Hawaiian Airlines will continue its policy of assigning seats only at the airport on flights between Honolulu and American Samoa, after federal complaints that the practice targets Samoans because of their weight were denied.
The airline began the policy earlier in October, after noticing their planes were burning more fuel than projected on the 2,600 flight route between Honolulu and American Samoa. A six-month voluntary survey in which passengers were weighed before boarding found that on average, each person and their luggage weighed 30 pounds more than expected.
As a result of the survey, the airline took away the offer of pre-selecting seats on that flight, and assigned seats when travelers checked in to make sure the weight is evenly distributed on the plane.
The policy has become sensitive issue to people of Samoan descent, who argue the move is discriminatory. According to the CIA world fact book, American Samoa has the highest rate of adult obesity.
“What they’re saying is Samoans are obese,” Atimua Migi told the Associated Press earlier this month.
“That’s an entirely in correct assumption,” Jon Snook, Hawaiian Airlines’ chief operating officer, responded.
Six complaints were filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation calling the policy discriminatory because it only applies to the flight between Honolulu and American Samoa. The complaints were denied, according to a transportation department spokesperson, who told the AP the policy is, “not on its face discriminatory.”
According to the airline, weight surveys on other flight routes did not find any evidence of excess weight.
Hawaiian Airlines’ move is not the first such policy Samoans have had to encounter—in 2013, Samoa Air started charging passengers by weight.
Correction: The original wording of this article implied Hawaiian Airlines was assigning seats to passengers based on their individual weight. The airlines’ policy keeps open one seat on each row which is either left empty of filled by a child under 13.