Is FAA right to suggest weighing passengers before boarding planes?


Fact Box

  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was created in 1958 to regulate the United States’ aviation, including aircraft safety, research aerodynamics, and control environmental impacts of aviation. 
  • On May 6, 2019, a circular advisory was released by the FAA regarding passenger weight; it caught attention recently in May 2021 as airlines might be asked to update passenger weights because of American weight numbers.
  •  In order to ensure passenger privacy, the FAA will not release confidential information, and they also have the option to decline the request. 
  • According to Healthline, as of 2019, the average weight for men was 197.9 pounds versus 170.6 pounds for women.

Heather (Yes) 

The FAA is right to suggest weighing passengers before boarding planes to ensure safety and update current passenger weight estimates will be conducted with voluntary and respectful weight surveys. It is essential for safety reasons that airlines be able to accurately calculate passenger weight to balance the aircraft and manage fuel consumption properly. The stability and controllability of the aircraft also require that passenger weight be calculated accurately. Most commercial airlines have been 'guesstimating' passenger weight with calculations based on estimates that are less accurate. However, the FAA has previously warned, 'Lack of appreciation for the effects of weight and balance on the performance of aircraft is a prime factor in many accidents.' 

Current estimates of passenger weight must be updated to reflect average passenger weight because the obesity rate of passengers continues to increase significantly. Weight surveys will be conducted randomly and voluntarily in a way that will still be respectful to passengers and also maintain their confidentiality. Specific FAA guidelines include giving a passenger the right to decline the survey and keeping the scale readout hidden from public view while ensuring that all data collected remains confidential. These guidelines also suggest only conducting these surveys every 36 months, further reducing any inconvenience to passengers. While it is certainly understandable that the FAA offering weight surveys may at first seem to be intrusive, cumbersome, or even offensive, ensuring the safety of all passengers is of much greater concern than any brief discomfort that someone may experience.

Ethan (No)

If experts are aware that the average weight of an American adult is increasing, they must also have the data that could make it possible for airlines to simply account for this increase. Rather than weighing passengers, the airlines should just assume the weight has increased and account for the number of passengers allowed on a plane that way. 

Taking the time to weigh passengers before a flight will cost airlines time and money, which will be reflected in ticket costs. Passengers will have to pay more for flights to account for this cost. According to Smart Travel, 'if you don't fit into a seat with an extension seatbelt and the armrests down, you will be charged for two seats or removed from the plane.' Weight charges already exist and will likely become more of an issue if weighing passengers becomes required.

What is the point of suggesting the airlines weigh passengers if passengers can decline, and the average weight data collected from passengers who do allow themselves to be weighed isn't an accurate reflection of the average passenger weight? Obese people who are insecure about their weight and individuals who have suffered from eating disorders related to their weight will likely decline to be weighed. That means the weighing data the airlines collect won't be accurate. In addition, weighing passengers and even mentioning their weight could negatively impact their mental health. This will reflect poorly on the airline and the experience they had while flying with them. Rather than causing passengers discomfort and potentially increasing prices, the FAA should stick to what they've been doing.

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