Is pricing a plane ticket based on the passenger’s weight fair?

If you’re taking an international flight on tiny Samoa Air today, your fare will be based on your weight, along with that of your luggage. The cost is 93 cents to $1.06 for each kilogram, or 2.2 pounds.

The average American woman weighs in at 166.2 pounds, or 75.5 kilograms, far from the ideal weight for her average height of 5 feet, 3.8 inches tall, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Her ticket on Samoa Air, at the $1 a kilogram rate, would cost $75.50.

But let’s be honest here. The average American woman is at least 20 to 40 pounds overweight — and it’s costing her an extra $20 to $40.

Samoa Air Chief Executive Chris Langton said that “planes are run by weight and not by seat,” explaining, “The plane can only carry a certain amount of weight and that weight needs to be paid.” He believes other airlines should adopt the policy.

It’s not a new idea. I remember a newspaper columnist years ago who put forth the idea that the heavier among us should pay more for their seats on planes, trains and buses. Who hasn’t been squeezed into a middle seat between two plus-sized folks on a flight? It’s happened to me; one time my married seatmates had purposefully chosen their seats to have more space until a sold-out flight put me between them. Not one of my better flying experiences.

More than one-third of us are obese and another third are overweight. Could such pricing provide a much-needed incentive for Americans to shed excess poundage–like wanting to look good in a bikini on that vacation to the beach?

Or is the policy merely fat-bashing or “body fascism,” as one British editorial writer charges, calling it “a dehumanizing, degrading and mechanistic approach to customer service.”

There’s no doubt weight discrimination exists. Your weight can affect your salary, your chances for employment, how others view you and even, as a result, your own self-image. Bias against the overweight in the United States has increased by 66 percent over the last decade — “and is comparable to rates of racial discrimination, especially among women,” wrote Yale University researcher Rebecca M. Puhl in a study published by the Journal of Obesity.

It’s a thin line between providing motivation to lose weight and fostering discrimination against the overweight and obese.

And we’ll see how effective it is as a business model.

Diana Reese is a freelance journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.

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