There has been some controversy in the last couple of days about the potential for airlines to price discriminate on the basis of passenger weight. Weight is a major factor in airline costs and some airlines already set different prices depending on whether or not a passenger has check-in luggage. So what about a surcharge for heavier passengers? The issue is discussed here. However it is not clear that the benefits to the airlines would outweigh the costs, as noted in the interview.
So what about an alternative approach to weight redistribution, that benefits passengers (albeit not the airlines)?
Currently most airlines set weight limits for passenger baggage. Some passengers have bags well under the limit (but receive no discount) while others exceed the limit and are forced to pay for excess baggage. So there is a possibility for arbitrage. Low baggage weight passengers can do a deal with those who face excess baggage charges.
Some arbitrage between low and high baggage weight passengers occurs at present, for example when travelling in groups where baggage allowances are pooled. But is there an opportunity for more sophisticated baggage arbitrage?
Perhaps an entrepreneur could set up the following. For a small fee, those passengers with excess baggage could be paired with passengers who have underweight bags. The pair would check in together, getting the benefit of a combined total baggage allowance. The ‘over weight’ passenger would save money (the fee for the service would be less than the excess baggage charge). The ‘under weight’ passenger is better off as they receive a small payment. Coordination could be via a smartphone App.
Of course, the airlines would lose out of such pooling. And a quick check of airline rules shows that it would breach some airline’s rules.
For example on Ryanair:
Pooling or sharing individual baggage allowances is not allowed.
And Aer Lingus (under ‘checked baggage – baggage allowance’):
No pooling or sharing of baggage allowances is permitted, even within a party travelling on the same booking.
Of course, this just may be the Irish. For Air Malta:
Yes, we allow the pooling of baggage, provided that passengers :
- have presented themselves together at check-in
- are travelling on the same flight
- are travelling to the same final destination
So baggage arbitrage may be alive and well – at least if you travel to Malta …