This International Airline Is Weighing Passengers, And It Isn't The First One To Try It

When traveling by plane, we're all used to weighing our checked luggage, and even carry-on bags end up on the scale at check-in. But have you ever been asked to step on the scale at the airport? Some airlines have been asking their passengers to do just that.

The latest airline to disclose its plan to weigh passengers was Bangkok Airways. On September 14, 2023, the company announced on its Facebook page that it would be weighing passengers between September 15 and October 31. Korean Air publicized plans to weigh passengers at certain airports in August and September, and Air New Zealand planned to weigh around 10,000 passengers at Auckland International Airport earlier this year. Hawaiian Air has also weighed passengers on several routes in the past. What's behind this initiative? And are passengers obligated to get on the scales at the airport?

Why weigh passengers?

The reason that airlines are asking passengers to step on the scales is safety. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) writes that aircraft weight and balance are key components in ensuring the stability of a plane. Overloaded aircraft require more fuel consumption to stay in the air. This means that knowing the average weight of passengers on board is critical.

Bangkok Airways stated on their Facebook page that it was a standard weight survey to make sure that the actual weight of the aircraft doesn't exceed the maximum limit for take-off. NPR reported that a spokesperson for Air New Zealand said that New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority required them to conduct the survey. Crashes have occurred due to incorrect estimation of passenger weights. One notable one was in 2003 when a Midwest Airlines Flight stalled and crashed due to having a heavy tail. 

It's widely known that people in many parts of the world are getting heavier. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity in the U.S. increased from 30% to 41% between 1999 and 2020. However, an article in the Journal of Transport & Health stated that in places where levels of obesity are low, particularly in Asia and Africa, airlines overestimate fuel costs. These variations and changes in average weight among the population are why airlines need to update their data sets regularly.

Will I have to get weighed?

You probably won't have to get weighed. Bangkok Airways and Air New Zealand confirmed that participation in their weight surveys is voluntary. Passengers should be able to opt out of being weighed if they want to. On top of that, if you do choose to participate in surveys like those of Bangkok Airways, your weight won't flash up onscreen for all to see. It's not like weighing a suitcase on the baggage carousel. With Air New Zealand, passenger weights were submitted directly to the survey, and neither the passenger nor any airport personnel saw them.

In addition, U.S. carriers tend to use other data sets to calculate average passenger weights, so for now, such surveys are not being carried out at U.S. mainland airports. However, the FAA issued an Advisory Circular in 2019 stating that U.S. airlines are permitted to weigh passengers, so surveys like these are not out of the question.