Of all the products and services I buy, I think that airline tickets annoy me the most. That’s because they seem to have the greatest discrepancy between their advertised price and the final price. I examined my most recent ticket purchase, and here are the additional fees listed on the invoice: Fuel Surcharges, NAV Canada Surcharges, Insurance Surcharge, ATSC (Air Travellers Security Charge), Airport Improvement Fees, USA Transportation Tax, US Agriculture Fee, US Passenger Facility Charge, GST/HST, September 11 Security Fee, and the USA Immigration User Fee.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there – in addition to those fees, the airlines are now charging passengers for things that used to be free: booking a ticket over the phone, advance seat selection, checking in a second bag, window / aisle seat selection, pillows, blankets, headphones, soft drinks, emergency exit row or bulkhead seats that offer more legroom.
Some airlines have proposed other, more radical weight reduction ideas: Removing the paint from the exterior of the plane will shave off between 330 and 550 pounds. In 2008, Air Canada Jazz removed the life vests from under the seats, and instructed passengers to use their seat cushions as flotation devices. Total weight reduction: 500 grams per life vest.
I can certainly appreciate the weight argument – the heavier the plane, the more fuel is required to fly it, and recent increases in crude oil prices have exacerbated the situation. Therefore, I understand that airlines are structuring their fees in a way that encourages passengers to travel as lightly as possible. I also have no objection to surcharges for baggage that is over a certain weight limit, although I prefer the old system – charging $5 per pound – instead of the current $75 fee for any overage (up to 20 lbs). However, despite all these revenue-increasing initiatives, there remains a gaping hole in this additional revenue model – something about which no one ever speaks.
I have a more equitable fee structure in mind, but before I share it, I must first acknowledge the elephant in the room… or more accurately, in the passenger cabin.
In my opinion, the airlines are being “penny-wise and pound-foolish”. They are removing life vests from the cabins to save 500 grams each, but are ignoring something two orders of magnitude larger: the varying weights of the passengers themselves.
I propose that passengers be charged according to the total weight that they bring on board the plane, and that adjustments to the ticket price be based on the combined weight of the luggage and the passenger. It doesn’t matter where the weight originates – from the baggage or the passenger – the increased load on the plane’s engines is the same. I find it curious that airlines will charge a someone $75 for an extra 20 pounds of luggage, but turn a blind eye to someone who is carrying an extra 100 pounds around their midsection.
Weigh both the passenger and their luggage (both checked and carry-on), and then apply either a surcharge or a discount to their fare. I realize that this idea may meet with some resistance – after being forced to suffer the recent indignities of the full body scans and the decidedly intimate pat-downs, few people would be eager to endure the added abasement of stepping on a scale and revealing his or her weight to a complete stranger in a public place. Naturally this would have to be done discreetly, with the scale readout visible only to the counter clerk and to the passenger.
The next part of my proposal deals with how to handle morbidly obese passengers. There has been some talk recently about making corpulent passengers pay for two seats, if they can’t fit comfortably into one. I appreciate the logic in this suggestion, but I’m not enamoured with it because I think it robs these passengers of some dignity – who wants to be told (even discreetly) “I’m sorry sir/madam, but your girth exceeds the width of our cabin seats, so I’m afraid that you’ll have to pay for two”. Therefore, I propose that portly passengers be seated in business class or first class, where there are only two seats per row, instead of three. If passengers are going to be charged per pound, then the additional fees racked up by the heavier ones could be used for a free upgrade to business class. They’ll still have to pay a substantial premium, but at least they’ll enjoy a larger, more comfortable seat and receive better food, beverages and in-flight service.
I don’t imagine that this proposal is what many of us want to hear, but I believe that it is inherently fair. On the bright side, a widespread adoption of this idea could be an incentive for us to start exercising and stick to our diets, especially when every pound that we take off (pun intended) translates into additional cash in our pockets.