Airlines Won’t Weigh Passengers – But Must Come Up with New Weight Figures

Airlines Won’t Weigh Passengers – But Must Come Up with New Weight Figures
Joe Cortez

It’s no secret that Americans are getting heavier. As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration is giving U.S.-based carriers until June 12, 2021 to come up with a new average weight calculation for both flyers and their luggage.

While airlines may not move to weigh flyers before they travel, the Federal Aviation Administration wants carriers to come up with plans on how to estimate flyer and luggage weights by the end of this week. The Wall Street Journal reports the FAA is making the request of all U.S.-based carriers to ensure safe operating weights are maintained.

Weight Estimates Could Increase by up to 10 Percent, Reflecting a Larger Flyer

To ensure that aircraft are operating within safety parameters, the FAA is asking each airline to send in a plan to estimate the average passenger weight, along with their luggage. The details must come down to the exact science, including the weight of their clothes and digital devices. What’s more, the airlines must disclose how they came up with their figures for FAA approval.

For some airlines, this process won’t create much disruption. Alaska Airlines told the newspaper they will increase average passenger weight by seven pounds, along with an increase on luggage by four pounds. By going this route, they say there will be “very negligible impact” on certain routes.

Other carriers are being much more vague about their plans. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines did not provide comment to The Wall Street Journal, while American Airlines told the publication they have “done a year’s worth of preparation” for this request.

The move by the FAA comes at a delicate time for airlines. After their passenger loads were decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, flyers are coming back to the airport in force to travel once more. Because airport altitude and air temperature can affect an airframe’s weight, the changes may force carriers to involuntarily remove some passengers from a flight, causing significant disruption when they are starting to see signs of recovery.

Americans Say Weight Hasn’t Increased Much During Pandemic

Although Americans are statistically getting heavier, a recent poll by Gallup suggests individuals self-report little change. According to their data, the average male reports their weight at around 200 pounds, while women say on average they weigh-in at 162 pounds. Despite this, 41 percent of the population now self-identifies as overweight.

View Comments (9)


  1. Boggie Dog

    June 10, 2021 at 7:11 am

    Perhaps not jamming so many seats in the airplanes would be adequate for weight purposes.

  2. pmiranda

    June 10, 2021 at 10:27 am

    All bags get weighed, they know the fuel weight, they know the crew and passenger count, and they know the weight of the service items and freight. I’m pretty sure commercial aircraft have calibrated landing gear load measurement… seems like they could regularly come up with an average passenger weight estimate when it’s not raining.

  3. dhturk

    June 10, 2021 at 10:34 am

    Do like weight stations on the interstate. Put scales under the carpet in the jet way entrance that records weight as the passengers enter the jetway.
    Have to refine the process to account for ground crew walking on the scale during boarding.

  4. JAGorham

    June 10, 2021 at 12:13 pm

    Now if they would just adjust the seat size and pitch to reflect this increase….

  5. emcampbe

    June 11, 2021 at 1:21 pm

    I can’t understand why the FAA (or DOT) wouldn’t come up with the formula itself. Update it every 1-2 years.

    Wouldn’t it be safer if all carriers use the same formula, determined by a national government entity responsible for passenger safety, then input that into their dispatch systems to determine weight/balance vs. private companies coming up with different formulas to get to potentially different numbers? If, say, United and Delta are both flying, say 737-900s, why potentially have both input different assumptions?

  6. robsaw

    June 13, 2021 at 9:40 pm

    “Because airport altitude and air temperature can affect an airframe’s weight,” While true if we’re getting into quantum and gravitational physics – what altitude and air temperature affect is the density of the air and lift created by the wings due to aerodynamic physics. Weight does not change to any meaningful extent; the ability to lift that weight does.

  7. bystander

    June 15, 2021 at 10:55 am

    I worked on the load and balance for a US airline in the 1960s. At that time, an average weight was entered for every passenger. I understood that the number had increased over the years as people got heavier. I did not realise that it had ever stopped. The total weight of the passengers is an integral part of the calculations.

  8. Gizzabreak

    June 15, 2021 at 12:35 pm

    Those of statistically ‘normal’ weight continue to subsidise the obese. I wonder when they’re going to stop weighing luggage and freight consignments. Our increasingly bland world, where everyone and everything must be ‘equal’ in order to not ‘offend’.

  9. Gizzabreak

    June 16, 2021 at 12:11 pm

    @ JAGorman … easily done. Just increase seat width by 1.414, seat pitch by 1.414 (1.414 x 1.414 = 2), and double the price of the ticket. Done. Air travel comfort and prices ‘just like the good (?) old days’.

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