If you’re flying Air New Zealand this week, you may get weighed…
It’s “weigh week” at Air New Zealand
Some passengers flying Air New Zealand this week have expressed embarrassment after being asked to step on a scale at the airport. That’s something most of us aren’t used to when flying on larger planes, since airlines generally use average numbers for the purposes of these calculations.
The thing is, those averages have to come from somewhere. New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority requires that airlines conduct weight surveys at least once every five years, so that they can see if there have been any changes.
For example, a 2003 survey found that the average weight of passengers (including their carry-ons) over the age of 13 was 85.4 kg, and as a result 86 kg was used as the average weight.
As Air New Zealand’s chief operational integrity officer (interesting job title), describes this:
“In order to fly safely and efficiently, we need to calculate the weight, balance and fuel requirements of each and every flight ahead of take-off. To do this, we need to know the average weight of our passengers, crew and cabin baggage.”
How exactly does this work?
Passengers being weighed isn’t compulsory, but the airline does “really appreciate customers helping out.” There are apparently announcements in the terminal frequently about this, and passengers are encouraged to take part.
Even among those who volunteer, the data is anonymized. That’s to say that passengers are asked to step on a scale with their bags, but then the results can’t actually be seen by the data collection team or other customers.
I can’t help but wonder if these numbers are actually fully accurate. In other words, even if it’s just subconscious, is there a bias whereby those who weigh less or those who have lighter carry-ons are more likely to voluntarily participate in this than others. If someone knew their carry-on bag was overweight, would they be just as likely to get on one of these?
Hawaiian’s American Samoa experiment
Air New Zealand passengers being weighed brings to mind a 2016 story. Hawaiian Airlines noted that fuel burn was consistently much higher on flights between Honolulu and Pago Pago than it was on other routes.
This caused the airline to believe that weight assumptions for this route were inaccurate. Nearly 94% of the population in American Samoa is overweight or obese, so it’s understandable that you might not want to assume average weights are the same to Japan as they are to American Samoa, for example.
So the airline conducted a survey over the course of six months, whereby passengers and their carry-ons were weighed, to determine the average weights. The airline also only assigned seats at check-in so that weight could be distributed throughout the plane as efficiently as possible.
Every so often airlines need to weigh passengers so that they can make accurate projections. That’s happening this week at Air New Zealand, as passengers are being asked to step on scales.
As embarrassing as it may seem, this is ultimately voluntary, and the data is also anonymous. So this isn’t a situation where a check-in agent asks you to stand on the baggage scale and then reads your weight out loud.
Has anyone been asked to get on a scale when flying on a commercial flight?