Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary is considered the most creative head among the airline bosses when it comes to squeezing money out of passengers' pockets for all kinds of extra services, be
they restricted hand luggage rules, bizarre reservation and booking options, or demanding cash for inflight lavatory access.
Although O'Leary backed away from the latter idea after protests mounted, his restroom initiative was only the tip of his rip-off mechanisms. Examples from East Asian airlines, however, show that these methods to increase profit are increasingly finding traction. The latest one is happening in APAC and could result in passengers eventually paying extra per pound/kilo in body weight. For once, the initiator is not Ryanair.
Bangkok Airways, the carrier honored as World’s Best Regional Airline in 2023 by rating portal Skytrax, for example, requires passengers to be weighed before boarding a plane. The Thai carrier’s
reasoning: determining the exact weight of an aircraft before departure is an important prerequisite for providing travelers and crew the utmost security and safety on board of a flight, which is
what they deserve.
And the Thai airline cites another aspect: The lower the total weight of an aircraft, the less fuel is needed. This is an ecological contribution to fighting climate change, states the management.
Data is deleted after a certain period of time, promises Bangkok Airways
No passenger is forced to step on scales before they board a Thai Airways’ jetliner. However, the ground crew uses gestures, speeches or instructions to ‘motivate’ them to do so, and thus enable the airline to determine the sum of each individual’s respective bodyweight to calculate the total take-off weight of a given flight. The same weighing principles apply to the hand luggage that travelers bring on board to stow in the overhead bins of an aircraft. “We assure that the information will be kept confidential and will solely be used to update standard passenger and baggage weight information,” the airline stated in a Facebook post. It further announced that “the weight check survey will [only] take place between September 15 and October 31, 2023.” Therefore, the project is limited in time.
Nevertheless, local marketing experts see the move as a trial balloon for permanent weight measurements of travelers. They believe that as soon as a habituation effect has set in, perhaps after a year, the Michael O'Leary principle will be applied: travelers will be assigned to weight classes. If they exceed a certain number of pounds, they are charged a fee - a kind of fat surcharge. But smart marketing managers will probably sell this as a donation to increasing security in aviation. After all, no one seriously questions the security of an aircraft and its users, do they?
Heavy weight pays off – for airlines
Bangkok Airways, by the way, is not the first airline in the APAC region to ask travelers to step on the scales before boarding. Korean Air and Air New Zealand have launched similar programs. Yet, those who want to opt out of it can simply inform the airline staff and get on board the aircraft anyway.
However, should these weighing trials set a precedent, low-cost airlines in North America are likely to follow suit, and probably in Europe as well. After all, people with a high body mass index - unlike in the Far East - are mainly to be found there. So, it is not far-fetched that obese or overweight passengers can become new cash cows for carriers.
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