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 However the assumptions they’ve been using for passengers are outdated.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 The FAA took public comment on their draft guidance last spring, and we’re reaching the point where final FAA action should take place.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. I know of no current production commercial aircraft that have strain gauges (load cells) on board. the 747-100 had them as an option and the system was disabled most of the time because the readings didn’t match the paperwork and that meant that the plane could not legally fly till the system was written up as failing and disabled.

    from FAA AC120-27E(2005)

    b. The standard average passenger weights in Table 2-1 include 5 pounds for summer clothing, 10 pounds for winter clothing, and a 16-pound allowance for personal items and carry-on bags. Where no gender is given, the standard average passenger weights are based on the assumption that 50 percent of passengers are male and 50 percent of passengers are female.
    TABLE 2-1. STANDARD AVERAGE PASSENGER WEIGHTS
    Standard Average Passenger Weight
    Weight Per Passenger
    Summer Weights
    Average adult passenger weight 190 lb
    Average adult male passenger weight 200 lb
    Average adult female passenger weight 179 lb
    Child weight (2 years to less than 13 years of age) 82 lb
    Winter Weights
    Average adult passenger weight 195 lb
    Average adult male passenger weight 205 lb
    Average adult female passenger weight 184 lb
    Child weight (2 years to less than 13 years of age) 87 lb

  2. Sorry, but it is just staggering how many of you people claim you work in the industry and have absolutely NO CLUE what you are talking about.

    1. Modern aircraft DO have weight and balance sensors that feed directly into the FMS to help calculate fuel and balance the aircraft. This precludes the need to weigh passengers or bags for “safety”.

    2. Stop trying to use the unfortunate crashes of 50 year old puddle jumpers to justify this absolute crap for people flying on modern airliners. You can give us all the “Look Up” and “Look At” examples of former incidents that have ABSOLUTELY NO BEARING on this discussion to justify your point….it doesn’t make it any more valid.

    3. As to the comments that the FAA does not do things “willy nilly”, again you are an idiot. Ask any pilot how many politically motivated and outdated BS laws and regulations the FAA trots out to show when they have a problem with a pilot that has no real basis in law. The FAA is a political organization….pure and simple. If you trust politicians to keep you safe, you have no place voting or discussing these things for the rest of us with common sense. The FAA is also largely made up of people from the industry….with financial reasons to write the idiotic laws and regulations that they push for. It’s a lot like electrical supply companies making up the electrical code….a complete conflict of interest and if you people were not so busy stroking your egos and shouting to hear your own voices you might realize it and put a stop to it.

    As I have said so many times before on this site, if you don’t know what the hell you are talking about, stow your ignorant itchy fingers and you might actually learn something. Just because you are obsessed with the sound of your own voice, does not mean the rest of us want to be exposed to your ignorant ramblings.

  3. Just stop being so fat. Also, this will prevent fatsos from putting their fat on me for flights.

  4. Carry-on bags have to fit in a specific size device of exact dimension. All passenger should have to fit in a test chair at the gate in the same way. If they don’t fit, they should have to buy two seats or be ejected. The test chair could be fitted to a scale as well if they are to be charged by the pound. That fat person is taking up half of my seat without paying for it. Why do I have to subsidize them?

  5. Why don’t they put three scales at each gate? The aircraft has one wheel on each scale. They load/fuel the aircraft and after the doors are closed the scales can accurately tell how much cargo is loaded, the pilot accounts for the weight, everyone is happy, safe and they fly into the wild blue yonder where no one is singled out by rude Karens who desire to run everyone’s life.

    Sad, we have all these marvelous technologies but don’t apparently know how to use them. If you’re afraid to sit next to what you consider to be a fatty, remember the fatty probably doesn’t want sit next to a Karen or Ken who thinks they know how everyone else should live their own lives. Do us a favor and just don’t get on the aircraft.

