Should Airlines Charge Overweight Passengers a Fuel Surcharge?

Are airlines eying overweight passengers to pad their bottom line?

The other day, I flew from San Diego to my home in Rhode Island.

With six weeks-worth of clothing, filming equipment and speedos, my suitcase was admittedly over-packed. It weighed in at 62 pounds – which exceeded United Airlines’ baggage limit by some twelve pounds. The ticketing agent informed me that, because it would take additional fuel to fly my overweight bag to Rhode Island, I was subject to a 0 baggage fee. This on top of the that I paid to check-in my bag.

Yes, I paid a 0 fee because my bag was twelve pounds overweight. Can you see where I’m going with this?

As of 2009, the average American was twenty-three pounds overweight… and counting. Two thirds of Americans are overweight and nearly a third of Americans are considered obese. And if it takes extra fuel to get my overweight bag to my destination, it must be true for overweight passengers, too.

With my overweight baggage experience in mind, I can’t help but wonder if the airlines are eying overweight passengers with the hopes of padding their bottom line. If a Boeing 747-400 can hold 524 passengers, that’s an average of six tons of extra bodyweight. A fuel surcharge would certainly help cover the costs of keeping all that fat aloft.

Perhaps, in the not-so-distant-future, we’ll have mandatory weigh-ins at the ticketing counters – and overweight passengers will have to pay extra money to get their excess bodyweight to their desired destination.

Think it sounds too outlandish? Think again. In 2009, Ireland’s Ryanair considered implementing a “fat tax” for obese passengers after a public vote on its website. The tax was later dropped because of implementation difficulties. Weighing passengers, the airline concluded, would have the adverse effect of slowing down the check-in process too severely.

Of course, I’m not trying to suggest that a fuel surcharge for overweight passengers makes sense; it would be an embarrassing, marginalizing and dehumanizing policy. But I am suggesting that the airlines are ridiculous. Period.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

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Comments

  1. Steve Houldsworth says:

    Airlines already do this. Passengers who are considered too large are forced to pay for an additional ticket.

  2. Konstantin says:

    The airline companies charge for the passenger’s weight in the ticket prices. So you pay for the over-weighted people when you buy your ticket.

  3. The reason it probably slows down the check in process is that to determine if one is overweight, they must first determine if the person is overweight for their “body group”: determining one’s height, age, sex, and then using something like BMI to determine to charge someone a “fat tax”. Otherwise they could do something like the amusement parks have been doing for years and that’s having a single weight limit for everyone. I know that at quite a few parks the weight limit is 180 pounds. But of course that doesn’t take into consideration medical specifications, people whose muscle is the predominant weight factor, and other things. At the very least, a “fat tax” would perhaps encourage Americans to lose weight so they can fly. Finding a proper way to implement such a thing though is near impossible.

    • One commenter wrote that it slows down the check-in process because they have to determine if you’re overweight for your body group. That doesn’t make sense. So the extra charge is a punishment for being overweight? Nonsense! The only fair way to implement it would be to pick a number — say, 200 lbs. — and if you’re over that weight, you pay extra. Airlines aren’t in the business of determining who’s healthy. If you’re 300 lbs., it takes more fuel to carry you whether you’re healthy or not.

    • The airplane and the fuel it guzzles doesn’t care if the extra weight is due to a person having some extra weight around their middle or if you’re just a 6’7″ tall person who weights more by merit of having an extra foot of body. The policy smacks of fat-shaming.

      I don’t think it’s exactly fair to charge people for that sort of thing, considering for the most part it’s completely out of their control. Not to mention an invasion of privacy, but I suppose TSA doesn’t give a damn about personal boundaries, so expecting airlines might be naive.

      Oh, and for the record, I am a ~120 pound girl, so I’m not speaking out of personal interest.

  4. Oh, I agree the airlines are ridiculous.

    They can charge for overweight bags, but if they tried to charge overweight people it would be a social nightmare.

    Not to mention they want you to travel without a change of clothing unless you’re willing to pay $25 for not wearing the same clothes for your entire trip.

    Bottom line: the entire airline industry is out of control. They don’t want to jack ticket prices so they can appear ‘affordable’, but they’ll surcharge everything.

  5. I don’t think they are redic. Airlines have ro make money and our bags are one way they do just that! If our bags are heavy they 1.) Take more space in the cargo hold. 2.) More fuel burned. 3.) Depending on how large it could take more than 1 person to load it onto a belt therefore more time consuming.

    When it comes to people there should be more agression in the movement for 2 seats for people of size. If you can’t fit in a certain sized seat without effecting the comfort of the passenger beside you, you should be required to purchase a second seat.. Perhaps at a discounted rate….

