As Obesity Surges, Should Airlines Weigh Passengers?

Published: 05-24-2021
A new FAA advisory raises interesting questions about passenger weight.

obese passengers

While much of the world has been rightfully worried about coronavirus the past year, there is another widespread health danger that often goes unnoticed. In the United States, 36.5% of adults are obese and another 32.5% are overweight.

Obesity can lead to serious long-term health problems, but there’s another concern specific to aviation: weight on an aircraft.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), “Operating above the maximum weight limitation compromises the structural integrity of an aircraft and adversely affects ts performance.”

Would Airlines Really Weigh Passengers?

According to aviation blog View from the Wing, a new advisory was sent out by the FAA that, yes, US airlines should weigh passengers prior to boarding.

The goal of these weight surveys would be to gain an updated view of the average weight of passengers for both weight and balance considerations.

The FAA guidance is that these surveys should be voluntary, and passengers should be chosen at random. If one passenger does not want to be weighed, the airline can move on to another randomly-selected passenger.

These surveys should be conducted every 36 months to ensure up-to-date data.

Concerns and Compliance?

The FAA guidance hopes to warn off any concerns about the weight surveys by (1) making them voluntary and (2) ensuring that all passenger info remains confidential.

Despite these assurances, passengers may balk at the requests for weight. The data may even become skewed if heavier passengers are more self-conscious and are less likely to consent to the weight surveys.

If the data becomes unreliable, could these weight surveys become mandatory? Especially if the average adult continues to become heavier in the coming decades.

This advisory also comes after a fierce debate about passenger privacy that were raised when airlines and public officials spoke about implementing “vaccine passports”. The idea that the privacy and individual rights of a passenger may conflict with the public interest is still fresh - whether that means safety from a virus or knowledge about passenger weight.

Of course, many airlines already require passengers to buy two seats if they are too large for a single seat, but weight surveys may be too much to handle for passengers.

Airlines, of course, do weigh checked baggage in order to maintain a safe center of gravity. Additionally, many heavy bags cost more fuel to transport, and this is a concern for their bottom line.

If obesity continues to rise and weight surveys become more popular, or even mandatory, these issues will become even more contentious.

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