Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Weigh less and pay less on Samoan air carrier

Airline's chief executive says it only makes sense

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PAGO PAGO, American Samoa -- A tiny Samoan airline is offering a new reason to drop extra weight before your next trip: tickets sold not by the seat, but by the kilogram.

Samoa Air planned on Wednesday to start pricing its first international flights based on the weight of its passengers and their bags. Depending on the flight, each kilogram (2.2 pounds) costs 93 cents to $1.06.

That means the average American man weighing 195 pounds with a 15.8-kilogram bag would pay $97 to go one-way between Apia, Samoa, and Pago Pago, American Samoa. Competitors typically charge $130 to $140 round-trip for similar routes.

The weight-based pricing is not new to the airline, which launched in June. It has been using the pricing model since November, but in January the U.S. Department of Transportation approved its international route between American Samoa and Samoa.

The airline's chief executive, Chris Langton, said Tuesday "planes are run by weight and not by seat, and travellers should be educated on this important issue. The plane can only carry a certain amount of weight, and that weight needs to be paid. There is no other way."

Langton, a pilot, said when he flew for other airlines, he suggested charging by weight to his bosses, but they considered weight too sensitive an issue to address.

"It's always been the fairest way, but the industry has been trying to pack square pegs into round holes for many years," he said.

Travellers in the region already are weighed before they fly because the planes used between the islands are small, said David Vaeafe, executive director of the American Samoa Visitors Bureau. Samoa Air's fleet includes two nine-passenger planes for commercial routes and a three-passenger plane for an air-taxi service.

Langton said passengers who need more room will be given one row on the plane to ensure comfort.

The new pricing system would make Samoa Air the first to charge strictly by weight, a change Vaeafe said is "in many ways... a fair concept for passengers. For example, a 12- or 13-year-old passenger who is small in size and weight won't have to pay an adult fare, based on airline fares that anyone 12 years and older does pay the adult fare," he said.

Vaeafe said the pricing system has worked in Samoa, but it's not clear whether it will be embraced by travellers in the U.S. territory.

Langton said the airline has received mixed responses from overseas travellers since it began promoting the pricing on its website and Facebook page.

He said some passengers have been surprised, but no one has refused to be weighed yet. He said he's given away a few free flights to some regular customers who lost weight, and that health officials in American Samoa were among the first to contact the airline when the pricing structure was announced.

"They want to ride on the awareness this is raising and use it as a medium to address obesity issues," he said.

Islands in the Pacific have the highest rates of obesity in the world.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 4, 2013 A16

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