Samoa Air planned Wednesday to start pricing its first international flights based on the weight of its passengers and their bags. Depending on the flight, each kilogram (2.2 pounds) costs 93 cents to $1.06.
That means the average American man weighing 195 pounds with a 35-pound bag would pay $97 to go one-way between Apia, Samoa, and Pago Pago, American Samoa. Competitors typically charge $130 to $140 roundtrip for similar routes.
The airline, which launched in June. has been using the pricing model since November, but in January the U.S. Department of Transportation approved its international route between American Samoa and Samoa.
The airline's chief executive, Chris Langton, said Tuesday that "planes are run by weight and not by seat, and travelers should be educated on this important issue. The plane can only carry a certain amount of weight and that weight needs to be paid. There is no other way."
Travelers in the region already are weighed before they fly because the planes used between the islands are small, said David Vaeafe, executive director of the American Samoa Visitors Bureau. Samoa Air's fleet includes two nine-passenger planes for commercial routes and a three-passenger plane for an air taxi service.
Langton said passengers who need more room will be given one row on the plane to ensure comfort.
Vaeafe said the pricing system has worked in Samoa but it's not clear whether it will be embraced by travelers in the U.S. territory.
Langton said the airline has received mixed responses since it began promoting the pricing on its website and Facebook.
Langton said some passengers have been surprised, but no one has refused to be weighed yet. He said he's given away a few free flights to some regular customers who lost weight, and that health officials in American Samoa were among the first to contact the airline when the pricing structure was announced.
"They want to ride on the awareness this is raising and use it as a medium to address obesity issues," he said.