Economics and ethics of a sustainable passenger mass policy

  • Jørgensen, Matias Thuen (Project participant)
  • Tolkach, Denis (Project coordinator)
  • Pratt, Stephen (Project participant)
  • Masiero, Lorenzo (Project participant)
  • Schuckert, Markus (Project participant)

Project: Research


The aviation industry is undergoing rapid transformations across all business aspects including customer service, ground services, in-flight entertainment, food and beverage provision, duty free shopping, cabin configuration and carbon offsetting. These transformations are reflected in the practices and policies of airlines, most notably in the changes made to pricing and ticketing systems. Aviation has become very competitive due to emergence of Low Cost Carriers (LCCs) and liberalisation of the sector. At the same time, airlines are increasingly pressured by consumers and governments towards more sustainable solutions in an industry that is increasingly viewed as a carbon sinner, i.e. an industry contributing to climate change. Therefore, airlines need to achieve a wide number of at times conflicting objectives, as they seek to be competitive, profitable, sustainable and deliver good customer service. In achieving this, airlines have to consider various trade-offs. One of the important areas that touches on many of the dimensions listed above is the passenger mass, i.e. weight of passengers and their baggage. Less weight on the aircraft, equals less fuel used. Less fuel used equals less carbon emissions and potentially also cheaper flights for the consumer. Traditionally, a certain amount and weight of baggage was included in the standard price. However, LCCs do not include any check-in baggage in the price of a ticket, rather extra fees need to be paid. More recently, legacy airlines have also began to experiment with alternative baggage policies. An interesting proposition is to charge not only for the weight of the baggage, but also for the body weight of the passenger. Samoa Air is one of the first airlines of the world to have tried this. However, it is questionable whether these policies are fair and morally right. Although, Bhatta (2013) considers charging per kilogram of weight is the fairest way to price flights. The willingness of passengers to pay for the passenger mass (body and baggage weight) lacks investigation. This study aims to investigate this issue from three perspectives – sustainability, ethics and economics. It will do so through a review and analysis of current and proposed airline policies regarding passenger mass, qualitative in-depth interviews and through a survey of consumers’ attitudes towards different types of baggage policies. Finally, the implications of these various policies on customer satisfaction, profitability and sustainability will be discussed.
Effective start/end date01/07/201930/06/2021