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Hawaiian Airlines may have found a way to maneuver a sensitive subject to perhaps save fuel on one of its flights.
According to a report from The Associated Press, the airline was faced with the fact that it was using more fuel than usual between Hawaii – specifically Honolulu – and American Samoa. After eliminating possible culprits such as headwinds and other natural factors, the airline began testing a bold hypothesis - that passenger weight was the cause of the fuel usage. To test the theory, Hawaiian launched a survey that asked travelers to volunteer their weight.
While the question might not exactly be one wants to answer in public, the survey, which queried those going from Honolulu to Pago Pago until this August, proved fairly illuminating.
The AP report states: “The results of Hawaiian Airlines' six-month voluntary survey found that on average the passengers and their carry-on bags were 30 pounds heavier than anticipated, and it's prompted a new policy: Passengers are no longer allowed to pre-select their own seats on flights between Hawaii and the U.S. territory.”
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The report states that the airline decided the solution worked to shift weight more evenly across the airplane. For an example, it made sure to keep one seat either open or given to a child in a single row.
The entire process, as one would expect, has had its proponents and detractors.
The report quotes viewfromthewing.com’s Gary Leff who states, “What they're doing is logistically the most sensible thing under unique circumstances.”
On the other side of the issue are those personally involved in the process. While Hawaiian states no official complaints were offered during the survey’s duration, the AP did quote Atimua Migi who had just dropped off his father at the airport for a trip to Pago Pago: “What they're saying is Samoans are obese.”
While Hawaiian did not reportedly field any complaints, six were sent to the U.S. Transportation Department. One of those was delivered by American Samoan Daniel King who explained that these flights normally host travelers that, “are of Samoan descent, which also begs the question of discrimination.”
Now this practice has a recent precedent. TravelPulse’s Rich Thomaselli reported back in August 2015 on Uzbekistan Airways practice of weighing its passengers prior to flights.
At that time, the airline released the following statement: “According to the rules of International Air Transport Association (IATA), airlines are obliged to carry out the regular procedures of preflight control passengers weighing with hand baggage to observe requirements for ensuring flight safety.”
Whether for safety or fuel consumption concerns, it’s clear that airlines have little qualms in broaching what many believe would be sensitive matter for travelers.