The misery of long airline flights isn’t improving, and now even Hawaiian Airlines will be asking passengers on some routes to step on a scale to help the airline comply with FAA requirements. Hawaiian Airlines is joining Air New Zealand as the latest carrier requiring some travelers to get weighed before stepping onboard. It isn’t clear the number of passengers Hawaiian will weigh on the three routes or whether those routes will be expanded to include others.
As for Air New Zealand, they plan on weighing over 10k passengers this month to help determine the “weight and balance of the loaded aircraft.” That complies with their country’s aviation authority, while Hawaiian complies with FAA requirements.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and others globally require that airlines conduct surveys of passenger weight, along with that of their hand baggage, checked bags, and more.
Airline weight studies relate to a global increase in obesity.
According to a recent study by the World Obesity Federation, over half of the world’s population will be obese/overweight by 2035. That is a big increase from just a few years ago. And any significant change in the weight of passengers can relate to the size and number of seats, evacuation planning, and much more. Inaccurate weight data can lead to flight problems and result in the enforcement agencies issuing fines to airlines.
The FAA says that airlines participating in the weight studies can either 1) weigh passengers on scales before boarding or 2) ask passengers their weight and then add 10+ additional pounds for clothes. That is based on data from the 2019 advisory attached below.
In the case of Air New Zealand, the airline will anonymize data so that passengers and their weights are not correlated. Not only are they weighing passengers, but also food and beverages and everything else brought onboard the aircraft.
The heavier a plane, the harder the engines work, which means more fuel is consumed, reducing the distance an aircraft can fly.
Hawaiian Airlines begins passenger weight survey.
Hawaiian Airlines’ Alex Da Silva 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, US mainland domestic flights 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 its passengers.
Hawaiian also conducted a similar weight survey last year. It was performed at the check-in counter and was done for passengers in both economy and business class.
As to why Hawaiian is participating in the survey, Hawaiian said previously, “It is important to calculate accurate weight and balance, and therefore the center of gravity of an aircraft for safe, efficient flight.”
Passenger weight issues came to light in the FAA circular below.
This started in 2019, when the circular below was issued. It relates in part to the size of airline seats and the fact that passengers are growing larger, which impacts flight safety, among other things. At that time, it was believed that just 30% of adults over age 20 were obese, but that is rapidly changing.
Airlines in the US are updating “standard average passenger weights.” The FAA wants airlines to undertake these surveys to determine average weights for passengers, crew, bags, and other items on the aircraft. The FAA circular calls for random surveys, as well as participation in them being elective rather than mandatory.
“Regardless of the sampling method used, an operator has the option of surveying each passenger and bag aboard the aircraft and should give a passenger the right to decline to participate in any passenger or bag weight survey. If a passenger declines to participate, the operator should select the next passenger based on the operator’s random selection method rather than select the next passenger in a line. If a passenger declines to participate, an operator should not attempt to estimate data for inclusion in the survey.” – U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
On protectingf passengers’ privacy, the FAA says, “An operator that chooses to weigh passengers as part of a survey should take care to protect the privacy of passengers. The scale readout should remain hidden from public view. An operator should ensure that any passenger weight data collected remains confidential.”
At issue is that the average weights and balances may have been far too general and need to become more accurate. FAA is increasing the estimated average weight per adult during both the summer/winter months. That was previously 170/175 pounds overall, which is being increased to 190/195 pounds.
That includes increased carry-on bag weight, as passengers cram everything possible into them to avoid issues and costs of check bags, among other things. Carry-ons, according to the circular, are up 60% in weight, at 16 pounds, instead of the prior 10 pounds. The FAA is increasing the average weight to 200/205 pounds for men, whereas for women, it is increasing to 179/184.
The other critical weight variable on an airliner is fuel. The weight of that, however, doesn’t change.
Could FAA weight data change how many seats an airplane can have occupied?
It remains possible that passengers weighing more could result in fewer seats that can be occupied on a given aircraft. That isn’t yet clear, although you can expect to hear more about that. And that could also negatively impact airfares with the cost of transporting passengers increasing. This brings to mind Boeing 737 and Airbus A321 aircraft, for example, where every inch of space appears to be already taken.
FAA Aircraft Weight and Balance Control Advisory