    #FrequentFlyer

  6. Janos Horvath says:

    did you know that the United States Military are required to do a Weight in before every mass transit flight that they go on. and yes they will kick back people if the group comes in over weight.

  7. Thank God you finished your article saying it would embarrassing, marginalizing and dehumanizing, because that’s what I thought throughout the whole thing.

    I am not fat (anymore – ha!), but still it would be so awkward seeing people being weighed and waiting for your turn in line for the scale.

    Anyway, I love your articles and videos, Davey! =) I only haven’t been so in love with exercises yet, but who knows someday? haha…

    Luv from Brazil! โ™ฅ

  8. No question that airlines are ridiculous. Just watch an episode of ABC’s Pan Am and you see how flying should be (they were baking fresh rolls onboard in one of the episodes – now that’s service!)

    Putting the argument that our food supply is largely to blame aside, perhaps there should be some sort of tax for bad behavior in an attempt to curb it. We tax the heck out of cigaretts. Perhaps there should be a weight tax at the airports or a soda tax at the grocery store.

    But I just gotta ask…… how many speedos did you pack, girl?

    • Just to pipe in, I believe Massachusetts has taxed soda and candy. Perhaps all sugar. But as you see, your idea is already coming to be.

  9. I think the person who told you that is a full of crap. Its the space that your bag takes up. Your bag full to the brim may not be bigger but others might, so they set a specific weight. They just want more money for luggage space. Unless your talking about a very morbidly obese person who doesnt fit in just one seat without making the person next to them lean to the other side, its just ludicris. Every airline will give you a differnt explanation of moronic charges.

    To your point, they tax us for everything lately. I saw in an article that they are thinking about taxing soda higher too. Though that makes sense, we need to make healthier food cheaper and unhealthy food more expensive.

  10. Lisa Purcell says:

    As an airline employee, I’ll give you a different view on the matter.
    These bag actually have to be picked up and loaded in cargo bins…….by PEOPLE. Do you know how many on the job injuries are caused by overweight baggage? It is the leading cause of OJI’s for an airline.
    Please understand, if you have trouble with carrying it, quite a few other people will too.

  11. Why don’t you spend $10 on a portable baggage scale and learn how to pack. I hate listening to whiners who can’t seem to learn how to travel no matter how often they do it.

  12. I fly often and have seen it many times when they have asked for people to volunteer and leave the aircraft. They simply state that the aircraft exceeds the weight limit and will have to remove the last passengers that were on standby or have volunteer take the next flight with a voucher.

    • Lisa Purcell says:

      And that is very true….on smaller aircraft there are weight restrictions. I does not necessarily have to do with the baggage. Normal bags are calculated at a certain weight as are over weight bags. People are calculated at a certain weight and so are children. When there is a weight restriction due to bad weather meaning you need to carry more fuel weight, we will then need to ask for volunteers.
      Volunteers are accepted before baggage and numerous other items.

  13. I don’t think overweight people should pay a “fat tax” as RyanAir tried implementing, rather, certain passengers should simply have to pay for two seats. Having traveled next to more than just overweight passengers several times, I think it’s only fair, that way they get two seats for all of their body mass and the rest of us are as equally comfortable. I don’t enjoy 8 hour plane rides with someone’s belly spilling over the armrest into my space ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Maybe they should charge for pound. And you skinny a-holes who only take up half a seat can get a discount. Maybe they shouldn’t give you a full seat.

      I avoid flying for the humiliation. Used to be when you bought a ticket you were paying for fare, not for the amount of space. Then people with no luggage should get a discount and screaming little kids would get on very cheap.

      A seat’s a seat. A ticket’s a ticket. Find your humanity and stop being a jerk!

  14. David Walker says:

    I am a big fan Davie, and normally I normally enjoy your articles. Being overweight myself and trying to do something about it, I find the article pretty shitty. Yes, I see your point regarding baggage, but obese people are the last group of people that can generally be mocked in public and it is still acceptable. I guess my thought is: If you build a career on being positive and building people up, no matter who they are, perhaps this type of article should be left to someone else. It just seems to fly in the face of your outlook on life. Just my two cents-let the internet arguing begin!

  15. Honestly, I think if they did it, lots of people would stop flying altogether. I know I’d avoid it at all costs, because my social anxiety is big enough as it is. I wouldn’t be able to handle the added humiliation of being weighed at the airport. And I know I’m not the only one.

