Baggage may not be the only item placed on the scale at airports for the foreseeable future, as regulators ask airlines to more accurately estimate the weight of their passengers.
As part of new safety regulations, the Federal Aviation Administration is requiring airlines to devise new, more in-depth methods for determining the weight of passengers and cabin baggage.
Depending on the airline, aircraft size, and even factors such as weather, the change could mean passengers being bumped on certain flights or left behind on certain flights.
Everything from clothing to items like cell phones must be considered under the new guidelines, and the move is an implicit admission that the average American is gaining weight.
On average, people are about five percent heavier than they were in 2005, when the FAA last asked airlines to update their passenger weight estimates. data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New FAA guidelines for estimating passenger weight could cause some passengers to be bumped off flights if airlines don’t plan for changes appropriately. Passengers can be seen at an American Airlines check-in in April
Airlines have been instructed to submit their plans for estimating the weight of passengers and baggage to the FAA for approval by June 12, but according to a circular distributed by the agency in 2019, they have some options.
Scales are one, with airlines weighing a broad sample of passengers either at high-traffic locations in airports or individually before boarding a plane. They can also ask passengers for their weight.
However, airlines are more likely to opt for an easier and less invasive route and can rely on CDC health survey results to determine their average passenger weight.
Some have already submitted their plans.
American Airlines is the only major airline to date to release its new passenger weight estimates and announce how it plans to deal with potential disruptions
For example, American Airlines has found that its average flight contains more men than women, as well as a handful of children, and the average passenger weighs 182 pounds in the summer and 187 pounds in the winter (winter clothes are five pounds heavier under the new guidelines), according to the new guidelines. Wall Street Journal.
That is eight pounds heavier than the airline’s estimate under the previous guidelines.
Alaska Airlines reported a similar change, with the average passenger gaining seven pounds.
Carry-on and checked bags are also heavier, with Americans determining they are five and four pounds heavier, respectively, according to the outlet.
The cumulative effects are almost certainly significant, as the Journal calculates that, according to the US study, the new estimates could add 3,000 pounds to a fully loaded 737 that seats 172 passengers.
Passengers bound for Australia are weighed in this 1938 photo. While scales are a possible option for airlines to determine passenger weight, they are also allowed to use CDC research data
Each aircraft model has a maximum safe weight limit set by the FAA, which is subject to change depending on conditions such as weather.
For example, airplanes can carry less in warm weather takeoff locations because the warmer air generates less lift under the airplane’s wings.
The same goes for locations at high altitudes, where the air density is lower.
The new guidelines also ask airlines to consider unusual weight situations, such as flights with sports teams, where the average passenger is likely to be heavier.
It is up to the airlines to adapt and allocate larger aircraft where they are needed sooner.
For American, it says it’s done.
“The customer will see absolutely no change,” Mike Byham, director of operations engineering at the airline, told the Journal. ‘We know what impact we’re looking at, so you just have to plan ahead.’
Other airlines have said little about how the new estimates could disrupt their services, with Delta and United telling the Journal they were coming up with plans to minimize the impact. Southwest Airlines and JetBlue declined to discuss how the new estimates would affect them at all.
Some, however, have privately grumbled to the Journal that the new rules will come into effect just as the summer peak season arrives.