  6. The security screening equipment should be the same width as the armrests. If you can’t fit then buy another seat. Why do we coddle fat people for making bad food and exercise choices. They should be treated like smokers and pay more for being fat. Covid comorbidities are heart disease obesity and diabetes. Fat people

  7. Good start but overweight people should also pay more. I’m not only tired of sitting next to obese passengers but also tired of paying higher health insurance premiums because the fatties are unhealthy.

  8. The Democrats will lose their mind on this……at least we’ll see some really good hair weaves getting yanked out.

  9. Ryan Waldron said,
    “Sorry, but it is just staggering how many of you people claim you work in the industry and have absolutely NO CLUE what you are talking about.

    1. Modern aircraft DO have weight and balance sensors that feed directly into the FMS to help calculate fuel and balance the aircraft.”

    Really? I’ve been an airline pilot for 30+ years and have never had an airplane with that capability. Fuel, yes, but not weight of pax and cargo.

  10. Color me ignorant here but why not do what banks do and manage a stress testing scenario based on much larger estimates of passenger average size?

    I’ve been on smaller planes where we load balanced the passengers when the plane was not full, but if the airlines are running dangerously close to max takeoff weight with a small buffer where a 30-40 lb difference in average passenger weight is going to make or break the takeoff, then perhaps the FAA should actually be forcing the reduction of passenger capacity instead. This highlights to me that the FAA is more interested in supporting the financial goals of the industry rather than that of safety.

  11. A “fat tax” has been looming for a while, and this is the first step into implementing it. Obese people (most Americans these days), will have to pay more since it takes more fuel to haul their bulk than normal people. This could also be expanded to road tax, as fat Americans driving their Teslas with already-heavy battery packs cause more damage to roads, which they are not contributing to the repair of via gasoline taxes. Another area will be health insurance. If you are a bloated American you will expect to pay more for health insurance than a healthy person. Don’t fret though, fat people die much sooner than us healthy folks, so you won’t have to suffer too long.

  12. FitFinigan-Don’t fret though, fat people die much sooner than us healthy folks, so you won’t have to suffer too long.

    FitFinigan-You are pathetic. You are a narcissist. You think you are superior to everyone else. Some thin people die before fat people. Enough said.

  13. WTF is wrong with you inhumane, fat-shaming mother fuckers? Some people have real health disorders like thyroid issues that cause them to be a lot heavier than you self-righteous jerks. Of course, there are some who don’t keep a healthy lifestyle but can you make that call? Are you going to stand at the gate and judge someone you don’t know who might have legit health issues? Will you open your stupid, ugly trap and say some stupid shit to someone about eating too much? I guarantee you pussy asses won’t. You’ll go online and bitch about it like the judgmental cowards you are. Chances are your porn consumption is probably unhealthy. Chances are you dickheads drink and drive. Chances are your children are drug abusers. Glass houses bitches. Wake the fuck up and have some compassion for Christ’s sake.

  14. Obesity (and not covid, systemic this or that, or the relative scarcity of self driving cars) is the primary health threat to the US. It is serious, embarrassing and very expensive (visit your local hospital, who have had to install new double-wide chairs, wheelchairs and beds as only one example). It is accommodated without limit. Until there are reasonable policies put in place to bring some reason to personal behavior it will continue costing everyone. Twice a person in size? Buy two tickets. BMI in the red? Health insurance surcharge kicks in. I’m surprised the global climate alarmists haven’t weighed in on this, as morbidly obese people consume 3-4x the calories otherwise required for a human. Are you listening, Michael Moore? It is a disgrace to our country.

  15. When I lived in Puerto Rico in the 50’s, we were weighed with our baggage and were charged if the amount was over a certain amount. I think that should be the case now. A thin person who has luggage weighing over the limit has to pay a fee. A grossly overweight person with a light suitcase gets away without paying extra even though the total weight of he and his luggage is way more that that of the thin passenger. This makes no sense.

