Boy, you’re going to carry that weight…

Carrying the weight on airplanesWith the rising cost of fuel on the tips of all our tongues, the chase to reduce fuel costs is in full tilt. I am fascinated (if not confounded) by the work done by the airlines in this regard. It seems that every day there are new actions being taken to reduce fuel costs or pass them along to the passengers. In June, United and US Airways joined American in charging for the first suitcase (on leisure fares).

A few interesting facts & figures:

  • According to Northwest Airlines, every 25 pounds (c. 11 kilos) removed saves $440,000 annually.
  • Delta has reduced its seats to the “slimline” designs that are each 5 pounds lighter…and I dare say a little less comfortable. Air France is putting a lighter chair in service for the end of 2009 which will lighten the plane load by 650 kilograms.
  • Water weighs 8 pounds a gallon. So, airlines are reducing the amount of water held in the lavatory reservoirs.
  • American Airlines is lightening the load of its drinks cart, enabling a saving of 2 million gallons of fuel a year, and therefore 16 million pounds or 8,000 short –ie. US– tons [or 7,143 UK tons] less fuel to transport.

Delta has asked the pilot and co-pilot to share the famously heavy manuals (the manly Jeppesen manuals, for example).

And then the gas guzzling McDonnell Douglas DC9s and MD80s are being grounded in favour of the more fuel efficient planes—hence the commercial success of the Boeing 787 which consumes 2.6 litres per passenger for 100km or the Airbus 380 (2.9l/pax).*

And now, to my main point, Air France has started to count the number of females in its passenger list in order to estimate better the passenger haul – the premise being that women are known to weigh less than men. So, the question seems around the corner: will women get to pay less? Or will the heavier passengers be charged a pound-for-pound price? I imagine the boxing terminology coming to bare: welterweight woman, featherweight fare, heavyweight human, super heavyweight savings…

Robert Mann, an airline consultant came to the same conclusion on an ABC World News webcast (Jun 11 2008), “passengers will in effect pay by the pound.”

This would be where sustainable development and travel economics marry up perfectly: the thinner you are [excluding anorexia, etc], the healthier you generally are (the less food you consume, the less hospital resources are needed…) and the less energy you use in transport (whether it is planes or cars…). Would that airlines also provided healthier foods on board!

Of course, I truly believe that travel is a wonderful aspect of progress, helping different cultures to learn from each other and, perhaps, more emphatically, to learn to work together and not to be scared of each other. The case for warming global relations and making durable global development (in sharp contrast to global warming).

Losing weight, if not losing wait…ing time?

But, sustainable development should also include the performance of its passengers. It is one thing to encourage its passengers to lose weight, but what of losing the waiting time for passengers? We are getting charged for extra weight, suitcases and more. Will passengers get to charge back for late arrivals, lost productivity and other hassles on our end? The problem here is that airlines can just point the finger at another organization (the airport authority) to discharge themselves from the airport heartaches. In the end, it will likely mean that we should all be buying shares in video conference technologies and companies!

The BandAnd, for nostalgia’s sake, here’s a couple of lines from an old song that could take on new meaning:

“Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free.

Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me”

(Quote from the song The Weight from The Band)


* Source: Challenges No. 129 (19 June 2008).

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