American Airlines Suitcase Charge

American Airlines is going to start charging an extra $15 if you want to check a suitcase to help with the high cost of fuel.  I’ve heard that some airlines are considering charing passengers “by the pound” so the cost of your ticket better reflects the cost of the fuel required to move you from point A to point B.  What do you think?  Would you mind paying for flights based on your weight?


  1. Mark Shead says

    As far as I know, no airline is actually charing by the pound yet, but I’ve heard it suggested.

  2. adora says

    I love this idea! I have always wanted this!

    I’m extremely annoyed by friends and relatives who wants me to carry stuff for them to send off for their friends. “Since your bag is not full yet.” I suppose it’s a Chinese thing. Their postage is saved out of my inconvenience, and sometimes I have to deliver the stuff an hour away from my home! This would really lighten my load!

    Also, I would expect faster check-in and departure!

  3. says

    I’d rather they just charge a flat fee for all passengers to cover the fuel costs. Charging per bag or even charging by weight, is kind of like nickel and diming. It’s just plain annoying.

    The travel industry needs a wake up call. They need to figure out how to reinvent themselves and make the travel industry less “cost” driven and incorporate other values to make it easier to accomplish their mission.

    At this point, I am so disgusted with the one bag rule, the charge per bag, the security issues and lines at the airport, that I’d rather not travel.

  4. atsah says

    Based on *passenger* weight, or the weight of the luggage? They’d have to actually weigh people–many people are not going to own up to how much they actually do weigh. If this happened, on one hand, this might cut down on overcrowded flights, as people either wouldn’t want to pay their weight in gold, so to speak, or would actually be afraid to see their weight or be embarrassed to have it made public (I believe this is a real possibility). Might be an incentive to lose weight. But it strikes me as a terrible invasion of privacy, and not worth those dubious (and highly speculative) benefits.

    @adora: if it’s impossible to just say no, tell your friends and relatives that you just don’t trust the airlines anymore and would feel terrible if their stuff was lost, stolen, or damaged during handling.

  5. Dido says

    I don’t mind if they charge for my *luggage* by the pound, as that is something I can control, but are you suggesting charging by the weight of the *person*? That’s much less controllable and would be discriminatory. What would you do–just do it straight by weight or have separate weight rates for men and women, given that men in general tend to be taller and thus heavier than women?

  6. says

    My husband the business traveler is horrified by this luggage charge. He foresees longer waits at security as people try to take too-large bags through, and more luggage related delays at the gate as (in his words) “little old ladies trying to save $15 kill themselves lifting over-stuffed bags into the overheads.”

    so far as charging for human weight … I don’t think that will ever happen. I for one would protest, because I’m sure the minimum charge (i.e., for my children) would be about the same as it currently is, and for my average-sized husband and I, much more. Don’t some airlines already do this (de facto) buy making obese people purchase two seats?

    adora … just say no.

  7. GB says

    Weight and size, in this order, should be two of the primary factors to set airfares. If one wants to set something aloft, thrust must be provided. More weight and larger size requires more thrust. Not charging for either of these two factors only delays efficiency. Why does a parent stop carrying their child – because the kid is too big (heavy) or old enough to walk.

    The p.c. way of charging for weight will probably work like this: Allot a set weight to each ticket holder which may or may not cover the combination of a passenger’s weight, carry-on weight, and checked baggage weight. Pay extra per pound for amounts over the allowance. This charge will probably be linear (a set $ per lb.) but should be curvilinear, where each successive pound costs more than the previous.

    If all this is too much for you to think about just consider whether you’d rather fuel a large car or a small car.

  8. Mark Shead says

    @Dream Mom – Well the idea is that if my weight costs $50 in fuel and someone else costs $150 in fuel, should I have to pay extra in order for their price to be the same as mine?

    @Dido – I don’t know if it is discriminatory. If I am 7 foot 6 inches, I probably won’t fit in a subcompact car. I’d have to rent something more expensive. If my physical makeup requires the temperature of my house to be 60 degrees during the hot summers, I will pay more than the person who does fine with 80 degrees. The idea is to pay for what you use.

    @LisaS – I think the airlines that make people purchase two seats are just targeting people who are so big that they are going to be taking up their neighbor’s seat anyway. If they airline can’t put someone happily in the seat next to you, they reason that you are actually using both seats.

    @GB – I like the idea of weighing your luggage and people together. That would take off some of the stigma of being weight and help make it less about how much an individual weighs and more about how much they want to transport.

    I’m not sure any of this is ever going to happen, but as airlines lose money I think we will se some different ideas popping up.

