PR and the Airline ‘Fat Tax’: Endless Possibilties

Recently, Dr. Bharat P. Bhatta of Sogn og Fjordane University College in Norway, laid out a modest proposal in the Journal of Review and Pricing Management: Airlines should charge overweight passengers more for their plane tickets than thin passengers.

The result of this move would allow carriers to save money on fuel, which could mean possible discounts for slimmer passengers.

Specifically, Bhatta had three proposals: The first would be a straight price per kilogram; the second a fixed low fare with heavier passengers paying a surcharge and lighter passengers being offered discounts while the third suggests dividing passengers into heavy, normal and light categories and charging them accordingly.

Bhatta’s idea spread through the media like wildfire. After all, while the chances of this idea being implemented are slim to none, it was an intriguing proposal for the public to consider. As I was hearing people shout discrimination or, “Hey, that’s not a bad idea,” I began to think about what would happen from a PR standpoint if the airline industry decided to adopt Dr. Bhatta’s proposal. How would an individual airline communicate such a change?

No doubt PR pros could leverage the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight. They could even take a page out of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s stalled Big Soda initiative with the message: “Not only will being overweight cost more at the airline counter, it can kill you.”

I envision health clubs opening up in airport terminals and, for people who need to lose extra pounds quickly, portable saunas and elliptical trainers set up at departure gates. Sure, there will be disgruntled customers, but PR can counter that by touting success stories.

Yes, getting this “fat tax” across to the public would be a Herculean PR challenge. Do you have some ideas that will fly? We’d like to hear about them.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

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