Everyone has experienced having their luggage weighed when checking into an airport. However, Finnair is now making headlines for weighing passengers at the gate.
On Monday, at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport (IATA: HEL, ICAO: EFHK), Finland’s biggest airport, Finnair began asking travellers to willingly and anonymously step onto a scale with their handbags. The survey will last until May, and the data will determine calculations on safe load limits and fuel usage. Because heavy aircraft produce more CO2 and require more fuel.
Airlines can use their own average passenger weights as long as they are approved by the regulators, although they typically use the ones supplied by the European Aviation Safety Authority. Finnair has been using its own metrics since 2018, but the refresh was necessary because these need to be updated every five years.
Finnair spokeswoman Päivyt Tallqvist told The Associated Press, “We will need data for both winter season and summer season — in winter season people typically have heavier clothing, which impacts weights.” Long-haul and European passengers won’t be “penalized for their weight,” and “the numbers are kept discreet, away from prying eyes,” the spokesperson continued, insisting that the survey was anonymous.
According to the statement, the airline will use the readings to determine an average weight and will forward the information to the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency for validation. The figures will be used for aircraft balancing and loading computations from 2025 through 2030.
Airlines Weighing Passengers in the Past
Still, Finnair is not the first airline to conduct such a survey.
Last June, Air New Zealand asked passengers to step on the scale to update its data, which, at the time, was 86 kilograms (190 pounds), including carry-on luggage for people aged 13 and over.
As an update to a 2005 advice, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a notice on aircraft weight and balance control in 2019. Back then, the FAA recommended that “the operator should conduct a survey”—much like the one that Finnair is conducting right now—if an operator finds that the standard average weights for large cabin aircraft, which make up the majority of commercial airplanes, may not accurately reflect passenger and baggage weights for particular routes or regions.
According to the FAA, passengers should be chosen randomly at airports that account for at least 15% of an airline’s daily departures, and their privacy should be respected.
On June 5, 2023, Hawaiian Airlines started a passenger weight survey on flights from Honolulu to Pago Pago, American Samoa.
Last year, Korean Air tried to run an average passenger with carry-on luggage survey. They intended to weigh passengers for domestic flights out of Seoul, South Korea’s Gimpo Airport and passengers at Incheon International Airport. The purpose was to revise data in the “Aircraft Weight and Balance Management Standards” of Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MOLIT), updated every five years to determine the weight distribution aboard aircraft. The public reacted negatively to the statement, and the airline eventually removed its notice, as reported by CNBC.
In 2022, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) released a review of standard passenger weights. Expanding upon work initiated by the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA), this study built upon a previous Pan-European investigation carried out by EASA in 2008 about the standard mass of passengers and baggage. The study aimed to review the mass of people, hand luggage and checked baggage utilized in aircraft mass and balance computations. The standard masses of checked luggage and male and female passengers were more significant than the initial values in the 2008 survey. Given that an increase in the average mass of the European population was anticipated, the study suggested rerunning the poll in ten years.
EASA hired Lufthansa Consulting in 2021 to gather information on passenger weights, checked baggage weights, and average passenger weights at six airports in Europe—ATH (Athens Eleftherios Venizelos, Greece), BRU (Brussels, Belgium), CPH (Copenhagen-Kastrup, Denmark), MXP (Milan Malpensa, Italy), MUC (Munich Franz Josef Strauß, Germany), and SOF (Sofia, Bulgaria).
A total of 4,164 travellers were polled while carrying hand luggage. Participation in the survey was voluntary, and the masses of male and female passengers did not considerably change from the previous study from 2008–9, despite the expectations at the time of the survey introduction.
Is it OK to Weigh Travellers?
Though airlines may employ this process for data, it may create a precedent for low-cost carriers to put a premium on body weight in the future and come out with schemes to charge customers by kilogram.
The process remains a matter of debate; however, regardless of the pros and cons, Finnair is not the first airline to employ it and will likely not remain the last. Soon, many others will follow.
Doesn’t it all sound like a way to humiliate customers? You don’t disclose one’s weight in polite society, much like one’s views or religion. Even through an anonymous process, passengers may feel stressed and uncomfortable stepping on the scale.
So, is it OK to weigh travellers? Because aviation software typically can adapt to variations in weight, air density, and other parameters, maintaining safety even in unexpected passenger conditions. On the other hand, a large number of overweight persons can put a plane under strain as weight is a factor in all performance calculations, including runway length, landing distances, altitude capacities, etc. However, with AI and predictive software, airlines should be able to compute this data without needing to weigh passengers at the gates.