The misery of long airline flights isn’t getting any better, and now even Hawaiian Airlines will ask passengers on some routes to step on a scale to help the airline meet FAA requirements. Hawaiian Airlines joins Air New Zealand as the latest carrier to require some travelers to weigh themselves before boarding. It’s unclear how many passengers Hawaiian will weigh on the three routes or if those routes will be expanded to include others.
As for Air New Zealand, they plan to weigh more than 10,000 passengers this month to help determine the “loaded aircraft weight and balance.” That meets your country’s aviation authority, while Hawaiian meets FAA requirements.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and others worldwide require airlines to conduct surveys on the weight of passengers, along with that of their hand luggage, checked baggage and more.
Airline weight studies are linked to a global increase in obesity.
According to a recent study by the World Obesity Federation, more than half of the world’s population will be obese/overweight by 2035. That’s a huge increase from just a few years ago. And any significant changes in passenger weight can be related to the size and number of seats, evacuation planning, and much more. Inaccurate weight data can lead to flight problems and lead to airlines being fined by enforcement agencies.
The FAA says that airlines that participate in weight studies can 1) weigh passengers on scales before boarding or 2) ask passengers their weight and then add more than 10 extra pounds for clothing. That’s based on data from the 2019 advisory attached below.
In the case of Air New Zealand, the airline will anonymize the data so that passengers and their weights are not correlated. They are not only weighing passengers, but also food and drinks and everything else that is brought on board the plane.
The heavier a plane is, the harder the engines work, which means more fuel is consumed, reducing the distance a plane can fly.
Hawaiian Airlines begins passenger weight survey.
Alex Da Silva of Hawaiian Airlines said the company is conducting its passenger weight survey on three routes. Those are between Honolulu and Pago Pago (American Samoa), Japan, and South Korea. To date, domestic flights to the continental US are not included. Hawaiian is acting in compliance with FAA rules “requiring airlines to regularly update this data.” He said, however, that weighing remains optional for his passengers.
Hawaiian also conducted a similar weight survey last year. It was done at the check-in counter and was done for both economy and business class passengers.
As to why Hawaiian is participating in the survey, Hawaiian previously said, “It is important to calculate the precise weight and balance, and therefore the center of gravity, of an aircraft for safe and efficient flight.”
Passenger weight problems came to light in the following FAA circular.
This started in 2019, when the following circular was issued. It is partly related to the size of airline seats and the fact that passengers are getting bigger, which affects the safety of flights, among other things. At the time, only 30% of adults over the age of 20 were thought to be obese, but that is rapidly changing.
Airlines in the US are updating “standard average passenger weights.” The FAA wants airlines to conduct these surveys to determine the average weight of passengers, crew, bags and other items on the plane. The FAA circular calls for random surveys, and that participation in them be elective rather than mandatory.
“Regardless of the sampling method used, an operator has the option to survey every passenger and baggage on board the aircraft and must give the passenger the right to refuse to participate in any passenger or baggage weight survey. If a passenger declines to participate, the operator must select the next passenger based on the operator’s random selection method instead of selecting the next passenger in a row. If a passenger refuses to participate, an operator should not attempt to estimate the data for inclusion in the survey.” – United States Federal Aviation Administration.
On protecting passenger privacy, the FAA says: “An operator that chooses to weigh passengers as part of a survey must take care to protect passenger privacy. The scale reading must remain hidden from public view. An operator must ensure that the passenger weight data collected remains confidential.
The problem is that the average weights and balances may have been too general and need to be more precise. The FAA is increasing the estimated average weight per adult during the summer and winter months. Previously, that was 170/175 pounds total, which is increasing to 190/195 pounds.
That includes an increase in carry-on weights, as passengers pack as much as possible in them to avoid checked baggage hassle and costs, among other things. Carry-on luggage, according to the circular, increased 60% in weight, to 16 pounds, instead of the previous 10 pounds. The FAA is increasing the average weight to 200/205 pounds for men, while for women it increases to 179/184.
The other critical weight variable in a commercial airplane is fuel. The weight of that, however, does not change.
Could FAA weight data change how many seats a plane may have occupied?
It remains possible that heavier passengers could result in fewer seats that can be filled on a given aircraft. That’s still unclear, though you can expect to hear more about it. And that could also negatively affect air fares with the rising cost of transporting passengers. This is reminiscent of Boeing 737 and Airbus A321 aircraft, for example, where every inch of space seems to be already taken.
FAA Aircraft Weight and Balance Control Notice