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Charging passengers by how much they weigh is a no-no in Australia, as airlines are not allowed to discriminate on grounds of weight, a senior Qantas executive has confirmed, amid reports that climbing rates of obesity may force Australian airlines to recalculate the average weight of their customers.

The concept surfaced briefly at TravelManagers’ national conference in Perth at the weekend, in the form of a question put to the chief of Qantas’ 787 Dreamliner program, Peter O’Donohue.

O’Donohue said there was no prospect of passengers being charged on a per-weight basis.

The pay-by-weight formula– perhaps the ultimate extension of user-pays – hasbeen put into practice by some smaller oversea carriers but has never caught on among major airlines. For a start, it discriminates against men, unless separate weights are set for each sex.

Two thirds of the Australian population are either overweight or obese and obesity is a global problem among developed countries. A recent shock report found that one in 10 serving soldiers in the British Army are clinically obese. Restrictions on heavily overweight people joining the army have contributed to shortfalls in numbers by as much as 20% or even 30% in some British infantry regiments.


Large passenger

Every traveller’s nightmare – being seated next to an enormous passenger who bulges into their space – is an increasingly likely prospect. Passengers who claim to have been squished and injured have launched lawsuits over the issue.

Air safety regulators in Australia are considering adding an extra 5kg to the estimated average passenger weight, the Australian newspaper reported at the weekend.

Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), which regulates air safety, is preparing to update average passenger weights for commercial airlines for the first time in 30 years, with many suspecting the existing regulations no longer reflect reality in these fatter times.

Airlines use CASA guidelines to help calculate the gross weight of an aircraft – which must be within certain limits to fly.

Currently, for the B737-800s and A320s that form the backbone of Australian domestic air transport, airlines are advised to assume an average 81.8kg for men and 66.7kg for women.

But, as the Australian reported, the 2017-18 national health survey shows the average weight of an Australian man has risen to 87kg and 71.8kg for women – while 67% of the population is now overweight or obese.

Back in 1990 when CASA calculated its guidelines, just 36.5% of the population fell into that category.

Written by Peter Needham