Where I grew up in New Zealand, there’s a pretty large population of Samoans. In fact, I think there are more Samoans living in New Zealand than on the actual island of Samoa itself. In case you’re not familiar with its whereabouts, Samoa is a gorgeous Pacific Island nestled almost halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. Think pristine white beaches, glistening azure waters and people so friendly their smiles could light up the whole island. But here’s the thing. Samoan people are, as far as national averages go, known to be very much on the large side. In fact, Samoans share the highest heart disease and diabetes rates in the world. They love their food. As an example, let me tell you about Samoans and KFC. They especially love their KFC. The only problem is… there’s no KFC in Samoa (at least there wasn’t the last time I checked). So it’s very common, almost mandatory in fact, for a native Samoan to board their flight from New Zealand to head back home armed with the biggest bucket of chicken Colonel Sanders sells and to have pots of mashed potatoes and coleslaw tucked into their coat pockets. In fact, if you’re planning your winter escape from New Zealand to Samoa, then also plan on the smell of fried chicken wafting through the cabin for the solid 3.5 of your journey.
For the last 15 or so years the airlines flying to Samoa have turned a bit of a blind eye to all this KFC trafficking. It has helped filled their planes, their customers are (mostly) happy and everyone wins. Until now that is. With tightening airline margins and fierce competition, practically every airline today is duking it out for survival.
When I worked for an airline that flew in the area, we used to get a steady stream of complaints in the legal department, but it wasn’t about the smell of KFC saturating the air on the Samoan flights, as one might think. It was instead from passengers mashed into a corner, forced to sit next to someone who was so big their fat rolls took up their own seat and two others. That’s not fun for anyone – the poor person who has to fit their frame into those seats, or their neighbor who can’t even squeeze by to use the rest room.
Well, Samoan Airlines has decided they’re going to fix the problem once and for all. They are not outlawing KFC on board, but they are charging passengers based on their weight. That’s right. If you’re carrying a few extra pounds, or a few hundred extra, you pay more. A LOT more. If you miss a few dinners and go on a water diet you just might be able to swing a flight to paradise for mere pennies on the dollar.
As you can imagine, people are in a complete uproar over this.
“It’s discriminatory, it’s racist and it’s a breach of civil liberties,” says one side. On the other side of the fence, those who run the business and are trying to keep a struggling airline alive say it’s the ultimate “user pays model” and the only way to ensure a “level playing field.”
Hmmm. What do you think? I think it’s a bold move that makes great sense from a pure business perspective, but makes terrible sense from a customer service perspective. The majority of Samoan Airline customers are… Samoans. I suspect they will vote with their feet and take their dollars (and their KFC) elsewhere. In which case, the top brass might want to take a read of my article from last month’s edition of my paper and ink private client newsletter, Marketing Dynamite: “21 Utterly Ingenious Ways To Get More Clients.” I got so many positive comments about it I thought I would share it again.