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 However the assumptions they’ve been using for passengers are outdated.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 The FAA took public comment on their draft guidance last spring, and we’re reaching the point where final FAA action should take place.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

More articles by Gary Leff »

Pingbacks

  1. […] It may not be known to travelers but calculating the weight of an aircraft is critical to flight safety that informs pilots of much fuel the aircraft needs, hence why check-in baggage is weighed. But now, “U.S. airlines may need to start weighing passengers to comply with FAA rules,” according to travel website View From The Wing. […]

Comments

  1. I flew a B52 as an aircraft commander and copilot. As such, I was required to do weight and balance to insure we remained within a narrow CG/CB range. I later was responsible for loading civilian and military aircraft with cargo while assuring CG/CB. I have reviewed hundreds of aircraft accidents and have yet to find that even one was caused by out of balance passenger loading. I have seen in some small commuter aircraft where pilots direct the reseating of passengers nearest the CG/CB but that is only when the aircraft is not at full capacity. In my view this is overreach and unneccessary.

  2. I’m far from being “Fat” but I do find it offensive the way this is worded. Maybe use the word “Bigger” instead of “Fatter”. I’m sure it’s a good idea to weigh everybody before flying, just don’t “Fat” shame people.

  3. Flight from St Martin to Saba. Not only weighed esch passenger and each carry on item, they used that info to assign seats and choose where to put carry ons. Runway in Saba half the length of an aircraft carrier, so need everything balanced just right

  4. The fat/overweight will say no, that’s ridiculous The thin/slim will say yes, it’s about time. Honestly it’s very uncomfortable sitting next to overweight/fat people. Maybe they should just make them pay more for a different section where the seats are wider.

  5. I believe that is disrespectful but if the government and the FAA wants to know how much fatter passengers are, they should also start weighting Flight Attendants and Pilots. Many Airline’s employees are fatter than passengers.

  6. Heaven flowing many different commercial heavy Jet,B 707,B727,DC10,L1011,DC8, I can say it’s about time, the faa’s standard weights are BS and has been out of date for 40 plus years, I have taken off over 30,000 pounds over gross weight on some of these aircraft and if an engine even hiccup I’d be dead along with the 300 plus passengers behind me

  7. The idea that an older, heavier person should pay more or sit in the “fat” section is ludicrous on its face, and discrimination to boot! This is the next Civil rights cause rearing its head, and I welcome the fight. Yes, I too was once young and skinny, and those who look down on others due to their size, I hope you find out what that is like some day!

  8. Already had a comment from a whining woman about “fat shaming”

    Maybe it’s time the skinny people start fat shaming fatties. Weigh them. If they’re too fat, don’t let them on the flight. Take the damn bus. Oh, and if you think I’m insensitive, Oh well, that’s on you. I’m just dishing back out the abuse society heaped on me in my measly 36 years of existence.

  9. Time to weigh and limit fat people! Americans need to start dieting and eating healthier. And stop with this fat is beautiful, being obese is not beautiful!

  10. Generally, the length of takeoff would only be minimally impacted by CG/CB. Other factors such as total weight, temperature, and altitude will have an impact.

  11. I find this article poorly written and, if true, US Airways will lose passengers. Can they really afford that?
    I miss the days of Eastern Airlines where passengers were treated with respect.

  12. I was just on a flight from Florida to Oklahoma and there was a huge guy boarding the plane it was extremely uncomfortable knowing he was flying with us for the love of God weigh them so the plane don’t Crash! Now if you crying liberals don’t like it too damn bad! Fat is not attractive or pretty! I’ve had 3 kid’s 2 are serving in the Military and I’m proud I take care of myself!

  13. What people don’t realize is that overall aircraft weight is extremely important for safe takeoff. That as well as temperature, humidity, distribution of weight, fuel requirements according to aforementioned factors, as well as other needs I may not be familiar with.
    As an anecdote when I worked for an airline many years ago a friend who was an agent at the airport told me of the time when a few of them crossed their fingers because the flight was taking of overloaded. They knew the jet would burn quite a bit of weight on fuel prior to trying to lift and would make up for the excess weight and be able to lift off the ground.
    This is to show how important the weight overall of the whole craft it’s important for taking off safely.

