Airlines to Weigh Passengers; Charge Obese More?

Airlines to Weigh Passengers; Charge Obese More?
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Airlines to Weigh Passengers; Charge Obese More?; Americans Getting Much Heavier, Increasing Cost of Flights

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Passengers Required To Be Weighed

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 18, 2021) - Because of a new FAA advisory, airline passengers may be required to step on the scale at the airport or share how much they weigh before boarding a flight, reports Fox News. The advisory points out that the weight of an average American passenger has increased by about 12% over the past few years, notes public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

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Although the purpose is supposedly to improve flight safety, and exactly how the process would work is unclear and may vary among different carriers, airlines - always eager to improve profits, and increasingly willing to add on additional fees (e.g., for checked bags, overweight baggage, preferred seats, on-board food, etc.) - could well decide as a logical followup to base fares in part upon a passenger's weight, warns Banzhaf.

Since many airlines already charge a hefty additional fee if a passenger's bag is heavier than the airline decrees, even by only a pound or two, similar principles and arguments could well be applied to the passengers themselves, says Banzhaf, since it obviously costs more to transport an obese passenger than a svelte one.

Indeed, as the New York Times reported in an article entitled No Speck Too Small as U.S. Airlines Search for Fuel Savings, airlines are very eager to find any way to reduce flight weights, even by tiny amounts comparable to only a few obese passengers: e.g., serving beer only in first class (210 lbs), or removing paint from the fuselage (440 lbs).

 Imposing An Obesity Surcharge

Because charging all passengers fares based solely on their weight would probably be met by outrage and strong protests, especially by larger and/or heavily muscled passengers (and their spouses), and might be illegal since it would have the effect or consequence of discriminating against men who on the average weigh more than women, airlines might begin by simply charging more for the minority of passengers who are obese (i.e., impose an obesity surcharge, similar to the smoker surcharge now in effect under Obamacare).

After all, says Banzhaf, it has long been legal and accepted practice to charge smokers more than nonsmokers for life, health, and even automobile insurance; with the Obamacare statute incorporating a 50% surcharge on smokers. Similarly, charging the obese more for life and health insurance is hardly unknown, and people who require much larger sizes in clothing often have to pay more.

Moreover, truly obese (morbidly obese) passengers cause problems for airlines in addition to the added costs of fuel to transport them.

For example, some very large passengers are too wide to fit into a standard seat in the coach section, and may require - or even demand - two seats, or an upgrade to wider seats in the business or first class sections of the airplane.

Charging People Who Are Obese More

In other cases, while they may be able to squeeze themselves into a seat, their bodies may tend to spill over into adjacent seats, prompting complaints from their squeezed seatmates.

It is not illegal under federal law, not under the laws of most states and local jurisdictions, to discriminate against people who are obese, so any such fare differentials would appear to be legal, except in rare situations where the obesity might constitute a disability, says Banzhaf, who teaches the law related to disability rights. Indeed, he made new law in this area.

For example, the professor notes that he was able to persuade the federal government to permit companies to charge people who are obese more for their health insurance.

Indeed, forcing the obese to bear more of the costs they now impose on the majority who are not obese - e.g., added medical costs under life and/or health insurance plans, more to fly on an airplane, etc. - is consistent with the concept of differential health insurance premiums which Banzhaf and his law students helped develop and popularize - and which was adopted and advocated by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners [NAIC].

So, it is possible that in the near future, flying the friendly skies may be more expensive for some passengers, based upon their weight, suggests Banzhaf.

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