This United Flight Shows Why Weight & Balance Matters, Even For A Mainline Jet

Passengers on small planes are used to being moved around the cabin when the plane is less than full for “weight and balance.” This is really about the balance portion of that phrase, because if weight isn’t distributed properly throughout the aircraft it may be difficult to control.

This is usually less of an issue for larger aircraft, though calculations still matter and can even affect upgrades.

But this United Airlines sports charter provides perhaps the most graphic visualization of why weight and balance matters on a mainline jet. This is either Pullman–Moscow Regional Airport (normally only has Horizon Air) or Lewiston–Nez Perce County Airport (served by Delta, and starting next month United to Denver), but appears to have received a United plane with USC Trojans in advance of their game against the Washington State Cougars.

One commenter offered, “It’s was a tradition that the USC Football team upon arrival at the visiting stadium they would rock the bus side to side. Rocking the plane takes it to new heights.”

Another suggested, “Obviously, nobody thought about it when they put the linemen in the back.”

(HT: @wilsobk)

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. @Jim – readers here know Gary isn’t particularly concerned about accuracy in his posts.

    For those that do care – that’s the airport in Lewiston, WA

  2. Untied.

    Who forgot to install the rod on the rear fuselage? Alaska Airlines always uses such a rod, which is removed before pushing back.

  3. Had a flight earlier this year where the tail pole they stick in the back to prevent this from happening malfunctioned before we deplaned. They made folks deplane from back to front until everyone behind the exit row was off. Was exceptionally slow.

  4. The 737-900 airplane is will tail tip if you unload the forward belly pit first while passengers are still on the airplane aft of the wing.

    That is why you see operators of the type using a tail stabilizing pole upon arrival.

    This is entirely the failure of the ramp unloading the airplane correctly.

  5. On 737-900s, the tail stick is a requirement just as it was on other “stretched” aircraft like some DC8s.

    Some airlines feed their seat map data directly to their weight and balance system to provide the best calculation of balance and reduce fuel burn, something obviously Southwest and other airlines that have open seating cannot do.

    On a related note, the FAA just required US airlines to increase the standardized weights they use for weight and balance calculations given the extra mass Americans are hauling around compared to the last time – 15 years ago or so – that the FAA required a weight update. Expect that to be a factor on some flights esp. this winter with rain and snow, esp. on longer flights, regional jet flights, and from higher altitude airports.

  6. Anddddd This is one reason why Boeing needs to kill the 737 line and build a clean sheet plane. They just keep making them longer without much tweaking. Its annoying to have to wait for ground crew to install a pole when 757s for example normally dont have this issue nor the risk of this due to the way the landing gear is positioned.

  7. I love the irony that in a post griping about accuracy, Bob references Lewiston, Washington – a city that does not exist. Lewiston is in Idaho.

  8. Lewiston, ID probably doesn’t get too many 737s, so they’re not used to planes that are unstable when parked, so it makes sense they wouldn’t even think an airplane needs a kickstand.

  9. We were on United once from Washington Dulles to San Francisco. First class was, as always, full. We had Economy Plus seats, and the plane was lightly loaded. We were asked to move to empty rows in the back of the plane because otherwise it was too nose heavy. The gate agent said we would get free drinks and snacks but apparently no one told the flight attendants. Ultimately we were given a flight credit for our Economy Plus fare.

  10. It looks like it was because the baggage/cargo was unloaded from the fore hold first.

    Normally an airline’s Ground Operations Manual will instruct the Loading Supervisor to unload the aft baggage/cargo first.

  11. Remember too that tail strikes don’t only happen due to weight and balance issues but by gusts hitting the plane on take off. In 2007, I was in Dominican Republic where two Iberia A340-600s were sitting at maintenance due to tail strikes because of wind gusts on takeoff.

  12. Apparently Bob isn’t concerned about the accuracy of his reporting either. A quick Google search is a good thing. Btw, USC did not beat Wazzu, they spanked them!! Hopefully their coach will be the next one looking for a job.

  13. When I worked the ramp,you almost always unloaded the rear cargo holds first.Then the front. By then the pax had deplaned.,eliminating the tip situation

  14. Not an uncommon event. A321 are also bad for this issue, as AA discovered after merging the US weight and balance system with their system. Rather than use fwd and aft cargo, often just aft would get a planned load, so when the plane arrived at the. ext city, and the front rows of the plane were off before the ramp unloaded the rear cargo bin, the nose wheel could be off the ground. A new loading plan was loaded soon after this happened a few times, where 1000 lbs of cargo always went forward, first ,before the aft bin was loaded. And the aft bin at the arrival end got dumped first, keeping the nose planted firmly on the tarmac.

  15. Obviously, a shipment of Viagra in the belly. Don’t worry, it will fall back down in 4 hours.

    Do see a doctor if it lasts for more than 4 hours.

  16. Incompetent ground crew. Experience matters. Even the pilots should have known before departure.

  17. @Uncle Jeff is our winner! A quick search of non-stops to LWS on Google Flights shows that they never see this type of aircraft on a regular basis. It’s always Canadair Regional Jets from SLC or DEN. They simply didn’t have a clue that this would happen.

  18. This is a problem, i say get rid of all gups & have larger narrow bodies which carry more passengers & more room. This may be an omen if continuing on the small planes. And yes, weights & balances are crucial. Maybe the teams should rock solid ground vs a plane.

  19. The aircraft was kept overnight in Lewiston IDAHO. It is unknown how the victorious USC team got home. The damaged plane flew to a maintenance facility in Houston.

    I suspect the person managing the ramp crew either has some ‘splaining to do or is now unemployed.

  20. My son, a WSU grad, works for Boeing. He designed the “POLE” that is supposed to attach to the airplane to prevent the airplane from tipping.

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