U.S. Airlines May Start Weighing Passengers At The Gate

U.S. airlines may need to start weighing passengers in order to comply with FAA rules. For safety reasons, carriers need to calculate an aircraft’s weight and balance, and it has to be within allowable limits for the plane. However the assumptions they’ve been using for passengers are outdated. Americans are getting fatter, and the federal government wants airlines to find out how much fatter their passengers have gotten, at least for smaller aircraft.

  • The FAA realizes that passenger weight can vary by route and airlines may want to document this difference.

  • Standard weights may not be appropriate for smaller planes, with smaller sample size and greater likelihood of variance from average.

Airlines can use standard weights published by the CDC for larger aircraft, with variance for winter and summer based on greater weight assumptions for clothing in the winter. However they outline a method for smaller aircraft to determine “[a]ctual passenger and bag weights” and to determine whether aircraft up to 70 seats should be considered small or large for this exercise.

Airlines also have to calculate average weights for crewmembers and crew bags, too.

How Some Airlines May Weigh Passengers

Air Insight reviews the details of new documentation requirements for aircraft weight and balance contained in ‘Advisory Circular 120-27F’ that are pending. The FAA took public comment on their draft guidance last spring, and we’re reaching the point where final FAA action should take place.

The FAA says that surveys should be done at airports representing at least 15% of an airline’s daily departures in the secure area of the airport (to ensure that connecting passengers are included) and should select passengers at random. This is voluntary and passengers have to be allowed to opt out, with airlines then selecting another passenger at random and not the person who is next in line.

Not only might we start seeing this soon, but it could become a regular occurrence, since “the FAA recommends operators accomplish such a review every 36 calendar-months.” Fortunately when airlines stick scales at boarding gates for this, the FAA notes, the scale’s “readout should remain hidden from public view” to protect passenger privacy.

Some airlines, by the way, might not do this as a statistically valid survey every three years – carriers have the option of marking down the actual weights of each passenger on every flight, either by weighing everyone or just asking their weights and then having gate agents guess if a passenger is lying.

Airlines All Over The World Weigh Passengers Already

While it’s foreign to the U.S., weighing passengers isn’t all that uncommon abroad. Air New Zealand just went through a passenger weighing exercise similar to what U.S. carriers are going to have to do.

Samoa Air reportedly charged passengers based on their weight, like the unmemorable chain restaurant I went to as a kid which ran a promotion charging children by their weight for meals. And in 2015 Uzbekistan Airways announced they would require all passengers to weigh in prior to boarding for safety even though airlines the world over maintain excellent safety records without the practice.

I’ve even had to get on the scale myself. When I first flew Maldivian from Male on my first visit to the Maldives in 2012 I had to get on the scale at check-in. So did my wife, and – it appeared – every other foreigner. Maldivians did not seem to be asked to weigh in.

On subsequent trips each year since the practice appeared to be abandoned. I was never asked to weigh in again, although Maldivian’s website says that the policy is still in place.

Q – Why do I get weighed at Check-in?

Ans – All passengers are weighed at check-in for safety requirements of our Dash-8 200 aircrafts.

Will New Weight Data Mean More Legroom For Passengers?

Some consumer advocates have wanted minimum standards for legroom on planes. That would never do anything to hurt American, United or Delta. Instead it would potentially outlaw the tight seating you’ll find on Spirit Airlines or Frontier. And as a result it would undercut the pricing pressure they place on American, United, and Delta. In other words, we’d wind up with the same seats on the major airlines we have today – along with higher prices.

However government weight rules could wind up affecting how many passengers the major airlines can place on board aircraft. Depending on the outcome of this study, American Airlines might no longer be permitted to stick 172 passengers on its Boeing 737s.

Each passenger weighing more might mean being allowed to carry fewer passengers – if not now, then if passengers on average gain weight in subsequent weigh-in exercises. And as a result of being allowed to carry fewer passengers, they might as well either give back some of the distance between seats (in economy or first), or make more seats extra legroom Main Cabin Extra.

None of this would be happening for passenger comfort. So even in the extreme, where airlines had to change their seating capacity, it would mean more legroom (fewer passengers) and not more seat width even though it is passenger girths that have changed.

Since airlines will be lobbying vociferously against changes that would affect seating capacity, and they have allies in Congress like House Transportation Committee Chairman Pete DeFazio (D-Airlines For America), I’m not betting that the FAA will make changes that require removing seats from aircraft no matter what the data says.