  16. I think the airlines should sell tickets based on weight. You get a total pound per ticket. Add person, carry on and checked baggage to figure out the weight. If you are over you pay more. If you are less than you can sell your weight allotment back to the airline to sold to passengers who are over or packed more stuff.
    But if you have to use a belt extender they have to buy a second seat and this has to be disclosed before the day of travel so the airline can accommodate them. I’ve been smooshed into the bulkhead before by someone so large if there had been an emergency requiring a quick exit no one would get past them and it was not even remotely safe or fair.

  17. Human Garbage…. what is wrong with us “”Fat Shaming MFs??”” you ask? Because you have control of what you put into that gaping maw you call your mouth, that’s what. Thyroid issues, no Thyroid, BMI 23, no excuse. Anyone with a BMI over 35 should be paying a “”Fat Tax.” More for health insurance, more to fly.

  18. Total BS. The airline industry has been using an outdated method for calculating weight all this time. No need to “weigh” passengers. If the current numbers are believed to be off by 20%, then just freaking adjust it by 20%.

    This is all to weight shame people. You idiots assume, that people who are obese, not only WANT to be obese, but sit around all day eating hamburgers and twinkies and drinking soda. My neighbor who has had a thyroid problem all her life, is obese. I watch her struggle eating less than 900 calories a day, trying to lose weight. But her illness and her medicines make it nearly impossible.

    Also, I know other people, who have medical problems where they have mobility issues, and not being able to move and burn calories, causes weight gain also.

    But there ARE things that can be done to help some people. When it comes of SNAP benefits, make it so trash foods can no longer be purchasable. If it doesn’t meet a federal standard for healthy consumption, it won’t scan. No soda, no chips, no cookies, no cakes, no pies…etc… All it takes is to eliminate those bar codes as to what will no longer ring up at the register. Under state medicaid programs, allow people to join a fitness center. It is worth $10 a month, not to pay for the $1,000’s of a month to treat the illnesses associated with obesity. Diabetes medicines and supplies, along with the meters and their supplies, are expensive. The welfare programs can have local chef’s and local growers, give free cooking classes, to show how to cook healthy at home, instead of buying junk for quick meals. Have a class on how to shop to get the most bank for the buck.

    But fat shaming will get you no where. The problems, that CAN be solved, need to be addressed.

  19. David G wrote, “Read up on US Airways Express 5481.”

    Indeed. 21 people died, in part because they underestimated the load.

    Ryan Waldron wrote, “2. Stop trying to use the unfortunate crashes of 50 year old puddle jumpers to justify this absolute crap”

    US Airways Express 5481 crashed January 8, 2003 (only 18 years ago), and the plane was less than seven years old.

  20. I dont have a thyroid but I whatch what I eat and exercise and take medication. I am 5ft 11 195 male with low body fat. So that medical issues is void saying you cant help yourself.

  21. David G: The Beechcraft 1900 was introduced in 1984. It is a little 19 passenger aircraft that is barely used in commercial passenger aviation. I’ll say this again because are obviously to much of a moron to have gotten it the first time around. Stop trying to use old general aviation aircraft where the passengers can literally shoot spit balls at the back of the pilots heads to justify an argument about modern day airliners. I don’t know how much plainer I can make it, they don’t support a font in crayon with the Rs backwards for simple minded idiots like yourself. Know that the hell you are talking about before you open your mouth. Stupidity is dangerous because there are people as stupid as you that will believe the garbage you are shoveling…..and that is FAR more dangerous than an out of balance aircraft big or small!

  22. Basically..it ALL comes down to respect..A passenger should never be cramped out by someone else regardless of medical reasons. Perhaps if its thd same family or party..But nevet by a stranger..the 3 seat thing sounds harsh and doesnt really fix the problem if they dont fit in A seat..The Airlinr should have larger 2 seat rows that cist perhaps 50% mote…worse case scenerio..if someoned is taking ip You space .that person needs to have funds directed to uou..via the the airline collecting and crediying upu

  23. I’m 6’6″, and my shoulders protrude about 30% into adjacent seats. I’m heaver than the average passenger, simply because I’m a bigger person. Is it fair to force me to purchase a second seat because of something that I have no control over?

