Debate over air charges

By Trevor Quinn

A Masterton-based Samoan man and a local Maori health coordinator have contrasting views on the new pay-by-weight charges which have been introduced by Samoa Air.

The Samoan sports star described the charges as "brilliant," while a local health professional has criticised the charges.

The controversial policy means that for the first time globally, passengers on the airline, which was established last year, will be charged by their individual weight rather than under the more traditional baggage weight criteria.

Passengers will pay a price per kilogram in relation to their individual weight and the cost will vary according to the specific length of their journey.

The prices range from 1 tala (NZ52c) per kilogram for the weight of the person and their baggage on Samoa Air's shortest domestic route to 3.8 tala ($1.98) per kilogram from Samoa to neighbouring American Samoa.

Samoa Air has said the policy is helping people to understand the obesity issue.

Masterton's Faavae Sefo, who is just back from winning the single saw world championship at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney, said that he believed the policy was "brilliant" and something which he would like to see "expanded".

Mr Sefo has flown all over the world competing in his chosen sport and he said he did not think the policy was discriminatory in any way. "I wish there was a lot of other airlines that could do that for 52 cent a kilogram, that's pretty cheap, a lot of people can afford that," he said. "For me that's brilliant and I hope in future other airlines can follow that."

Mr Sefo said he knew lots of Samoan people who had to pay more than $1000 for a return ticket to get home for Christmas and the policy could make flights much more accessible.

Maori Health Coordinator, Mihi Namana who works at Wairarapa DHB said that being charged extra based on weight was an unfair practice which would make her think twice about travelling with them. "I mean [a lot of] Samoans are big," She said. "They're almost like us Maori, a bit bigger so that might jeopardise [their business]."

Mrs Namana flies regularly to Australia up to four times a year to visit her family and she said she would have to think very carefully about visiting Australia regularly if Qantas and other airlines adopted the procedure.

She said she believed the new rules on weight assessment were "probably" discriminatory.

"I see some people on flights and they get squashed in their seats and the air hostesses are pretty good at offering [a larger person] alternative arrangements," she said.

"When I book I tell them I'm fairly big. At times of low demand when the plane isn't full ... they are usually able to leave the middle seat free."

When they were contacted yesterday, Air New Zealand said they had no current intention to charge passengers per kilogram of body weight.


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