Struggling Airline hits Jack-Pot Bellies

American Airlines today announced that as from May 1st 2009 all customers would be weighed, and that those exceeding "normal" weight would be charged extra at a rate of $1 per pound.

A company spokesman explained that normal weight was defined as 200 lbs. or less, and that passengers would be weighed at check-in and be asked for a credit card payment if their weight topped 200 lbs., fully clothed.

This new policy follows the controversial imposition of a $15 charge for checked baggage. This charge was introduced following the sharp rise in oil prices during 2008. The traveling public have been startled and nonplussed to observe that this pricing policy has been maintained as the oil price dropped.

I caught up with AA Chairman, President and CEO Gerard Arpey as he boarded his luxury personal, private Learjet at Dallas-Fort Worth airport:

RH: Mr. Arpey, can you tell your customers the background to the new charges for the obese?

Arpey: Extending healthcare to vulnerable communities is very much au courant. We were looking for ideas as to how to do our part for this great country by encouraging healthy lifestyles. This new charging policy both gives us a huge new revenue stream and has the benefit that it encourages a healthy population. It is also logical.

RH: How do you mean, logical?

Arpey: For a normal individual traveling in one of our wide-body jets it costs about $30 in fuel to take off and $30 in fuel to land. But obese people can cost us anywhere up to $45 or $50. Moreover, we will soon be faced with installing wider seats to accommodate the over-weight passenger. Obviously this means fewer seats in an aircraft. Unless someone takes a lead we will end up with 200 passengers on a plane designed for, say, 350. This is a recipe for financial disaster. Bear in mind as well that obese people are slow moving, take longer than others to take their seats and sometimes have difficulty lifting their hand luggage into the overhead lockers.

RH: Isn't this fattism?

Arpey: We are addressing one of the most pressing health issues in America. Someone has to establish an incentive to travelers to cut the calories.

RH: Some are accusing you of spinning this. They think you are taking desperate measures to avert bankruptcy and that this move is in the same league as the Irish airline that is charging for the use of the aircraft toilet.

Arbey: Our flights are longer than theirs. We couldn't do that.

RH: Why don't you simply put up all the prices?

Arpey: Why should someone who watches his weight and health subsidize the guy who drinks a gallon of Coke and eats a triple hamburger at a sitting?

RH: Give me an example of what you term an "incentive".

Arpey: Let me take the example of someone traveling from Washington DC to Miami. A normal person eating Lean Cuisine can expect to pay around $204 round trip. For someone weighing 300 lbs the round trip fare would be $304.

RH: Some incentive! It seems unfair. You are asking an obese passenger to pay by the pound regardless of the length of the journey?

Arbey: As I said, the real expense is the fuel required to lift the plane off the ground and to land it safely - - on the outboard and the return journeys. Once you are up in the air the running cost is relatively minor.

RH: And you have stopped meals, except for international flights. Is this part of the drive for a healthier America?

Arbey: We canceled the meal service and charge $25 for a dried-out ham sandwich with tired, curly lettuce. Statistics show that only one in three of these unappetizing sandwiches is sold on the average flight. The strategy is as follows: say you arrive at the airport at 7 a.m. It takes about an hour and a half to check in, because we have fired most of the staff who used to help with electronic tickets or who personally checked you in. (incidentally, this is why the United States is the most productive economy in the world — we run a lean and mean operation). You then have to go through security, shuffling along shoeless. By the time you reach your destination and you have waited for your luggage you will have had the best part of a day fasting (as in monastery) and could have taken off as much as two pounds in weight.

RH: It sounds as if you simply want to deter over weight people traveling with you altogether.

Arbey: Sure, they can book with TWA.

RH: TWA went bust. It's no longer flying.

Arbey: Really? Oh.

RH: What is your strategy for staving off bankruptcy.

Arbey: Later in the year we expect to put a surcharge on ugly people and those with backpacks that hit seated passengers as the owners walk down the aisle. Gradually, surcharges will apply to people with screaming babies, those with streaming colds who infect everyone, and those who sit with their legs sticking out into the aisle, tripping the unwary. We also have our eye on people who bring into the cabin oversize carry-ons that are too big to stow away; people who leap up the moment the plane stops and elbow their way down the aisle; and lastly, those who suddenly put their seats back without warning, crushing the knees of the passengers behind them.

RH: Clearly, you are not an admirer of the travel experience your company offers.

Arbey: That is why I am about to board my luxury personal, private Learjet.

Robert Hanrott

April 2009

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I was prescient. Within a week of writing the above United Airlines announced (to uproar) that they intended to make obese passengers buy more expensive, and wider, seats in the class above Cattle Class