  16. David Walker — I too am disappointed in the flavor of many of Davey Wavey’s posts of late. When I was first introduced to his site, I thought he was inspirational and a beacon of light in the troubling existence that can be a gay man’s experience in this world. I think he should focus his posts with a bit more forethought and planning. It seems as though he just posts on a whim. If he’s horny, it’s all about penises (or maybe that’s about garnering more comments to make more $). If he’s annoyed because he got charged a baggage overage charge, he turns his focus on overweight people rather than asking why he was charged extra and giving other travelers a friendly heads-up so they don’t suffer the same charge. Just wish that he could practice what he sometimes purports to preach.

  17. I’m fairly positive that they actually charge more for overweight bags because of the amount of effort needed to move them. Heavy bags also pose risks for the crew (bad backs from lifting too many of them).

  18. Yes it would be it would be an embarrassing, marginalizing and dehumanizing policy to charge overweight passengers. If the reason is to control the mass of the aircraft then the total mass allowed should be evenly distributed among all of the passengers.

    Let’s say all ‘seats’ are allowed to contribute 300 lbs to the mass of the aircraft (exemptions for items that are required for medical purposes)… a 150 lb passenger could bring 150 lb of checked baggage, carry on baggage etc … a 150 lb person with a 20 lb dog could bring 130 lb of baggage … a 300 lb person had better find another mode of transportation or buy two seats.

    No surcharges.

    Pre-flight weigh in does not need to identify passenger weight simply a green light or red light.

    This may sound a little unforgiving – but I think there are kernels of a non-discriminatory precess in there.

  19. Davey, putting aside the offensiveness of the idea of treating groups of people unequally, I have another question. I’m pretty sure you’ve said yourself that muscle weighs more than fat, so would body-builders have to pay this extra tax too? Because it takes just as much fuel to keep a pound of muscle above the average in the air as a pound of fat.

    • Lisa Purcell says:

      please quit with the “Fat” taxes. Airlines charge for overweight bags because it is ridiculous to charge overweight people. Plain and simple. Baggage does not have an emotion as do people.

  20. Barry. W. says:

    I live in Ireland and I remember very well the whole debate over this tax. The only thing is, there was no chance Ryanair would be able to implement it. It would ’cause lengthy check-ins because Ireland isn’t the best for it’s airports in the first place and Ryanair have problems keeping passengers already.
    Good article ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Lisa Purcell says:

    OK people, I am an airline employee, an expert on this situation. A passengers’ weight has nothing to do with the flight process. Quit being so ignorant assuming certain details. Media and propaganda try to stir people up. But no one needs to get their panties in a wad until they know the facts. PERIOD.

  22. Overweight passengers to have to pay extra in the form of buying a second seat. I bought a second seat for my upcoming trip to Seattle knowing that I’m overweight and not wanting anyone, including myself, to be overcrowded for the 6 hour flight. Davey, if you ever come down to Maryland, you should come to the gym with me and give me some exercises to effectively lose this baggage. :~)

  23. I would suspect that the ticketing agent told you one of many lines they are told to feed customers who question the insane fees that the airlines charge for everything now. The weight limit on bags for most airlines has been 50lbs for at least the last 25 years I’ve been flying…I love your vids, and positivity, but I have to say that I’m disappointed that you chose to take this route with your displeasure for the extra charges. I swear it seems like people got bored with giving smokers crap and decided that being fat was the new smoking. Sometimes, and I know this is going to shock some folks, but sometimes the problems of the world aren’t caused by fat, or smoking…sometimes, a fee is just a fee…

  24. John Dobyns says:

    Wouldn’t the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) prohibit a surcharge? I would think obesity is a disability.

    • Amen. Who can afford two ticket? All you pretty people just want to hide us from public viewing. But you forget, we make you look good!

  25. As a couple of other commenters have noted, this is about the health and safety of the ground crew who manipulate and load the baggage, not about fuel consumption.

    Am sure there is an average weight of a passenger, and that that is fairly consistent across a typical plane.. so the fuel attributable to passengers is accounted for in the ticket price.

    The surcharge for overweight baggage is to discourage people from overfilling luggage that then requires special handling. That limit has been agreed internationally as about 50lbs / 23kg. Budget airlines like the aforementioned Ryanair operate a reduced maximum limit (20kg) and THAT is about making profit from people…

  26. Well in fact Ryanair do implement their policy in part, if they believe you are overweight they will ask you to buy an extra seat-even if there aren’t any available! And in relation to the extra fuel for an overweight bag-rubbish. It’s a deterrent for people to bag very heavy bags so the airlines can actually carry the bags within the weight limit for the aircraft.