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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  1. This reminds me of Curb Your Enthusiasm, where Larry’s friends were not willing to tell him their weight for a private plane, so he had to find a creative way to relay their weight to the flight crew.

  2. I think that weighing passengers is a great idea, not only for airplane-weight maximums, but for those passengers who are so overweight that they take up no only their seat but half of the adjacent seat.

  3. Interesting. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, as a pilot of small aircraft my training seriously included how to calculate weight and balance as these are critical factors for safe flights. And on modern airliners computers do what flight engineers used to and watch the distribution of fuel as it is burned to keep the aircraft within limits. And there have been some fatal tour boat accidents as old Coast Guard weight tables led to small ships being well over gross weights even if they were within their licensed capacities.

    So this is no joke, but you can be sure people will be furious about it. The opt-outs and nasty complaints to the poor agents could be awful. Just another stress at the airport. (Wish everyone would be as mad about the grotesque body scanners and simply refused them. Those horrors would be gone in a week.)

  4. Badly designed random sample set. If someone refuses, the airline has to randomly choose someone else. But if relatively more overweight people refuse, then the result of the survey will be skewed towards people who are not overweight.

  5. What NB said. Require random people to be weighed fully clothed. Don’t make a big deal about it. Don’t announce their weight. You could even do it so that the person doing the weighing doesn’t know their weight. This is a fairly basic and huge (no pun intended) safety issue. There should be no opt out.

  6. Im sure there will be no backlash from the General Public lol. Let the Fat Shaming Begin!!!
    Sorry to say there is a lot of truth to Americas Weight Gain. Just look around….

  7. This is just a prelude to another new charge that the Airlines will soon be adding to your ticket in their quest to be the most greed driven industry of all time.

    I am all for the airlines having a little rack the width of a seat at check-in the same as they do for carry on luggage. If your flab can’t fit, you get to buy out the seats beside you or stay home.

    As someone who is 6’5″ tall and very broad shouldered, I am already screwed over by airline greed and the fact that they demand that I pay extra for a seat with a pitch that I physically fit in. As soon as the airlines are required by law to give me a seat that does not jam my knees into the seat back in front of me cutting off the circulation to my legs and crippling me after an hour while providing no head/neck support at all at no cost, then they can institute a “Can’t figure out how to put down the fork” charge.

  8. We have hand baggage sizers but no people sizers. Sitting in coach next to an obese person is a huge issue, no pun intended.

  9. I’d like to see a scale system installed on the jet-bridge or at the boarding pass scanner. Weigh passengers and carry-ons as they board. No one but the flight crew has to see the numbers.

  10. There are other sources for the data. It isn’t necessary to weigh the flying public.

    Unless you are concerned about the weight and balance of a particular flight and then even very one will get weighed.

  11. It really wouldn’t be all that difficult to have some sort of pad that you have to step on as you go through the boarding door – you just scanned your boarding pass, tie the weight read to that to assign it to a seat. Yes, it would be better if people stood still, but I don’t think the weight has to be that accurate, probably within 10 lbs to get a moving weight. (Truck scales can weigh a slowly moving truck.) And you’ll be getting the weight of all their clothes and carry-on items. Totally unobtrusive, and the boarding agents don’t even need to see the number, just make sure that one got recorded. (Although they might want to make a number visible to the boarding agent so it seems reasonable.) Have a policy of deleting the weights 72 hours after landing unless some sort of safety issue occurred, and most people aren’t going to have a problem.

  12. For the limited purposes of the survey, just install a weight sensing mat in the gangway that everyone has to walk over while boarding. After the cabin door closes, you divide the total aggregate load by the number of passengers and crew who actually board and you’ve got your per-flyer average including carry on items. Maybe knock something off for wheel chair assisters who don’t actually board. The collected data is already anonymized for the study. If the aggregate load is actually over the safety limit for that flight, you address it at the time by removing passengers and/or luggage. The advantage of this system is that you will also be collecting the weight of carry on items and so can calculate a per-passenger estimate for that factor as well. Currently, airlines only consider the size and not the weight of carry on items. Over the past decades, passengers have added carry on weight in the form of electronics.

  13. FAA wants updated passenger weights but not updated evacuation tests on new densified seating. What model 737 and 321 were tested compared to current characteristics. Will they test with updated passengers weights and non employees? SURE!