  14. This is click bait.

    First, the Advisory Circular is optional.
    Second, medium size cabin (30+) can follow large size survey recommendation. In other words, only 5-29 passenger cabin may need to do actual weighing.
    Third, the whole point is about balancing the aircraft, not fat shaming anyone. The AC went into details over how an onboard scale should work and get approval, and other goodies over aircraft weighing. It’s only the blog post making this about partner weighing. Oh, and it also discussed crew weighing, so this is never about abusing anyone.

    One side note: I understand you have a political orientation, and it doesn’t align with mine. It’s ok if you express some misgiving about the other aisle. But please, don’t rub it. It’s your blog, so you have certain freedoms, but don’t be a ****. Airlines have lobby. What’s new? Are you saying only Democratic party support them? And what’s with that label D-Airlines for America? It’s either D-OR, or nothing. And he is far from the only one supported by that exact org. What are you trying to pull?

  15. People should be charged based on their weight just like mailing a package, the heavier the parcel the more u pay

  16. Hahaha! What a bunch of sensitive chunkies. Opt out my foot. Only in America! 6’8″ @ 260 lbs. You will find me in the emergency asile. Right over the wing! (Tears of laughter)

  17. This is crazy…you have to worry about your weight before you can get on a plane. I’m leaving on American in two weeks…weigh 165…do I need to lose weight. Crazy ‼️

  18. This is not about “fat shaming”. It’s a calculation calculated to keep passengers safe. Average weights have increased. That’s a fact no one should deny or try to cover up.

  19. Time to update the “standard” weights!
    AND the weight of all the carry on crap.

    Exceeding the MTOGW by a few pounds is one thing. A few hundred pounds begins to be a problem depending on the rwy length and temperature.

    Let’s do it right!

  20. The airlines charge if your luggage is too heavy but not if the passenger is too heavy. If your BMI is normal you should get some flexibility on your luggage weight. What difference does it make where the poundage is coming from? Will they weigh my cat next to make sure he is not too heavy to travel?

  21. We need to think of this as a unique opportunity to tilt the scales in our favor. Start putting on tons of weight and AA will be required to roll back oasis

  22. If it is a safety issue, then definitely weight each passenger and Crew members. Also, if you know you are using part of another’s seating area then you should make a responsible decision to purchase a larger seat. It is called showing respect for others. Don’t make others have to ask you to select a wider seat. You are inviting unnecessary trouble. Take responsibility for your own body size requirement.

  23. Modern jet airliners show the aircraft weight on a dash readout in the cockpit. The pilot knows exactly what the gross weight of the airplane when he pushes back.

  24. I hate to say it, but I have been squished in my seat by a morbidly obese passenger twice. I never said anything and I didn’t glare at them….but yes, I was angry. It was extremely uncomfortable….No commercial passenger should have to be deal with being touched by another passenger, intentionally or not. I know I sound petty bit I’m being honest.

  25. Taking a trip in september…NOT looking forward to that new rule!!!!! Hope they don’t plan to announce it outloud!!

  26. I worked in 3 areas of 3 different airlines. I agree weight has become an issue w flt crew. In reservations, if a psgr requested wchr assistance, ( carry on carry off) we HAD to ask them their wt. ( for the sole purpose of not causing physical injury to the airline employees )
    But above all, people, carry -on is limited to one item of SPECIFIC WT and Dims. The Crap you bring on is pathetic. Psgrs don’t abide by the rules. I sit and look at all of you who push gates agents to extremes.

    When Eastern Airlines introduced the non refundable fare in 1986, we all said that all it did was take people off buses and put them on a plane.

    It’s never been the day since then. Airlines contract is to get you front point A to point B. Period

  27. Airlines are charged with flying passengers SAFELY from point a to point b. Drinks, meals, hot towels, etc. are secondary to their responsibility for the souls on board.
    That being said, air travelers have been subjected to all kinds of ” change ” over the past decades. Playing musical chairs with the passenger seating has put many travelers into difficult situations. Add more seats, shorten the leg room between the seats, non existent meal service on many flights are just a few of the downsides.
    Most importantly, these changes have Never been for the passengers. Now, we have the weigh in. Right up there with being searched for terrorist potential, also a safety Hazzard. Why don’t the powers that be list everyone at 200lbs, and balance it out in the cockpit?
    From what I have observed, there are some very ugly people spouting ugly comments about this issue.To all of you, you are STILL BUTT UGLY… and the victims can always lose weight.