  9. says

    If they ever do this, (I doubt they will), I can certainly imagine legal repercussions. Really, I think some very good cases could be made for it being discriminatory. Essentially, it would amount to making men pay more for the same service. Legally, I think there is a definite case.

    Plus, I can imagine that many people would detest flying even more. Imagine having to go through security and *then* a weight test. Privacy and self-esteem issues abound.

    @Mark: The difference is that airplanes are a public service/building. When you buy a car, it is your perceptive to decide what to get. The car company won’t stop a tall guy from renting a tiny subcompact. However, the airplane company would be saying “you must pay this extra fee or no service.”

  10. Mark Shead says

    @Arthus – If I can get a haircut for $10 and the same place charges my wife $15 is that discrimination or does it just reflect the fact that my haircut costs them less (in time) than my wife’s?

    I agree that it is unlikely that this will ever happen, but it seems like “paying for what you use” is fairly common and not discriminatory. For example, if my wife were to request the same haircut as me, it would be discrimination to make her pay more for it. (Thankfully she doesn’t copy my hairstyle.)

    There are many men that are smaller than the average woman and many women who are larger than the average male. I think it would be hard to prove something is sexual discrimination just based on the fact that the average man weighs more than the average woman. There would be too many counter examples and airlines could make a very good case that they were charging in the most fair way possible. The airline is would basically be saying “we are going to simply markup the cost of the flight a certain percentage and charge you for your portion of the whole”.

    In fact we already pay this way for automobile gas. A 80 pound person driving around in a subcompact car is going to pay significantly less than a 300 pound person in the same car. We don’t usually notice it because larger people normally get a larger vehicle.

    An interesting side effect would occur if only one airline adopted this type of pricing. It would tend to encourage anyone above the average weight to fly a different airline. The airline with weight based pricing would be full of people with lower than average weight and with very little luggage. All in all this might significantly improve the flight experience on the weight based flights simply because there would be a lower volume of people and luggage for ever square foot of plane.

    If the airline set things up correctly they would become the “low cost carrier for low weight travelers”. However after seeing how poorly most of the airlines seem to be managed, they would probably respond by trying to fit more seats on the plane and eventually making the experience for their travelers even worse than before.

    Another interesting aspect of this type of pricing is the fact that even if you are slightly above average weight you could still get better ticket prices simply by not bringing as much luggage. If you weight 15 pounds more than average, but can lower your luggage weight by 20 pounds, you’ll still pay a lower fare than the average traveler.

    But like I you said. It is unlikely that this will ever happen.

  11. Esther Taylor says

    I have no problem withcharging for Luggage but I would like to know if we are to pay at point 2 again I know that it take gas to run the airplane

  12. Mander says

    I think it’s a really unpleasant idea, if only because of the public humiliation of larger people that it would entail. Believe me, it’s no fun being fat. If the constant abuse and ridicule we fat folks face in our daily lives isn’t an “incentive to lose weight” then some airline charging me more to fly isn’t really going to make any difference. It’s just adding insult to injury. I would never fly with a company who charged on this basis. My additional 20 pounds of fat is nothing compared to an overstuffed carry-on bag, and I’m sure that it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference in the amount of fuel needed to produce the lift to get the plane off the ground.

  13. says

    I like the concept of charging by the pound. We pay that way with most other shipping services (USPS to a certain degree, UPS yes, Fedex Ground yes). If someone doesn’t want to be weighed then they can offer a flat rate, although that would probably lead to adverse selection.

    As a frequent traveler, there is nothing worse than being seated next to someone who doesn’t fit in their seat (either width or height). That usually leads to the person encroaching on your personal space and makes your travel experience even worse.

    It would be interesting to model out the per ticket charge for a flight. The impact on check-in would be something to consider if everyone had to be weighed. Another easy fix would be to really enforce carry-on bag dimensions. There is nothing like watching someone trying to jam in a bag that’s too large.

  14. Mark Shead says

    @Rob – I wonder if people’s aversion to paying by the pound directly corresponds to their weight. :)

    @Mander – I don’t think it would have to be public humiliation. For one, if you are weighing with your luggage no one would really now what you weigh. Your bags could be 10 pounds or 80 pounds. Also it doesn’t have to be done in a way where you flash the weight on a large screen.

    I imagine you would pay a certain amount before coming based on what you expect to pay. If you are short, you’d pay the difference. Since no one would know how much you paid ahead of time they couldn’t guess your weight from the amount you paid–even if they knew how much you paid.

