A pair of American Samoan businessmen have filed complaints to the US Transportation Department over claims they were weighed before they boarded a flight from Honolulu – and assigned specific seats to keep the aircraft's load evenly distributed.
According to Radio New Zealand, Hawaiian Airlines' new policy – a response to an increase in average passenger weight – means those flying to or from Pago Pago, capital of American Samoa, can no longer choose their own seats online and may be asked to step on the scales before boarding.
The airline told the station that the expanding girth of the typical passenger means it is required to redistribute weight in its Boeing 767 cabins to meet the manufacturer's guidelines. This means limiting the number of adults per row and reserving seats in certain rows for young children, the broadcaster's report said.
But Avamua Dave Haleck, one of the two businessmen to have taken action, believes the new rule is discriminatory because it only applies to those flying to or from American Samoa.
Radio New Zealand also pointed out that a Boeing 767-300, used on the Honolulu-Pago Pago route, can safely fly 269 passengers a distance of 11,000km, while the distance between the two cities is just 4,176km.
"Hawaiian is saying that it is a safety issue," said Mr Haleck said, "so have we been flying unsafe for all these years?"
The move, it has been suggested, may be driven by the fact that American Samoa, according to the CIA's World Factbook, has the highest rate of obesity in the world. A remarkable 74.6 per cent of its adult population are considered obese, it says, placing it above Nauru (71.1 per cent) and the Cook Islands (63.7 per cent). Those are figures for 2007 and 2008, however. More recent estimates claim the obesity rate could now be as high as 94 per cent.
The US Transportation Department said it is investigating the complaints against Hawaiian Airlines.
In 2013, Samoa Air became the first airline in the world to charge passengers according to their size. Those flying on the South Pacific carrier, which largely operates domestic routes, were asked to pay one Samoan tālā ($A0.51) for each kilo that they, combined with their luggage, weighed.
The Telegraph, London
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