Airlines

FAA Squashes Rumors of Weighing Passengers Before Flights

FAA Squashes Rumors of Weighing Passengers Before Flights
Joe Cortez

After a popular blog suggested that airlines could weigh passengers prior to flights, the Federal Aviation Administration says it probably won’t start anytime soon. The agency says U.S.-based carriers will most likely use “updated methods for estimating passenger weights” instead of asking everyone to stand on the scale.

For some foreign carriers, weighing passengers and luggage before flights is as common as assigning upgrades and accepting gate-checked bags. Could U.S.-based airlines start the practice of asking flyers to step on the scale before boarding? A statement from the Federal Aviation Administration suggests the practice probably won’t start as the aviation industry welcomes passengers in a post-pandemic travel boom.

Airlines Most Likely to “Rely on Updated Methods” to Estimate Weight

The original rumor suggesting weight measurements were coming to the U.S. airlines was published by the blog View From the Wing. Citing an FAA circular published in May 2019, the author suggested that the agency could require airlines to weigh passengers before they fly to ensure aircraft are adhering to aviation rules. The goal would be to accurately report airframe weight and balance issues, in order to maintain safe flights.

“For safety reasons, carriers need to calculate an aircraft’s weight and balance, and it has to be within allowable limits for the plane,” blog author Gary Leff writes. “However the assumptions they’ve been using for passengers are outdated.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.”

Although the airlines could elect to discretely weigh their passengers, the FAA suggests that scenario is unlikely. In a statement to Fast Company, officials note that there are other ways carriers can achieve the same goal.

“Operators are evaluating their programs to comply with this guidance [the 2019 circular,” the FAA statement reads. “While weighing customers at the gate is an option, most operators will likely rely on updated methods for estimating passenger weights.”

Airlines have not explicitly stated their opinions on the suggestion, rather deferring comment to the FAA about the situation.

Even Without Scales, Weight Remains an Issue for Airlines

While travelers may not be the ones on the scale, maintaining safe operating weights remain a critical safety measure for airlines. In 2020, American Airlines faced the issue head-on, after a disabled flyer claimed they were refused service because of how much their wheelchair weighed. The airline later responded with updated mobility device guidelines for certain aircraft.

View Comments (11)

11 Comments

  1. rylan

    May 19, 2021 at 5:48 am

    I would not say that the FAA ‘squashes’ this rumor. The FAA did not state that weighing passengers is not allowed, just that it is not likely. So airlines can still go and do what they want.

    How the FAA update and increase passenger weights used for calculations if that is a concern?

  2. MRM

    May 19, 2021 at 7:11 am

    I have no issue with my weight or others’ weight – until their “weight” flaps over into my seat area beyond the common armrests onto me. Once they start stealing my personal space, I prefer they be weighed and measured (especially) at the gate.

    And yes, I’m sure that sounds terrible – but in what world should I pay for someone else to lay on top of me – literally – on a plane for multiple hours?

  3. party_boy

    May 20, 2021 at 4:52 am

    I’m all for flying on an airlines that charges for weight of everything. Get a giant scale and have a passenger stand on it along with all their carryons and all checked luggage. First 250 lbs (175/pax per FAA estimate, 50 luggage, 25 carryon) are included in the price of an air ticket and each pound additional is charged at the same rate as air cargo. I mean the airlines variable costs vary on weight, might as well charge accordingly. Why should someone who didn’t pack much pay the same as someone who packed the kitchen sink?

  4. dtw209

    May 20, 2021 at 7:17 am

    It might look childish, but for years I look at it look from an other angle at all.
    I am a 145 pound guy and some times my checked in piece of luggage is 3 or 4 pounds overweight therefore I have to pay a “overweight” fee.. On the same flight there are passengers that weight (my estimation) around 200 pounds or more, If you add their luggage the overall weight is more than me and my luggage.

