Jack, after making sure there wasn't an edible morsel left, put his plastic fork and knife onto his plastic plate and announced: "I had an idea this morning; must have come to me in a dream."
I said "Don't keep me and the rest of the world in suspense. Out with it!"
Jack said "Look, if you're going to be sarcastic, forget about it."
I said "Sorry, Jack, your ideas may be a little far-out sometimes, but they're always worth listening to. Go ahead!"
"Alright," said Jack, somewhat mollified. "You know I flew to Winnipeg over the weekend, right?"
I said "Right."
"Well," said Jack, "I had to take along some bags the kids had left behind. It turned out the baggage I was checking in, was about 6 kilos overweight. I was allowed 46 kilos, I had 52. As I was seriously thinking of emptying the excess out of the offending bag and stuffing the surplus in my pockets, this huge fellow stepped up to the counter next to me. He must have weighed, oh, easily, 150 kilos. So I took my bags off the scale and stepped on it myself. Seventy-five kilos. I told the young lady behind the counter 'I weigh 75 kilos, my luggage weighs 52 kilos. That adds up to 127 kilos. That guy next to me ALONE is more than that, not even counting his luggage. Does he have to pay extra?' Of course I knew what the answer was going to be 'company policy'. What could I do? So I paid the extra 75 bucks. But it stuck in my craw."
I said "it does seem unfair. Come to think of it, I thought it was unfair that a court somewhere decided that airlines couldn't charge an obese person for an extra seat, even though he of necessity had to occupy two seats."
"Must have been a Charter-of-Rights case," said Jack, who I know isn't Canada's biggest fan of that document.
"Anyhow," I said, "what's your idea?"
"Actually, since you mention the Charter, my proposal could take care of that matter too. Let me think for a minute."
While I finished my lunch, I could see Jack's mind going at it full speed.
"OK," he finally said, "here it is: Air Canada becomes exclusively a cargo service. There are seats, mind you, but everything and everybody is handled as cargo. One fare for passengers, one fare for baggage, both based on weight. Or maybe even the same rate for both passengers and cargo."
I asked "would there be a set rate for up to, say 100 kilos, with any weight above that being charged on a per-kilo basis?"
"Hell, no," said Jack, "you could be sure someone would cry 'discrimination'. No, straight by-the-kilo rates. A baby would cost very little; an obese man or woman, would pay a lot more than now. No other passenger would complain if a super-obese man had to spread his bulk across four seats ... he'd be paying for each of those seats!"
I said "It sure would be a good incentive for people to lose weight! Moreover the pilot of the plane would know exactly how much weight the plane was carrying."
Jack said: "So, how's that for an original idea?"
"I think it's a fine idea, Jack," I said, "and I hope you can sell it to Air Canada, or any other airline, for that matter, but I have to throw bit of cold water on it, my friend."
Jack seemed crestfallen. "What's wrong with it?"
I said "Nothing is wrong with it, as far as I can see, it's just that the idea isn't all that original."
Jack said "I've never heard of it before."
I said "I'm translating a book my father wrote about his flying years in the thirties. A few days ago I was doing some research on the internet, and I came across an item that has some bearing on your proposal. It seems that in the mid-twenties there was a passenger service between Venezuela and Curaao, with passengers being charged 70 dollars per person weighing up to 70 kilos, with an additional dollar for every kilo above that. I don't know whether there were other airlines charging on a per-kilo basis, but there was at least that one in the Caribbean."
Jack said, "So where did the airlines go wrong?"
I said "Probably because in those days not that many people were overweight, and it may have been easier to set fares based on average weight. But, really, I don't know. So what are you going to do now?"
"I'm going to call the president of Air Canada," said Jack, "and see what he says."
I said "Be sure to give him my regards."
Jack said "Do you know him?"
I said "Never met the man, but give him my regards anyway. I don't want to be accused of discrimination."
Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.
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