  14. As a retired military member I am afforded the opportunity of flying “Space A” on military flights. If you are lucky enough to get a seat on a DOD owned (Or controlled, i.e. charter) aircraft you WILL provide your weight or you won’t fly…

  15. The old Royal Hawaiian Air Service used to fly small planes out of the Kaanapali airstrip on Maui. The pilot used to ask every passenger his or her weight and write it on a sheet on a clipboard. When he would ask a woman he would listen to her answer, give her an up and down look, and then write on the clipboard. The pilots could probably guess weights better than any carnival barker.

  16. They definitely should overestimate. How I learned about the weight/safety issue. At Burbank airport, when a bit windy, I’ve seen the airline reduce the passenger count/offload some passengers to make weight. I was on a flight in New Zealand where my friend and I were the only passengers (both small women) on not a small plane, and the flight attendants made us sit on opposite sides of the plane for takeoff and landing. And when I was a child and my family took a small charter plane from the Bahamas to Miami, we learned (mid-a very rough flight) that the pilot had not loaded full fuel because we had so much luggage.

  17. I believe inaccurate weight projection was a factor (combined with a mechanical/maintenance issue) in US Airways commuter jet crash in CLT not all that long ago…

  18. This is ridiculous and no, contrary to what the article states, weighing passengers in not “wide spread” in other countries. I have flown all over Europe and have never been weighed.
    They do weigh carry-on bags, which I totally understand.
    What’s next? Measure our feet to ensure our legs stay in our small seat space?
    We are paying the airlines for a service, through our ticket. We, as taxpayers, have bailed them out multiple times with billions. It seems all airlines want to do, is shove us in like Army cattle and offer the bare minimum for a higher cost.
    It’s getting ridiculous.

  19. Airlines should charge customers by weight, including the weight of all baggage and carry-ons. Perfectly reasonable.

  20. Maybe they could have some method of weighing people automatically as they walk to their seats. It can include whatever carry on luggage they are bringing on.

    I just got weighed for my physical and I’m down 15+ lbs from last year. Eating at home more often (nothing fried, smaller portions) and rarely ever drinking helps a lot!

  21. Depending how the airlines handle this I can see people filing petitions for violation of their PII (Personal Identity Information) and also ADA violations if the airline denies a passenger after the passenger had reservations but was later denied.

  22. Can’t come soon enough and back off Feds with discrimination BS! On a flight from SAT to ABQ I could hardly breathe in the middle seat between two wide bodies! Absolutely disgusting! I watched several of them pour themselves into the ever smaller seats, literally bending and torquing the seats.
    Just how large do these people intend to get? They should be seated in the hog pen section.

  23. @Ryan Waldron: When you buy a car, does the dealership give you a larger car for the same price as a smaller one because you don’t fit comfortably in the smaller car?

    I don’t think so.

  24. Tall and/or large people have no rights, and have been effectively cancelled by the airlines for ages. Flight attendants, when possible, try to accommodate us. But the formal airline policy has no accommodation.

    Flying coach is like going into a shoe store that only sells size 8 shoes.

    Size shaming is a shame!

    But we are very poor promoting our rights!

  25. The whole concept of “estimating” weight flies in the face of gender-based assumptions about weight. Trans people are more likely to not fit the estimates for the gender they appear to be.

    The only ACCURATE weigh to know the weight of people that are onboard is to weigh the people that actually get on THAT aircraft. Given that WN was fined for inaccurate estimates of bag weights and counts, you can bet every US airline is wrong about passenger weights and distributions.

    and the suggestion to just weigh everyone that boards and then divide the weights is not accurate either. There is actually a fair amount of observational data that says that larger people do buy a higher percentage of more premium/ greater legroom seats – but that is far from the only factor that determines who sits where they do.

    And then you get airlines like WN that don’t assign seats so you have no idea where people sit although there are decent assumptions about where people will sit when seat assignments are not made at specific load factors for a flight.

    Some airlines do directly connect their seat assignments to their weight and balance system so several rows of unoccupied seats are factored into balance – which affects aircraft performance while the inverse is true.

    And then you have carryons that might end up in overhead bins many rows from where a passenger sits

    The bottom line is that there will always a certain amount of guessing unless you weigh every person with their carryons and then assign them and then their carryons to a specific location.

    That is simply not going to happen, even on regional jets.

    Of course, the less an airline uses regional jets and also assign seats, the less this whole discussion applies to that airline. Maybe Spirit is the winner in all of this is United is the loser.