    @All – According to some of the figures I’ve seen, if we assume that the average person in the US is 20 pounds overweight the gas savings of having everyone 0 pounds overweight would double the profit of most airlines. So those extra 20 pounds seem to really add up.

  15. Adri says

    I think it would be illegal to charge people based on weight– obesity is an ADA-protected disability.

  16. Mark Shead says

    @Adri – I don’t think that would prevent you from charging based on usage. A three hundred pound person is going to require more food than I do, but Wendy’s doesn’t get sued for charging them more to eat two hamburgers than it charges me to eat one.

    The same person will pay quite a big more in gasoline to travel in their car and fuel companies aren’t required to give them extra gas just because they are overweight.

    I have never heard of being overweight as being a disability. A medical condition that makes you obese might be, but on average I think that is pretty rare. Even if it was, “paying for what you use” is a pretty defensible position because it is tied to the cost of providing the service.

  17. says

    @Mark: Once again, you are bringing in an irrelevant detail. The difference at Wendy’s is that an obese individual can choose to eat 1 or 2 hamburgers. He doesn’t walk into Wendy’s and get told “you must eat/pay for 2 hamburgers.” On an airline, he would have no choice: he would be paying a certain fee regardless of choice. Yes, he could lose weight. But that takes far longer than before a little airline trip.

    There would be serious legal issues here. It is essentially saying people with disabilities must pay more than others.

  18. Mark Shead says

    @Arthus – I see your point about the idea that at a restuarant they can choose to eat less and on an airline you can’t choose to leave part of yourself at home. Still there are enough examples of expenses that are tied to your weight that I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be discriminatory.

    Do you think car, motorcycle and scooter manufacturers and gasoline companies are in legal jeopardy because travel costs more for heavy people? Sure people can choose not to travel, but they can choose not to travel in the airplane as well.

    My point is that people who weigh more pay more than people who weigh less and no one is being sued over it. A shirt that fits a 300 pound person is going to cost more than a shirt that fits a 120 pound person simply because it costs more to manufacture. This isn’t discrimination, it is simply paying for what you use.

    Also keep in mind that there are a number of people who are very heavy but not overweight. The 6 foot 4 inch football player who is build like a tank would pay a lot more than a 5 foot 2 inch person who was extremely obese.

    Now if the airline started trying to charge based on the percentage of body fat I could see some issues because it is in no way tied to the cost of providing the transportation–but that wouldn’t serve any real business purpose.

  19. Manda says

    I do not think that it is right to charge people per pound (of their weight). Nor of the luggage. Im tired of trying to figure out how much it will cost me to get somewhere, I don’t have a bunch of money and I don’t want to hand it over to airlines.

    Plus I would hate to be charged for my weight. Im not fat but I have a good bit of muscle and it weighs more than fat. To be charged for that would tell me “you wasted your time working out, now you have to pay to fly”

  20. says

    Mark, thanks for inviting me to stop by and put down some thoughts. This is a great discussion!

    I’m not a disabilities lawyer, but I don’t think obesity is entirely protected by the American’s with Disabilities Act. Here’s a great article put together by the Congressional Research Service on this precise topic: Obesity Discrimination and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    Basically, it’s disputed whether or not obesity is actually a “disability” under the ADA. Some courts have ruled that it is, but it vastly depends upon the facts at hand. Not every person who is over “average” weight could claim they have a “disability.”

    Interestingly for the airline discussion, not every discrimination is unwarranted. For example, the airlines can require certain vision tests for pilots. People with impaired vision get discriminated against, but we all think that’s just fine, since it protects our safety.

    Airlines might be able to make an argument (as a couple commenters did) that tickets should be based on the weight of the load (passenger & bag together). It might not make a lot of sense for a train, but it sure does for a plane.

    Please note that I’m not arguing for either side here. I’m just providing some thoughts.

  21. Andrea says

    As a woman of above-average weight, I could see paying more for my seat *if* that meant that I’d get a seat that actually fits me, instead of the same skinny seat that everyone else gets. But wait, I do have that option – if I buy a business-class or first-class ticket, which cost more anyway. So I guess I’m already paying a premium because of my weight.

  22. Mark Shead says

    @Andrea – There are actually two issues here. One is the weight which impacts the cost of flying the plane. The other is volume which changes the number of people the airline can fit on the plane. Right now I know a few places are charging for volume by requiring people to get an extra seat if the person next to them wouldn’t be comfortable. This is based on volume, just like they will require you to buy an extra seat if you are trying to carry a cello on with you and want to have it at your seat–it doesn’t matter how light the cello is.

