Samoa Air Begins Pay-by-the-Pound Airfare Pricing

“Welcome to Samoa Air. Now get on the scale.”

That’s what you might hear if you fly this tiny airline based in the island nation of Samoa – roughly 2,700 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia.

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Tiny Airline Charges by Weight

This week, the carrier began charging airfare by the pound. In other words, the more you weigh, the more you pay – or as Samoa Air prefers to put it, “Pay only what you weigh!” This has nothing to do with fat shaming, according to Samoa Air executives quoted in media reports. They prefer passengers think of this as a fairer system and there is a certain logic to it. But first things first.

The pay-what-you-weigh study that got everyone upset

How it Works

When booking a flight on Air Samoa, you begin by estimating your weight – as well as the weight of your baggage – and filling these numbers in via an online form like the one you see here:

Don’t Even Think about Lying

Note: You cannot lie. As the Air Samoa website cheerily notes, “Don’t worry, we will weigh you again at the airport.” Any differences in the estimate and actual weight are settled at the airport either by refunds or higher charges. There is no mention made if fellow passengers can watch you as you step on the scale, which might give some pause. But, are these fares fair?

Fairer Fares?

It should be noted that Samoa Air which has only been in operation since last year has just a few prop planes (Britten Norman BN2A series and Cessna 172) which can only hold a handful of people, and anyone who’s ever flown in tiny aircraft know that pilots can and sometimes do ask passengers what they weigh [Editor’s note: Been there].

Arguments will rage over the fairness of this issue – as some point out, we usually don’t pay more for a large sweater vs. a smaller size – but the real question is, can it work with a larger airline with planes that may carry hundreds of people.

Why it Won’t Work Here

Air travel expert Rick Seaney, for one, doubts this. “It’s just not reality,” he’s said, noting that it took years to implement baggage fees. Plus, passengers already have a lengthy slog through security so if there are weight disputes at the airport, how many flights would suddenly drop from the on-time category?

But the fact that even one airline – however tiny it is – has made this leap, makes the pay-by-the-pound model one to keep watching.

For more on this subject, watch Rick Seaney talk to the Huffington Post in this group video chat.


Published: April 3, 2013