April 2, 2013— -- If it's an April Fools' Day joke, it's an awfully elaborate one. If not, Samoa Air has become the first airline in the world to do what was previously unthinkable: Charge passengers by weight.
Yes, you get weighed. By a stranger. At the airport.
Not that the idea hasn't been floated -- several times -- in the past. In fact, ABC News reported just last week a Norwegian economist was the latest to float the idea of an airline "fat tax."
The Samoa Air homepage reads "We at Samoa Air are keeping airfares fair, by charging our passengers only for what they weigh. You are the master of your Air'fair', you decide how much (or little) your ticket will cost. No more exorbitant excess baggage fee's [sic], or being charged for baggage you may not carry. Your weight plus your baggage items, is what you pay for. Simple."
"Airplanes don't run on seats, they run on weight," Samoa Air's Chief Executive, Chris Langton, told Radio Australia.
If any airline were to try a pay-what-you-weigh policy, Samoa Air would make perfect sense. Obesity is a major problem in the Pacific islands. The World Health Organization reported in 2010 that 80 percent of women in American Samoa were obese.
Attempts to reach Samoa Air by ABC News were not immediately successful.
A section of the airline's web site titled "How does pay what you weigh work?" outlines the steps in determining a passengers final airfare.
Step 1. Select 'book online', and choose your flight
Step 2. Enter your details, including your estimated weight(s) of passengers and baggage
Step 3. Your airfare is then calculated using your weight.
Step 4. You travel happy, knowing full well that you are only paying for exactly what you weigh... nothing more.
And how does the airline guard against people entering their high school weight as opposed to their actual weight? That's where the getting weighed by a stranger at the airport comes in.
"Booking a flight with us is as easy as inputting your approximate weight into our online booking engine (don't worry, we will weigh you again at the airport) - you then can prepay your 'guesstimate', guaranteeing you that much weight is allocated to you for that flight," the site reads.
"People who have been most pleasantly surprised are families because we don't charge based on seat requirement even though a child is required to have a seat," Langton said. "We just weigh them. So a family of two adults and maybe a couple of mid-sized kids or younger children can travel for considerably less than what they were being charged before."
Samoa Air flies from Samoa to American Samoa, North Tonga, Niue, North Cook Islands and French Polynesia. The airline does not fly large commercial aircraft, but rather small planes that are more susceptible to weight variances.
And while Langton said there's "no doubt in my mind this is the concept of the future," it will likely take major carriers quite awhile to warm up to the concept, if they ever do.
But on the other hand, did you ever think 10 years ago you'd be paying for checked bags?