Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013



This week's news item that you might have missed comes to us from far-off Polynesia.  Samoa, to be exact...an island chain found halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand.  While the islands may be remote, they still cannot hide from the Global Economic Crisis.  Specifically, skyrocketing jet fuel costs threatened to bankrupt tiny Samoa Air.  Just how small is Samoa Air?  Their total fleet consists of a mere five planes.  They serve ten destinations in Samoa, American Samoa, North Tonga and the Cook Islands.  In summary, Samoa Air is one of the smallest airlines on earth. 

However, an announcement last week by Samoa Air CEO Chris Langton instantly catapulted the isolated company into an international sensation.  How?   By being the first airline ever to base all fares on an individual's weight.  Confused?  Here's how it works: When you arrive for your flight at Apia International Airport, things start off normal.  First, you present your passport to authorities. Next, you head to the check-in counter to process the ticket, check in your luggage, etc.  Then, things get different. You must climb onto a giant scale.  Afterward, your fare is calculated using a simple multiplication.  Next, you swipe the credit card and pay for the adjusted fare.  Finally, you go through security and proceed to the gate.

Okay, Okay...let's try to answer some of your many questions.  We'll start with the nitty-gritty of the calculations.  Samoa Air charges 2.40 Tala per kilogram...which in American...converts to about .90 cents per pound.  This means a 190 LBS person with a 35 LB suitcase (luggage is charged the same rate) would pay about $145 to fly on their main route from Apia to Pago Pago.  However, let's say you're big-boned and weigh 295 LBS.  Instantly, that same seat now costs $205 for the same flight.  Also: Children 12 years and under are charged a standard fare...possibly to discourage Samoans from starving kids prior to a flight.  Get it?

Naturally, people worldwide don't "get it" and are understandably angry over Samoa Air and their new policy.  A blogger in the UK called it "derogatory to humans."  Similarly, a column Dallas Morning News referred to weight-based pricing as "insulting to large people everywhere."  For the time being, citizens of Samoa are approaching the fares with mixed emotions.  "It is inevitable" said Apia resident Mitieli Lacalevu.  "Samoans understand that everything comes down to net profit."  Samoans also understand they live in the fourth most obese nation on earth...with a staggering 86% of the population being overweight.  Simple math will tell you: Weight-Based Pricing was the only way possible for the airline to stay in business.

How has Samoa Air responded to all the criticism?  "After the initial shock wore off, there's been nothing but support," replied the company's CEO Chris Langston. "Our planes are run by weight, not by seat. Travelers need to be educated."  Let's educate ourselves about the airplanes used by the airline.  The Cessna 172 is tiny and holds only five passengers and the pilot.  (NOTE: That's the same plane that was overloaded by pop star Aaliyah ten years ago with tragic consequences.)  Hence, people have always been weighed prior to takeoff.  This is not done to embarrass them, but to save their lives.  We here at the DUNER BLOG salute you, Samoa Air, for having the courage to address the real issues facing your business in a frank and practical manner.  

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