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 However the assumptions they’ve been using for passengers are outdated.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 The FAA took public comment on their draft guidance last spring, and we’re reaching the point where final FAA action should take place.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.