How Travelers Avoid Extra Fees with a Simple Luggage Cheat at Check-In

Most checked bags in the U.S. are limited to 50 pounds. Anything heavier than that and you’ll pay extra. First and business class passengers, and those with elite status, may be allowed 70 pounds. When you approach the check-in counter, they’ll weigh your bags, and if your luggage is overweight you’ll be assessed an extra fee. But some passengers are using a trick to make their luggage seem lighter.

In 2020 the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services found half a dozen scales at the Charlotte airport were miscalibrated. This happens all the time. People are slamming heavy suitcases on them all day, every day, and sometimes at odd angles. They need maintenance!

One passenger had a bag that was found to be 50 grams overweight. The airline wanted to charge him. So he took chocolates out of the bag and ate 50 grams’ worth until he got the weight of his luggage down.

If the airline is going to be a stickler for overweight luggage, even using miscalibrated scales, then some passengers are going to resort to guerilla tactics to even the playing field – like supporting the bag with their foot to reduce the weight on the scale.

It appears that the Southwest Airlines passenger in this video is really doing this, and their foot is behind the bag to the agent can’t see it.

One former ticket counter agent comments that this is fairly common that they’ve seen and “cringey when people try to do this IRL.”

What struck me most interesting here is the rest of the comments, which are primarily debating whether supporting the bag with one foot will reduce how it weighs on the scale, making the mistaken argument that this is like standing on a scale with one foot (your weight stays the same).

In fact, lifting one side of the bag with your foot while it’s being weighed at an airport ticket counter – as shown in this video – will reduce the weight reading on the scale because of the distribution of the bag’s weight between the scale and your foot. When you lift part of the bag, you’re effectively supporting some of its weight, reducing the load on the scale.

Several commenters were also concerned about the weight and balance – and therefore safety – of the aircraft if the weight of a bag is off. In fact passengers, and passenger luggage, in most cases are treated as averages. Revisiting those average weight calculations (for passengers) is why from time to time you see stories of airlines requiring passengers to ‘weigh in’ before being allowed to fly.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I dislike cheating by the airlines (such as saying that a bag that clearly fits in the sizer is oversized) and I also dislike cheating by the passengers. I don’t cheat on weight or size but I also bring my digital hand scale with me to dispute inaccurate scales.

  2. @Christian
    But it’s effective. Sort of your own Christmas present. Flying LH biz, I get 3 times 70 pounds. No problem. Why do you have issue?

  3. Forget “overweight” the worst cheat in the past half century of air travel is charging for luggage which makes most travelers try to hoist 40-pound “carry-on’s” five feet in the air causing huge delays in boarding and deplaning.

  4. @TomMariner … To your point about carry-ons : As a disabled person with necessary medicines and sweater in a Small carry-on , and paying extra for premium economy and then usually lucking-out an upgrade, I remain dismayed by the Big carry-ons which hog the overhead bins . If I were an able FA , I also would Refuse to Lift their Big carry-ons for the hogs . The hogs can lift their own , or better , be stopped before boarding and the carry-ons ordered checked for the hold .

  5. Just take less stuff!
    Do I practice what I preach? Sure do!
    I regularly do 2 week overseas travel with a regulation-size 7kg carry-on, plus a smaller ‘personal item’ of about the same weight.
    In fact on the likes of Qatar and BA, to name just 2, I am underweight!
    Sure, it takes some thinking and refining but once you do COO (carry-on only) there’s no going back!

  6. Sense 9/11 the airlines got the go ahead and screw the costumers with all kinds of fees, the only thing they don’t charge is the air you breathing inside the plane ( so far ). How in the heck can you take vacation flying international for 3 to 4 weeks and you are allowed a carry on or you pay for your suitcases. What you are going to squeeze on a carry on.? Airlines they got greedy and getting worse and worse by the day .The costumers lost all the rides to say anything on the matter.

  7. I fly first, but I also use a luggage scale at home and leave room for error. It’s just common courtesy to every passenger behind me.

