. Period.

    • Steve P

      “Flying is different from, say, health care. It is not a human right.”
      This statement is an interesting insight into the writer’s cognitive dissonance. He claims that an airline weight penalty is not to punish a sin, but then goes on at length about how obesity is bad for society. At the same time he claims that health care is a right, so presumably he would think it would be wrong to put obese people at the bottom of hospital waiting lists.

    • Interestingly, different legislatures have a different view of what constitutes a “right” or a “human right”. In Finland (I think, if not it was Norway/Sweden), they determined that internet access was a human right. They require ISPs to provide a mode of connection (cable) to every residence, and to offer data transfer at a “reasonable rate”. In that case, you are correct – it is a false right. Like you said, it enslaves the ISP company. 

      I disagree on the count of water and food. I think we can characterise those as rights, because people should not be denied access to them. That’s not to say they have a right to be provided with them, but a right to not have water supply cut off or put out of reach.But Healthcare, like Internet, like Air Travel, are economic goods and services. They should never be called rights, because someone has to pay for them. It’s part of the entitlement culture to think that you have a right to something – they think it is a right because the state has been providing it. Sad world.

      • Steve P

        But food and water are economic goods and services, things that someone has to pay for.

        “…a right to not have water supply cut off or put out of reach.”

        One of the actual rights that we have in NZ is the right of freedom of residence [Bill of Rights Act 18(1)]. That means I have the right to live wherever in NZ I want, even if  it’s in a remote cave by the sea in Stewart Island. Do I have the right to make someone else provide me with fresh water? Or food, for that matter?

        Rights have nothing to do with the necessities of life. As I stated above, in NZ people do not have a right to health care, but they do have a right to refuse medical treatment – even if it means they’ll die.

        You are correct though in implying that when something becomes common it becomes a right. In that Scandinavian country where Internet access is a right, were peoples’ rights being denied before the Internet was common? 
        The same could be said for voting.

      • Steve P

        While I’m on the subject…

        ”In July 2010 the United Nations (UN) agreed to a new resolution declaring the human right to “safe and clean drinking water and sanitation”…Some developed countries—including the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several European nations—tried to block passage of the resolution in hopes of minimizing their future obligations…”


      • No, I mean something quite different on the subject of food and water. I would argue I have a right that says nobody can prevent me from getting my own food and water. I should have phrased it better. You have a right to move to a cave on Stewart Island, where there is no food or water, but I would be breaching your rights if I forced you to live there (and therefore starve/dehydrate to death).

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  • I sort of think you should a portion of the fare based on weight. It costs more to transport you if you weight more, as it uses more fuel. Obviously a lot of it is fixed cost, such as the wages for the crew, etc. but a lot of the cost you incur as a passenger is related to transporting your mass.

    Maybe if 33% of the base fare was redistributed according to each passenger’s variance from the average weight. Bags should be paid for by weight too (a certain base amount, plus a rate per kg from there). 

    I know “it’s not fair”, but it’s also not fair for me if I were to weigh very little and be effectively subsidising you, because you are costing the airline more to transport than I am. 

  • rouppe

    75kg is completely unrealistic for most males

  • MrV

    The cost of things are spread out across society all the time (for better or worse). Take roading for example, people in some parts of the country receive less from their fuel tax dollar then people do in other parts.

    The logistics and practicality of weighing everybody is probably not all that efficient. Probably better to make sure the average value you assign to a person for purposes of calculating the plane load is accurate so planes dont struggle to get airbourne.

    And also have a policy where if you are too fat for a single seat you must tick a box at booking time, so that if a flight starts filling up you are asked to pay for an extra seat if its less likely there will be any spare.

  • SHG

    Looking forward to hugely discounted fares on children. Sick of paying full fare for a kid that wouldn’t hit 20kg soaking wet.

    • There are childrens’ fares already, at a discounted rate…

  • Callum

    While it sound good in theory, passengers are not just carried on a weight basis (neither is freight) but volume is also a big factor. Load a plane full of 50kg people and you still only have the same number of seats, fill those same seats with 100kg people and it doesn’t cost you twice the amount to run the plane.

  • Callum

    While it sound good in theory, passengers are not just carried on a weight basis (neither is freight) but volume is also a big factor. Load a plane full of 50kg people and you still only have the same number of seats, fill those same seats with 100kg people and it doesn’t cost you twice the amount to run the plane.

  • Joe Bloggs

    This would mean we are essentially encouraging and rewarding anorexia and bullimia. Swapping one social ill for another is not an ideal solution.

    The ideal solution for me is that airlines stay the fuck away from social engineering and stick to running airlines.