    If an airline were to implement some type of weight based system, I think it would need to take into account baggage because many times people take baggage that approaches or exceeds their body weight.

  23. says

    There is a totally other side of this to think about: The airport will turn into a pre-boxing weigh-in.

    People will be trying to lose weight, possibly running around in plastic running suits.

    Some people will be vomiting in the bathroom.

    Someone will die because of their crazy weightloss routine so they can afford their flight.

    Food sales will skyrocket in the terminal due to people starving themselves pre-weigh in, and needing food before lift off.

    People will be passing out in line and on the plane.

  24. Kate says

    Well, do you have to give your weight when you book the ticket or when you fly? What if you book the ticket in advance and then suddenly gain a bunch of weight (yes it can happen – people on steroids can pack the pounds on almost overnight.) Conversely, what if you lose weight between when you book and when you fly – do they lower your ticket price? Highly doubt that!

    Also, if we’re going on the “pay for what you use” theory, that would mean that the fare structures as they are now would be reversed, and it would cost more to fly during the least crowded times (in the middle of the week is usually when tickets cost less because there is not as much demand for them, and the airline want to put as many people on board as possible). It’s still going to cost X amount to get the plane off the ground, and if we are all paying for what we use, then it follows that if there are more people to spread the fixed cost across, then it should cost each person less. So this would actually exacerbate crowding on flights, which are already crowded enough in cattle class as it is.

    What about the weight of the crew, or is that built into the ticket price?

  25. velco_fran says

    Not only they should weigh but they should also measure people too. If your width is more than X you should be forced to either buy an extra seat, wait for an empty seat next to yours at a later flight or simply be taken off the plane for invading other’ people’s spaces with your abundant body parts. Ditto for mommies with super huge babies. Your lack of resources/ cheapness is not someone else’s responsibility. You should pay for the amount of space you take. Period.

    If I paid for a seat, i should be able to enjoy the FULL space of the seat, without having someone rub his massive arms, o ginormous love handles, hip junk on me with every move. ewww.

  26. Pete says

    The airlines know they can not weigh passengers and charge them by-the-pound. The suggestion that they will is not realistic and is not the argument. The actual idea being considered is a weight-based fee for luggage. Given that United has followed American’s lead and will be charging $15 dollars for the first bag and $25 for the second; I don’t know why anyone would not be in favor charging per pound for everything (non-human) that you carry-on or check. All that this fee per bag scheme will do is encourage traveler’s to do is attempt to carry-on even more stuff then they currently do. Thus they will slow down security line, boarding and disembarking. This will lead to more traveler frustration and anger. Exactly what we don’t need when we a trapped in an aluminum tube whether 30,000 feet in the air or stuck on the runway

  27. Mark Shead says

    @Pete – Why couldn’t they charge by the pound for everything (human and non-human)? If they charge for the weight of bags people would probably just stuff their pockets full of everything heavy. It seems like it would be better to charge for all the weight you bring on the plane.

  28. says

    After watching this comment string, there could be a good compromise. For the most part things like human transportation is based on averages.

    Average weight, height, width, etc.

    Over time average weight, height, and width can change.

    Many people have pointed out that the logistics of actually weighing a person and baggage at the airport could turn into a logistical nightmare.

    Assuming most people have the same density (yes I know heavily muscled people are more dense then less muscled people). I see two problems with designing to averages.

    1. People who don’t comfortably fit in a seat then impact the people sitting around them. Everyone pays for their seat and they could end up getting less than a seat. (The person who doesn’t fit in their seat is also uncomfortable).

    2. Airlines are facing rising fuel costs and are trying to price differentiate to change human behavior. A airline would much rather fly a plane with 100 people with no bags versus everyone with two bags each. Doesn’t cost the airline anything, the impacted passengers pay with lost personal space.

    My thought would be to do the following:

    1. Strictly enforce a width requirement along with carry on size and weight requirement. The personal width requirement would be based on whether you could fit in a seat and not impact the people sitting to each side. The second portion is to really enforce the carry on requirements. I have flown too many times to watch people with completely unwieldy cause delays in loading the plane and then watch the bag have to be loaded on underneath.

    2. They would also charge per checked bag that’s within a certain weight.

    Hopefully airlines start to pick up on and it and differentiate.

    What would happen if airlines had a few rows of seats that were wider than normal? They could charge more for them, similar to United with their Economy Plus seating with the extra leg room. It would be interesting to see if people would pay for the extra cost of wider seats even if they weren’t so wide that they needed the extra space.


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