The Federal Aviation Administration says it doesn’t expect most airlines will resort to weighing passengers at the gate after it released guidance for carriers regarding the weight and balance control of their aircraft.
A two-year-old advisory circular details a number of options for airlines to estimate the weight of passengers and baggage, including surveys and weighing passengers on a scale. The circular, which includes voluntary recommendations, went viral after it was picked up by airline industry blogs and then the national media.
An FAA spokesperson said weighing individual passengers was merely an option, not a mandate. “The FAA issued an Advisory Circular in May 2019 that stressed the importance that airline weight and balance programs accurately reflect current passenger weights,” the agency told Fast Company. “Operators are evaluating their programs to comply with this guidance. While weighing customers at the gate is an option, most operators will likely rely on updated methods for estimating passenger weights.”
In fact, weighing passengers has always been an option. The FAA’s previous circular, released in 2005, includes much of the same language. However, the average weight of American travelers has changed since then, and airlines are now tasked with updating their estimates.
Of course, it’s possible that airlines will choose to start asking customers to step on a scale before they board a flight (although passengers would be able to decline), but it’s hard to imagine which airline would want to be the first to announce such a rule.
We reached out to the top three U.S. carriers for comment. Delta Air Lines referred us to the FAA’s statement, while United Airlines referred us to Airlines for America, the industry’s trade association, which declined to comment. A spokesperson for American Airlines indicated that not much would change. “As we do today, American expects to continue using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data to determine accurate standard average passenger weights,” the spokesperson said. “We’ll continue to evaluate average passenger weights for each flight we operate and adjust as needed.”
This post was updated with AA’s reply.