  28. Love all the comments about how fat people should be charged more to fly. How about we charge criminals a higher % of the cost to police our neighborhoods? Or better yet, we can start charging the homeless more to pay for fire protection services, since they are more likely to start fires vs. the average person. Then hey, maybe we can start charging those who drive faster in their cars a larger share of the road taxes, since the faster speed puts us all at risk. And amusement parks should 100% be charging on a sliding scale based on weight, since the fat certainly put more wear on their rides right? Maybe we should also start charging the main stream news a tax to help pay for the mental health services of those who they mentally screw up with their constant fear mongering? Maybe we should go in the direction of China, and start keeping a social score for all internet communications, since words matter right? Why shouldn’t the internet trolls be held responsible for their words and actions…..

    Charging sliding scale prices based on weight for planes would be no different then the above. I would suggest that the system we have in place works, and it is more fair to have everyone pay the same average prices, since trying to determine User cost add, gets pretty invasive and disturbing.

  29. Gary Leff. In addition to being the sagacious thought leader of the global aviation industry, linked from the Drudge Report was this article with your byline. Accordingly, I officially award you the title of a perspicacious world-renowned journalist by the power vested in me as an American Airlines AAdvantage elite frequent flyer.

  30. People are also getting taller. Have you ever actually tried to get in the crash position shown on the little safety info sheet? I’m 6’1” and there’s no way. If I were a little shorter I might have a chance of wedging my head behind the seat in front of me, and then end up with a broken neck if the plane made an abrupt move. The seat rows are too damn close.

    The last paragraph is key: The FAA will not require seat removal, even though that’s exactly what needs to happen. I’m wagering that no positive change for customers will come of this.

  31. Complete rubbish according to the commercial airline pilots we know. Just another way to make sure they can get more money. Very often it’s the 90 pound twenty year old who has 125 pounds of luggage with her, according to them. I fly often, I’m 6’3” and weigh 200 pounds. My carry on bag weighs about 20. Do the math. This is about another way for them to make more money. Plain and simple.

  32. Everything is fine and dandy until you hit v2 and lose an engine. Weight does matter especially on a very hot summer day and an immediate crisis arises. Weight matters and it’s not to shame people but to keep everyone and everything in the air. I think over the years the cargo weight + passenger weight has been creeping up to a point where it starts to matter.

  33. You think by now aircraft would be built with strain gauges in the landing gear to have the aircraft weight itself when parked at the gate. That technology has been around for at least 50 years.

  34. Am I considered obese?

    I’m 6’2″ and 295lbs with a BMI of 21. With a 62″ chest I barely fit in a first class seat because of the width of my shoulders. Delta’s comfort + is a tight squeeze and forget about economy or any main cabin seats!

    I was a loadmaster in uncle Sammy’s airplane club for over 10 years, so I know how weights and balances are…HOWEVER, the airlines have people packed in like sardines on a can, so it is easy to throw the COG and balance of an aircraft off if quite a few obese people are lined up against the fuselage down one side.

    IMHO, this problem is 2 phases. One is that the airlines who already make obscene profits are trying to pack even more bodies into an aircraft to increase their profits; and the obesity epidemic plaguing America.

  35. All modern aircraft have load cells built into the landing gear. They show the pilot the exact load and balance of the aircraft as soon as all the doors are closed and the jetway retracted . If out of balance it is normally adjusted by moveing fuel.

  36. Why does the tease for this story show a counter top scale? The new generation of “journalist” spend so much time on snowflake courses they don’t learn to use common sense and their articles often are confusing and incomplete.