  27. David I can't get a date either, so I have given up trying. says:

    I would have weighed my bag before going to the air port and the gone to the USPS and sent the extra 12 lbs. by them and paid much less. But that is me. As far as a person you can’t take 12 lbs off and mail it. The extra charge is way out of line. It depends what the airline will charge for over weight people.

    • David I can't get a date either, so I have given up trying. says:

      Another thought. If they only charge $25 for 1 50#, why $100 for 12#’s? You know they are making money at $25 mark or they would be charging more.

      • To make even more money?

        You can’t really completely blame the airlines, they’re having difficulty fiscally as is /:

  28. Basically let’s be blunt.

    Why were you charged 100$ for an overweight bag?

    Because you could be. By that point there is NOTHING you can humanely do beyond leave things behind or pay.

    They’re not charging you for fuel, they’re laying down regulations to get money out of people.

    As for overweight? Do you know how difficult that would be? Unless you wanted to calculate out fat percentages athletes would be pissed (Your BMI davey is probably technically high) without keeping in mind someone’s frame other people would be pissed.

    Hypothetically it’s pretty offensive, in reality it’s impossible.

  29. Sean Hauge says:

    That is an interesting question. How do you define overweight. You, Davey, are considerably larger, muscles wise, than someone of average stature.

  30. First, I agree with Amanda, Good healthy(not GMO) Food should be cheaper and the crappy processed, prepackaged food should be expensive, that would be one way people could afford to eat healthy. When was the last time you saw a two for one sale on veggie burgers or fresh veggies??? To David, I don’t think Davey was trying to intentionally insult anyone, he was just stating how rediculous the whole idea of charging a fat tax would be. I agree the Airlines are being rediculous with all of the surcharges, remember surcharges are a good way to add directly to the airlines bottom line, meaning more profit, oh and also remember, that a pound of fat and a pound of muscle weigh the same, A POUND… Muscle is more dense than fat, so a muscle bound person’s BMI could be higher and weigh more than the average person, so the airlines would have a very difficult time charging a fat tax to someone that is not fat but fit.

  31. i am very amused at the commenters that quickly jump to judgement of the notion of introducing a ‘Fat Tax’ as if being over a weight limit is necessarily driven by fat alone. if a set weigh in limit were to be introduced similar to luggage it wouldn’t be fat alone that would drive the need to pay a surcharge.

  32. christopher says:

    yes-yes-and yes.it might be an incentive to diet-and reaching a goal to a healthier life.

  33. Dale Rodgie says:

    Last year had a holiday around Asia. At the time I was over 200 kg (440 lbs). For my comfort and for other passengers I bought two tickets on every flight.

    However, the low-cost airline I used had trouble checking me in every time. It would take around 20 minutes to sort it out each time I checked-in. At one time the supervisor told me that I should only book at the airport and not online. The only airport near me that the airline uses is one hours drive away and they only have one flight a day. So the airline counter is only open for a few hours a day, and not every day. Also buying tickets are the airport would be at the full price and not the discount price on the web site.

    Certainly, trying to do the right thing does not always pay off.

    I going on another holiday in a few months. This time I have lost almost 60 kg (132 lbs) so far – and even more before the trip. This time I have only booked one seat.

  34. I dont know about Ryanair cos I just never fly with them but Aerlingus say they only allow 20Kgs before they charge you extra and plenty of times Ive had 24Kg’s and not being charged an extra cent.

  35. JohnnyJBoy says:

    To all those saying it’s ridiculous and out of people control to be over weight, the vast majority of the time it’s seriously not! Rare exceptions granted. I think you should just be allowed a set amount of weight per passanger in total. For example 25st. You get on the same scales as your bag when it’s weighed, no slowing down at all. If you’re lighter you’ll get more luggae allowance by default and vise versa.
    I can’t see how this is unfair? We’d be paying for exactly the same service so why should I get less over all weight allowance because i’ve manage to keep my body weight down, yet pay the same price?

  36. How about a rebate for lighter people with a good BMI or some other objective measure?

  37. What if you are flying south west? they do not charge extra for the bag. should overweight persons have to pay there?

  38. With Obamacare making it possible for people to have health issues looked at by a professional before there’s something critically wrong and someone dies, the next step in this process would to charge fast food companies the cost of what it takes for the person to work off that food.

    The bottom line is if we’re going to be forced to eat marginally healthy food at a discount because the pink goo that goes into our meat products aren’t used for composting anymore, we should see a discount at the gym when we decide to lose weight.

    It’s an uphill battle to exercise to lose weight when you don’t look that great when you walk into the gym in the first place. It should be free at the expense of the greedy people who put the weight on your body to begin with.