Airlines mull weighing passengers at gates for certain flights due to heavy loads

U.S. airlines may begin weighing passengers at gates for flights involving smaller aircraft in order to comply with new Federal Aviation Administration rules aimed at addressing the reality that Americans are getting fatter, according to an industry website.

“For safety reasons, carriers need to calculate an aircraft’s weight and balance, and it has to be within allowable limits for the plane,” View From The Wing reported last week. “However the assumptions they’ve been using for passengers are outdated.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 outlet went on to note the FAA is aware that overall passenger weight varies depending on the route being flown and that it is likely in airlines’ best interests to document the data. Also, the agency understands that current standard weights being utilized by carriers may not reflect current realities, especially for smaller planes.

For larger planes, airlines can continue using standardized weights that have been published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under the assumption that winter flights may be heavier due to additional clothing versus summer travel. But federal agencies appear to be concerned that smaller planes up to 70 seats may be in danger of becoming overloaded.

The report went on to note that the FAA issued draft rule changes last spring and that the comment period for those changes has come and gone, so airlines can expect new regulations in the near future.

“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,” the report said, noting that passenger participation will be voluntary and that they will be permitted to “opt out.”

Airlines may then choose “another passenger at random and not the person who is next in line,” View From The Wing noted.

While passengers could begin seeing this practice enacted soon, it may also become a frequent occurrence because “the FAA recommends operators accomplish such a review every 36 calendar-months,” the guidance states, according to the industry outlet. That said, when airlines begin weighing some passengers, the readout from the scales “should remain hidden from public view” in order to maintain their privacy.

Weighing passengers and cargo may be unfamiliar to most Americans, but it is frequently done in the U.S. military. In addition, foreign airlines have also adopted similar recommendations to those being put forth by the FAA.

“Air New Zealand just went through a passenger weighing exercise similar to what U.S. carriers are going to have to do,” View From The Wing reported. “Samoa Air reportedly charged passengers based on their weight,” while “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.”

While there are a number of other variables under consideration as part of the FAA’s updated guidance to include legroom and seating, it’s possible that weight data collected from passengers will also result someday in airlines being forced to book fewer people on flights, the industry outlet reported.

“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,” the report added.

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Jon Dougherty

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