  37. Americans are getting fatter! I am in my early sixties and am of regular weight. The reason why I am of regular weight has nothing to do with genetics. I can gain pounds easily. What i do is control what I stick in my mouth. I exercise by taking walks. How many of you can go 24 hours without food? If you can’t fast every now and then; then you have a problem. You can’t remain fat if you stop eating high fat products. You can’t remain fat if you stop eating. My doctor’s advice is: If you can’t exercise then don’t eat. Most Americans don’t have a weight problem. They have a mouth problem. It is a complete fallacy to say it is harder to loose weight when you are older. This is just an excuse. It has been easier for me to loose weight in my sixties then it was in my 30s. It is called control what you eat. Eat low fat. Choose only healthy snacks and limit those snacks. Drink more water. Stay away from sugar and sugary drinks. And this is the most important advice I could ever give you. NEVER ask an overweight person how to loose weight. ONLY take the advice of somebody who is of regular weight who has their weight under control.

  38. All you fatties crying foul need to put down the garbage you shove down your throat and go get some exercise.
    You did not blow up to that size overnight and it was not an accident. You did it to yourselves.
    Yes, there is a tendency to gain weight as you get older. I experience the same thing. I just control my weight by not constantly shoving garbage down my pie hole and go walking daily for at least 1hr .

  39. How about rude ones? Maybe they should be on the list too, along with commies, morons, didn’t pass high school, jokers of all stripes, politicians, cone heads, bearded, non-bearded, with heavy body odor, not enough money in the investment account…..Don’t give anymore ideas to Spirit Airline. These profiteers the one brought the baggage fees….

  40. It has been a while since I flew on a commercial plane but Iwas aware that the seats seemed smaller, but thepassengers were larger. Some of them reallyhad a hard time putting luggage in over head bins, so I suspect that luggage should have been in the cargo hold. Going thru the checkout at the grocery store, it is obvious most folks are heavier than the amount used in airlirne old figure.
    I am 6’2 and 202 lbs so I am probably overweight by airline stds.

  41. Airlines want to know how much your bag weighs, why not how much you weigh. If fat people are “shamed” by their weight, then lose weight. That’s not my problem.

  42. The weighing should not be optional. You can pretty much guarantee that overweight passengers are going to be more likely to opt out of being weighed so there is no way you are going to get an accurate estimate of average passenger weight.

  43. I guarantee you that along with this BS tactic, comes an additional charge $$ for people that don’t meet their “standards”. It’s all bull crap. When is the last time you heard of a commercial large aircraft crashing on takeoff because of weight issues? Small prop planes, sure…it’s the right thing to do. Airlines are always scheming on how to get more of your $$
    So are they going to give people that weigh LESS than their standards a discount? Yea, right.
    Well, won’t be getting any of mine if that’s the case.

  44. So if I am 50 pounds over the limit and my wife is 50 pounds under do we cancel out? If not, why not?

    Should all the people below the limit be given a discount? Seems they should if the airlines want to be fair. But they probably only count money one way, towards them, not towards you.

  45. Fat shaming? If your BMI is over 40, it’s the same as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Our healthcare systems is overwhelmed by people who stuff sugar and fat into their gaping maws. STOP EATING SO MANY CALORIES. It isn’t science. I have extremely low thyroid and epilepsy, stop using chronic health issues as an excuse. Stop eating so much.

    Of course you should pay more for your plane ticket. If I weigh 150 and you weigh 300, it costs more to get the plane in the air. If you choose to pack on the weight, pay your fair share.

  46. I’m a flight attendant with a regional airline. The FAA required our crew members to “weigh in” this past year. Felt very invasive, but we did it for your safety. Weight and balance has always been an issue with smaller aircraft. Never benefits the airlines and the crews dislike dealing with it. You really have no idea what we put up with to comply with weight and balance, so be nice. Check out: Air Midwest #5481 and the recent Global Air crash that killed 112 people in Cuba (that crash is probably what is causing this renewed focus and analysis of our weight and balance procedures.) The FAA doesn’t go around making willy nilly rules just to make your life miserable. There is a reason for every rule. Often based on a previous deadly outcome to prevent a future deadly outcome.

  47. If we are going to weigh people then we should also measure width and height. Allow us over 6 foot and that have spent our time working out to not sit next to the scrawny folk. If we are going to say the “fat” people need their own section then it’s only fair we segregate all the passengers. The scrawny and week should indeed have their own area…. maybe with the luggage. They can fill in the voids there. Maybe we can have a trans section also. O what that’s offensive but weighing a person and making them pay more or givin them a different area to sit based on weight isn’t??????? C’mon people…. you want equality?? Or you only want equality on your terms???

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.