  8. Scales do get inspected regularly at the airport…. depending on the jurisdiction and agency. At the station I ran for a ULCC, I had 12 ticket counter positions with scales, 20 kiosks with each pair having a scale between, and a repack area with a floor scale and a table with a scale built in. I paid roughly $750 a month for calibration (which was 3 times as often as the requirement the airline had, and 12 times more often than the state required). They got quite a work-out and frequently had a broken one due to passengers standing on them.

    The great thing about the self-service bag check in devices is that many of them take the bag back far enough (or drop closed a door) that the passenger can’t mess with it while it is weighed.

  9. I guess no one remembers that US Air crash in Charlotte where the plane was overloaded. It really isn’t safe to try and save a couple of pounds with your foot. Just saying.

  10. Average weights are a joke; how can you average something then hold safety to that amount?
    NO ONE knows what an aircraft weighs, they know the empty operating weights (EOW) but once it’s loaded it’s all a guessing game.

  11. I call bs on the 50 grams story. A few times I’ve been overweight by as much as 800 grams, no problem. The stated limit is 23,000 grams.

  12. @Mark Kaplan:
    23,000 grams is 230kg. Which is 10 times the maximum weight limit for a checked-in bag most places.

  13. @glen t, kilo means thousand so 23 thousand grams is 23 kilograms. Marc Kaplan is correct. By the way, 23.0000 kilograms = 50.7063 pounds.

  14. Yes jns you are right. Some AI calculators are not. Actually, I’ve never seen grams written in the thousands as Mark K has done, so a bit rusty doing quick mental conversion.
    As for pounds, I have not thought in imperial pounds etc since the 1970s, when we joined 99.5% of the world in going fully metric.

  15. We travel US to India, Middle East where two pieces of barges allowed up to 50 pounds per bag. My wife has become an expert in managing baggage weights to avoid hassle at the check in counter & bagges are always checked in without problem. She would weigh each bag at home @ 49 pounds so that at check in counter, you have under 4 pounds or less for 4 baggage total weight. Good way to keep BP under control at the check in.

  16. @glenn t, there are probably a lot of typos and some misuse of American English, too. I try to get rid of the problems but I have never been fast at spotting all of them. However, from what I see by others online, I am better than what my self image seems to be. Also, with the USA having slightly over 330 million people and the world having slightly over 8 billion people, I am confident that there is at most about 96% of the world that is full metric (an online search says Myanmar, which formerly was Burma, and Liberia are not using the metric system).

  17. Back when more airports in the US had passengers get their luggage tagged by the airline and then had the passengers take the tagged luggage to a TSA checked luggage screening station, I used to sometimes see passengers stuff extra items/and weight into the already weighed and tagged bags as soon as they thought they were out of sight of the airline/airline contractor employees. The TSA wasn’t weighing the bags and generally weren’t paying attention either, and so some of those bags handed off to the TSA were heavier than the 50lb or 72lb limit and would get transported anyway.

  18. I wrote 23kg == 23000g
    So it should have be clear that 50g would be a very small margin of error, and no sane and/or correctly trained check in person would attempt to hold you up for 23050g.
    That would be less a 0.22% overage. Unlikely baggage scales are that accurate!

  19. If you can fly to Europe you can pay $35 for a checked bag. This is in response to the person who said how can you have only a carryon for a 3-4 week vacation in Europe? Pay the $35 and stop whining

  20. If it were truly a “weight and balance” issue, you wouldn’t be charged extra for overweight bags……you’d just have to lighten them or not rake them. It’s greed. Was.medical flight crew for years and know how this works.

  21. To MS,
    It is a weight and balance issue. It’s not just greed. I’ve seen times when people were denied boarding because the plane was calculated to be overweight because of bags. Sometimes, bags were removed to get within limits. It’s the captains call. This is not common on larger aircraft but I’d a definite concern on small regional ones.
    In addition, the way i figure it the airlines will make money one way or another. I’d rather have people pay extra for baggage than have everyone pay more for their ticket.

  22. Do you realize that actual humans have to handle this bag and that your dishonesty and need to cheat could hurt someone?
    Plus if everyone cheats on their bag weight then it cod compromise the safety of the entire aircraft (and the humans flying in them).
    Don’t be a jerk. Even if you think someone else is being a jerk.

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