Should Airlines Adopt a "Bulk Freight" Model to Weighing Out Passengers and Cargo?

On the way to ISM, I sat on my United flight to San Diego behind a man who must have been over 350 pounds. He took up half the seat next to him (which an unfortunate soul was sitting in). The tray that my laptop was sitting on was completely askance, and every time this gentleman moved, I was afraid my Macbook was going to either be crushed or launched into orbit. Plus, I was in Economy Plus!

What really gets to me is that this man paid the same price as my ticket, yet he weighs over twice the amount I do (and is taking up two seats), driving up the jet fuel costs and ultimately passing them to passengers like me. Is there a better way? Absolutely. Over on MetalMiner, Lisa Reisman recently proposed a bulk freight model for commercial airlines. Now, this suggestion is nothing new -- many others have tossed out similar suggestions in the past. But Lisa makes a solid case for it.

She writes, "As all of you know, when you ship something, you tend to pay by weight or by bulk. If you ship foam, you cube out before you weigh out. If you ship a wrecking ball, you weigh out before you cube out." With airlines, Lisa proposes a similar approach, suggesting, "one radical idea would be to adopt a bulk freight model [tying] a fare to a passenger's total weight or cube -- body weight, carry-on weight and checked baggage weight. Bulk items or over-sized luggage would be part of this strategy." Before calling the civil liberties police, consider the benefits of this approach: a bulk freight model would lower costs for base tickets for those with a healthy body mass index (BMI) and it would reduce the rush "to 'cram-on' with the bulk overheads as individuals would travel lighter."

Moreover, a bulk freight model would also encourage corporate travel departments to work closely with HR to institute health and wellness programs that reduce costs for companies and make their workforce healthier and more productive. Granted, the some 60% of Americans who are obese or overweight would end up paying a bit extra. But perhaps if they thought about the total cost impact of their cheeseburger and fries, they might opt to drop a few pounds and eat healthier to save a buck (which is precisely the benefit, mind you, of green supply chain programs that focus on both cost cutting and the qualitative societal benefits of CSR).

Jason Busch

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