  26. It’s about time. When fat people make a reservation, they know they won’t fit into a coach seat. But nobody else does. It’s an honor system … but people refuse to cooperate, so the onus of what to do with the big person falls on the airline when the pax checks in. That’s a dumb business plan and not fair. Just start weighing pax and soon the pax will cooperate by buying 2 seats or one up front (unless a first class seat isn’t big enough either). I can see it now, a scale on the floor that we walk over, our weight flashes up on a board and we either keep moving or a siren goes off and we step out of the boarding line. Oh, it will be so much fun.

  27. a previous poster said, Airlines should charge customers by weight, including the weight of all baggage and carry-ons.

    Me: They already treat us like freight. being charged by the pound is the next logical step.

  28. 1KBrad: No, I don’t expect a car manufacturer to make a larger car, because car manufacturers do not year after year cut an inch out of the length of their cars making the seats closer and closer to the steering wheel in an attempt to make more and more money at the expense of the comfort and health of their customers.

    What I do expect is for others to bother to think before they try to call me out on a post I make….I know it’s a lot of effort for the lazy masses like yourself, but please do so so in future to both save me the time of having to set your ignorance straight and to prevent yourself from exposing it to the public.

  29. I’ve worked for Continental Airlines for 16 years and worked as a baggage agent. One of my jobs was working operations. Ordering fuel, assigning gates and weight/balance flights. When it comes to a passengers weight; the FAA created a list that airlines would use to calculate the weight for each flight to ensure it was safe. Each passenger was 170 lbs (summer) and 175 lbs (winter). The difference is during the winter, passengers are also carrying winter coats. Each checked bag was 30 lbs and heavy ( + 50lbs) 60 lbs. So on a Continental 737-800 held 155 passengers = 26,350 lbs. The reality is that people comes in all shapes and sizes and the aircraft’s weight is going to be off. Think of the aircraft like a seesaw. If each end of the seesaw has a 200 lb person on it; the seesaw should be leveled and balanced. But if you replace one person with an elephant; the elephant is going to win and send the person flying off the seesaw. Well the aircraft is like the seesaw. Where the wings are is the imaginary bar of the seesaw. If the aircraft isn’t balanced properly or is over weight that can compromise its safety. If that imaginary bar (center of gravity) isn’t balanced the plane could stall in flight and crash. There is a video on the internet from a few years ago involving a 747. The 747 was transporting military equipment from Afghanistan and was taking off from a military base. As the 747 took off, it had to climb at a steep angle. As it did, the plane stopped climbing and stalled and then crashed. The investigation pointed out that the cargo ( like a tank or vehicle) broke from where it was strapped to and shifted to the tail of the 747. Because there was too much weight in the tail; there wasn’t anything the flight crew could do and the 747 was doomed. Another reason why the weight is so important for a flight.

  30. Leave it to Gary Neff to sensationalize an airline article. The title should be “Airlines May Start Offering Voluntary Surveys to Update Passenger Weight Data”

    I’m beginning to think that Gary is a sensationalist. Another silly clickbait article.

  31. @10 Years in the Industry

    Why shouldn’t fat people pay their fair share? Why should thin and fit people subsidize fat people’s flights? This is inequitable.

    Given that obesity compromises the immune system, it stands to reason that sitting next to a fat person could increase one’s likelihood of exposure to communicable diseases. It is well known that COVID-19 kills fat folx at a far higher rate than non-fat folx.

  32. I think there should be a Monty Python catapult at the gate and when an obese flyer steps on the scales they are immediately thrown to the runway below. We need to have some incentive for not being such obnoxious pigs! Can’t wait for the Bill Maher sketch!

  33. Gary you nailed it. The main issue (with heavier pax and just in general) is seat width, especially on wide-bodies like the 777 where the original 9 abreast has become 10 on almost every airline. Having less width per seat on a long haul aircraft than regional/domestic is insanity.

    But let’s all be honest, nothing will change from this study. There’s just as much chance of this study leading to AA stuffing more seats on their 737s/777s as there is of the gov’t creating a seat pitch minimum.

  34. “And in 2015 Uzbekistan Airways announced they would require all passengers to weigh in prior to boarding for safety . . . .”

    Ensuring the aircraft is within weight and balance limits IS a safety issue. Why does the author suggest that this is about anything but safety.

  35. When overloaded, offload the weightiest ones first.

    If that sounds too draconian, go the capitalist way and charge by the kilogram.

