Heavy passengers should pay more to fly, while those sitting on the shy side of the scales should get a discount.
That's the argument put forth by Tony Webber, Qantas Group chief economist between 2004 and 2011, in a controversial article in today's Sydney Morning Herald.
"People who weigh more should pay more to fly on planes, in the same way that people who exceed their baggage allowance must fork out extra" says Webber, now an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney Business School.
His rationale? The more a plane weighs, the more fuel it must burn – which directly impacts costs. (As we detailed earlier this year, fuel costs represent almost $300 of a $2,200 international airfare)
"In turn, the airline will need to lift airfares to recover these additional costs" explains Webber. "And when they do, the burden of these higher fees should not be lumbered on those who are shedding a few kilos or keeping their weight stable."
Webber's proposed solution is to set a weight limit per passenger and then levy a surcharge "on a per-excess-kilo basis".
"If the critical weight limit (per passenger) is 75 kilograms and a man weighed 100 kilograms, then the surcharge would be $14.50 one-way or double this for return" Webber explains.
"Conversely, a female weighing just 50 kilos would get a "petite" discount of $14.50 each way."
Attempting to head off cries of discrimination, Webber suggests that "what economists term price discrimination - charging consumers who buy essentially the same product a different price - is a common feature in the modern market".
"Movie theatres practise price discriminate on the basis of age and employment status. Trains price discriminate on the basis of time of travel. Insurance companies price discriminate on the basis of where a car is usually parked, or the suburb in which a house is located."
You can read Webber's argument in full at The Sydney Morning Herald, and we'd be interested in your thoughts via the comments box below...