  24. about time .personal weight plus cargo is fee. i love it. stay home obese or pay ur weight. if u ever long haul with a fat stinky neighbour?yaks.let them pay

  25. Thank you JakkiK for being thoughtful and respectful toward other humans.

    The commentary here is pretty striking!

    Morbidly obese people exist and for various reasons, either biological or mental health reasons. Either way, I suspect all of them struggle with shame and suffer discomfort in so many ways. Even those who simply eat a lot yet have bodies that would easily lose weight if they ate less are nonetheless humans who should be intrinsically valued by our systems. That being said there’s true costs to the accommodations. We’ve decided to accommodate the wheelchair bound, and that has cost government and corporation billions of dollars that end up paying for. Who knows why someone’s in a wheelchair? It could have been their own stupidity that landed them there but we don’t judge them because we have been socialized to avoid that.

    What if all passengers could buy 1.5 $ tickets for a 1.5 width seats? Buying two tickets to sit in a seat designed for average people can’t be a comfortable experience. First class tickets cost a lot more and are limited to airlines and flights that offer them. The 1.5 width seats might not be needed on some flights and might not be enough on others. If not needed, but are the only seats available, they will be purchased nonetheless in the airline won’t lose money. If they sell out the buyer can choose another flight for buying ahead. Is this a viable idea?

  26. Gotta love all the fat shaming in the comments…which started in the article. There were plenty of better words to use than fatter.

    Also…I love how everyone wants to shame the large passenger, but no discussion how the majority of planes were designed to accommodate fewer passengers, and the airlines are who are making the seats smaller. Give me the seat that Boeing or Airbus designed, and likely you wouldn’t have to worry about the size of your seat companion.

  27. In the end, it doesn’t matter WHY people are getting heavier, it all comes down to airlines refusing to recognize that people ARE getting heavier. In fact, airlines operate as if the opposite were true: The increasingly design planes as if people were getting thinner and shorter. Given the safety concerns, this is reckless and should not be allowed. Airlines should NOT be able to effectively say, “well people SHOULD be thinner and shorter, and therefore we’ll design our planes accordingly.” Auto companies can’t say, “people SHOULD pay more attention when driving, therefore we’ll get rid of bumpers, air bags, and seat belts.” Spacing between rows should be increased. Width of seats should be increased. Ticket prices will increase accordingly, but that’s the way it is. Or at least should be.

  28. Obviously the author hasn’t the time to obtain the knowledge to produce an accurate article on the given subject. I would strongly advise finding people who do have the knowledge and experience and asking a few questions before publication.
    It would go a long way in enhancing your credibility and popularity with those of us in the industry.
    Scales at the gate? Self weighing airplanes? I have to say some of the comments are truly amusing at best.

  29. You could take every one of these problems and tie it to the pursuit of and blatant worship of profit. Our disgust should be for the devouring Corporations with far too much control over our government to allow it to work in the interests of the people.

  30. The DOT weighs trucks to identify those that are over loaded. It would be a lot easier to just weigh the planes at the airport and adjust accordingly.

  31. The model no. Is WTW5600VQ0
    and the problem is its not working most off the time
    I saw right away when it came that this was used or defective because even when I put up the hot water pipe the threads was warn I had to put 2 washers its should not go all the way in and it should not leak
    Then when I put it on it makes a silent noise when I knock on the valve sometimes it starts working
    Anyways this part is defective
    Please send me a new one
    or refund me please
    Thanx

  32. I don’t think it is anyone’s business how much you weigh if there is a problem with the weight on plane’s charging more or bigger seat may not be the answer if there is not the right weight do not let as many on or just maybe use sand bag’s to make up the difference

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