    If that’s too greedy, fly empty planes and collect billions from the gubmint…..oh, waitaminute

  36. Flyoften: Learn your isms….Kilograms would be the socialist way, has to be pounds for capitalism. 😛

  37. I’m a big girl, but I understand. I’ve been trying my best to lose weight so I can be happy and comfortable while I’m flying long haul.
    I work at the airport. And I’ve seen people who shouldn’t physically be able to fit in those economy seats, but somehow they manage. And there are some bigger than me.
    With that, I also believe as much times passengers are being told their bags have to be a certain weight, most of us let those couple of pounds or kilos go. They end up adding up. This, I believe we really need to slam the hammer down and really enforce that too.

  38. inLA had the best answer. 100% of the passengers need to be weighed, on EVERY flight, and this can be done easily by putting a scale at the gate entrance. The individual weight does NOT need to be displayed… we have software that can aggregate the passenger weights and produce a total for the flight. This total weight determines the gallons of Jet-A fuel that is needed to fly that poundage for the specific distance.

    People don’t realize that weight differences are more pronounced in aircraft. On the ground, we all believe that NJ to NY in a vehicle uses the same amount of gas whether you weight 110 lbs or 250 lbs. But in the air, with hundreds of passengers, the total weight plays a significant difference in the # of gallons of gas needed to fly the same distance.

    There SHOULD be NO sense of discrimination in weighing passengers. It’s pure safety. You’re much safer in an aircraft where the weight is known and the appropriate amount of fuel is on-board. If you err on the side of caution and load way too much fuel, then the flight is slower and uses more fuel because of the fuel’s own weight, which consumes more fuel and causes future prices to increase. i.e. It takes more fuel to fly excessive unneeded fuel.

    There will be no discrimination complaints if every passenger has to step on the weighted platform and no weight is displayed, just tabulated in the internal computer.

    I also support paying per poundage. Because humans ARE freight. However, that’s a different discussion and is fraught with gender complaints because males are more dense than females. And just don’t let transgender people fly. The world doesn’t need the trouble they introduce in everything.

  39. Weighing women, before they get on a plane.

    Oh this should be fun. I will absolutely grab a beer, sit near gates and watch hilarity ensue…..

  40. If the FAA is requiring this because of safety, they need to also look into the spacing between seats so passengers can safely exit the plane. No way in hell I’m going to be able to evacuate safely and quickly when everyone is stuffed in a row.

  41. Airline passengers need to get over it! The only reason for checking weights is for safety. I am a woman, 40lb overweight. I fit into my seat, no seatbelt extender required, and I would rather be weighed in public than fall out of the sky! 🙂

  42. Oh well here we go againwith more passengers cutting up at airports. First and foremost if you don’t want to be weighed drive!! It’s like folks who don’t want to wear a mask if a business( not the government) require it. Don’t shop there. But just want to do a side note that there should be MANDATORY jail time not those weak civil penalties..but jail time for people who cause disturbances at airports and especially on planes.

  43. Lindy, I agree with everything you said up till last 2 sentences. Such prejudice & discrimination

  44. I hate to say it. This will only lead to discrimination based on weight. Obese people will be charged more. It will be a nightmare in America since 42 percent of the population is obese. Though larger seats and less people would add comfort. I don’t think this will ever go over well.

  45. WTF, are they gonna start charging by the pound??
    Is this where we’ve come?

  46. Lets get a few things straight for all you ignorant ranting morons out there. All modern commercial airliners have scales built into the aircraft. The pilots just push a button and the aircraft computers automatically calculate the weight and balance of the aircraft. The plane does their fuel calculations for them and tells them exactly how much fuel is needed to get to their destination and any alternate airports that are in range.

    This is all done without the need to weigh any bag or person at all! The plane does it all for them with redundant and accurate systems. We have been flying airliners for decades without weighing passengers and not one of them has “fallen out of the sky” (Astounding ignorance there) because they failed to weigh passengers.

    So….unless you are flying in one of the very few GA aircraft carrying paying passengers (Think a plane where you can reach out and touch the pilot from your seat), there is absolutely no technical reason to weigh passengers at the gate individually when the aircraft does it as a whole for the flight.

    Any airline that is requiring this for flights on modern aircraft is only trying to find another way to extort more money from their already overpaying customers, plain and simple. Anyone here continuing to rant for any other reason than this is just a simple minded idiot who likes the sound of their own voice more than they do reason or common sense.

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