    Something to think about…

  5. Granmal

    May 20, 2021 at 8:57 am

    MRM is correct. Size is an issue especially flying coach with the seats getting smaller and new slim style seats coming on new aircraft.
    You fly sightseeing flights or helicopters, you get weighed. What is the problem with airlines doing the same?
    Just get used to it. You fly—You get weighed!
    I will fly better knowing that the weight and balance of the aircraft is not from some outdated guess.

  6. SkyIsKing

    May 20, 2021 at 11:13 am

    I have no issue with being weighed (I weigh 150 lbs). I do want to sit in my seat with armrests down and not have another person encroaching on my personal space. If I am going to be sitting for hours, I want the space I have paid for on the flight. By the time my next flight comes up in a couple of weeks, I will likely weigh less than 150 pounds. I don’t encroach on others; expect the same. With flight, weight is important. When someone gets on a plane weighing 300 lbs, they won’t fit in one airplane seat. If they purchase two, then they can do what they want with their space. The other problem is mobility is that people who weigh more than 300 pounds can’t move. They become a hazard in terms of boarding and un-boarding aircraft. With any inflight emergency, these people become a problem. As a surgeon, I have handled more than my share of inflight emergencies where I couldn’t move the person even with help because they weighed more than 300 lbs. Flying is not a right but a privilege. If one is going to fly, one has to meet the regulations of the airlines/FAA. If one is too heavy to fly, they need to purchase an extra seat. Even if a person has limited mobility, if they don’t weigh more than 300 lbs (that’s two people of my size), they can be moved more easily and safely especially in an emergency situation. Size is a fact of life but airliners have space limitations that meet the needs of most people. People who are outside those space limitations in terms of size, need to be taken on a case-by-case basis but never guaranteed that they will fly if their size poses a hazard for others.

  7. deadmoneywalking

    May 20, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    Do they actually make people buy two seats?

  8. hackwriter

    May 21, 2021 at 4:03 am

    @MRM: Seat encroachment isn’t just about weight. I am a short woman with large hips. I don’t “spill over,” but on most flights I spend the entire flight with my shoulders folded in because I am seated between two large men who insist on not having to do the same, taking up the armrests, and of course the inevitable “manspreading.” I have taken to always booking window seats so that a) I am guaranteed an armrest, and b) I have one side where I’m not spending the entire flight hunched to make myself as small as possible because men insist on taking up all the space.

  9. DeltaFlyer123

    May 21, 2021 at 5:12 am

    When I flew for the first time, from Vienna to Moncton NB Canada on a C-54 Cargomaster (military version of the DC-4) in July, 1957, I was just short of 9 years old. Prior to boarding, every passenger with his/her baggage was weighed individually in a large room with all 68 passengers present, on a scale with a huge dial visible to all. The pilots recorded the weights on a clipboard, and assigned seat numbers accordingly (but families were kept together). No one minded, it was for the safety of the aircraft, in order to ascertain the exact weight, determine how much fuel can be loaded, and optimize the aircraft balance. The last leg of the flight from Keflavik to Moncton took about 11 hours, flown during daytime in and out of huge cumulus clouds in mid-summer – you can imagine how bumpy the ride was, and how sick I was! The distance of that leg was just over 2000 miles, within the range of the C-54, but we most likely faced a stiff headwind heading west, which is the reason for the long duration of that leg. You can well imagine that I think weight and balance are of extreme importance to flight safety.

  10. SamirD

    May 21, 2021 at 9:50 am

    Very good point about safety as I never thought about that before and that this was more about convenience than anything else. As far as the weight and balance issues, there should just be a scale installed under each gate area so realtime balance data is available versus a guess. This might have been expensive in the past, but as tech is getting cheaper it should be easy enough to implement where it is most needed. Plus, I’m sure this will also speed up the paperwork to allow maybe one more flight to be squeezed in a day, so there might be a financial roi to it as well.

  11. TWAflyer

    TWAflyer

    May 25, 2021 at 7:35 am

    PBA, which used to fly in New England, would calculate pax weights and assign seats accordingly to balance the plane.

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