Honolulu, Hawaii — In a move that’s infuriating overweight passengers, Honolulu-based Hawaiian Airlines has won the right to implement a new plan that involves assigning seats based on passengers’ weights.
The company hopes the new policy will enable the airline to distribute weight evenly around the plane cabin, save fuel, and prevent crashes.
The largest airline in Hawaii and the eighth largest in the US, Hawaiian Airlines is the oldest American air carrier that has never had a fatal accident or a hull loss. The company is often at the top of American on-time carrier lists; it also boasts the fewest flight cancellations, the fewest oversales, and the lowest rate of baggage-handling issues among U.S. airlines. Hawaiian is based in Honolulu and operates its main hub at Honolulu International Airport.
The new policy will be implemented on the route between Honolulu and American Samoa.
Hawaiian has found that its Boeing 767-300s, the planes it has been flying to and from American Samoa since 2003, burn more fuel than usual on the 2,600-mile flights.
After ruling out strong winds and other possible causes, the airline did a six-month survey of passenger weights on the route between Honolulu and Pago Pago in American Samoa. The study found that passengers and their carry-on luggage for those flights averaged 30 pounds more than other flights.
Following weight surveys conducted for its other flight routes, Hawaiian determined that only the American Samoa route showed evidence of excess weight among travelers. This is believed due to a preponderance of Samoan travelers on flights with American Samoa departure points and destinations.
Samoans are among the most obese people in the world.
To deal with the situation, Hawaiian Airlines decided it would weigh passengers at check-in and assign seats based on weight to even out on-board weight distribution, regardless of passengers’ seating preferences.
Many people, particularly Samoans, feel the new policy is discriminatory. Indeed, six complaints were lodged against the airline with the U.S. Department of Transportation. The complaints allege that because the policy is being implemented only on the Honolulu-American Samoa route, it is racist and discriminates against passengers of Samoan descent.
One of the complainants is American Samoan Avamua David Haleck. As he prepared for a Hawaiian Airlines flight from Honolulu to Pago Pago, Haleck was told, after being weighed, that he was not allowed to choose his own seat.
Haleck questions why the policy is suddenly needed, saying,
“Hawaiian is saying that ‘Yes, it is a safety issue,’ but, you know, weight distribution . . . so have we been flying unsafe for all these years?”
The airline, however, argues that the weight distribution policy is needed for air safety. Seating multiple obese adults in one part of the plane pose a safety hazard in the event of a crash landing, Hawaiian contends.
After examining both sides of the argument, the US Department of Transportation decided in favor of Hawaiian Airlines.
Hawaiian is not the first airline to institute a weight-based seating policy. Samoa Air began weighing passengers in 2013, and Uzbekistan Airways began weighing passengers in 2015.