Air New Zealand Weighing Passengers This Week

Filed Under: Air New Zealand

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.

Bottom line

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?

  1. If there is something that should be weighted before boarding are carry on bags. It is insane what people bring inside a plane in terms of size and weight and nobody cares. It delays boarding since bags don’t fit or passengers needs help lifting them. Since airlines started charging for checked bags the inside of the plane became a zoo.

  2. Makes total sense. You have to get on the scale for a lot of small airlines. I definitely remember hopping on the scale in Puerto Rico for flights to other islands.

  3. @Santastico, “ If there is something that should be weighted before boarding are carry on bags.”

    Maybe Ben covered that in the post. Try reading it!

  4. @Reaper: Smart-ass!!!! He said this is a “weigh week”. I said all carry on should be weighted all the time.

  5. They will probably be less than previous measurements because Americans aren’t allowed to travel there yet.

  6. Agree with you that there’s definitely a self selecting group element when it’s purely voluntary. No obese person flying would voluntarily get on a scale.

  7. I’ve long wondered why they don’t have a scale in the runway weighing the entire aircraft which could avoid all the dangerous mistakes with takeoff weights

  8. I’ve thought for awhile that rather than having a weight limit for carry on bags there should be a total weight limit for passengers + their carry on bags. Each passenger can bring 250 or 300 pounds (or whatever weight is determined) into the cabin, which includes both their body weight and the weight of any carry-ons. If a passenger + their carry-on bags weigh more than that, they have to check their bags or pay a fee or buy two seats.

  9. I read somewhere that the US estimates for passenger weights based on 16 pounds of carryons was 200 pounds for men and 179 for women. I carry on 30 pounds routinely and I can’t imagine, judging by what I see in boarding areas, that I’m twice the average. Even the estimates for passenger weights without the carryon allowance seem rather light.

    I’ve been weighed on little island hopping planes in Hawaii but never on a large plane. I’d gladly get on a scale if asked.

  10. You would get a biased weight from a method like this and would need to adjust for other factors for the mean weights to be reasonably accurate in the general population.

  11. @Taylor, I totally agree. It doesn’t make sense that passengers would be limited in their carry on weight to say, 20 pounds, but be able to transport ‘limitless’ body weight. I get why airlines do it the way they do, but the fair policy would be to have a total weight allowance per passenger.

  12. @TravelManager: Have you seen what people bring on board? Most passengers cannot lift their own carry on into overhead bins since they are way too heavy. I don’t think it is a bad idea to have a total passenger+carry on weight allowance but there has to be a limit on how much weight you can bring into a carry one alone. One could easily fit hundreds of pounds into a small duffel bag depending what they are carrying.

  13. @Santastico, fair enough, I think that upper limits on how much a carry on can weigh. And a rule that a traveler needs to be able to stow their own bag is within reason. I recall a situation I saw where a women who couldn’t have weighed more than 45kg was charged by Ryanair because their carry-on bag was 1.5kg overweight. And a man who checked in after her (weighing at least 100kg) was all set because his carry-on was within limits.

  14. This reminds me of that Curb Your Enthusiasm episode where Larry needs to take his friends to a weight guessing carnival barker because none of them would tell him their weights for the private jet pilot.

  15. @RC That bit was hilarious, as well as Ted Danson fighting Larry in the middle of the wedding.

    Mokulele Airlines, the small island hopping airlines in Hawai’i weighs passengers while they are holding their carry-on luggage.

  16. I recall a while back one of the smallish commuter Polynesian airlines actually did weigh passengers and penalised it’s many heavyweight passengers with excess bodyweight charges.
    Needless to say it was a deeply unpopular policy and was quietly dropped.
    Couldn’t see it getting traction with American fatties carrying onboard everything bar the kitchen sink.

  17. I’ve been flying to PBH from either BKK or DEL twice a year since 98 (Until covid) It was normal practice to get weighed with carry ons at the gate till 2014. No big deal. It’s tallied up & given to the pilots before departure. DrukAir & BhutanAir currently requires the same practice on 4 random segments quarterly. I just shake my head when hearing that people getting embarrassed as they always have the option not to fly & get a refund.
    $0.02 deposited.

  18. Can’t they just weigh the plane, subtract the empty and fuel weight, and divide the remainder by how many people are on it?

    (If I’m not mistaken, these planes have scales in their landing gear to determine safe takeoff weight.)

  19. Weight is one thing.
    WIDTH is the more important thing, especially when dealing with tiny seats in economy.

    I go to great pains to keep myself trim and there is no excuse for having to tolerate some stranger’s folds of flab overflowing into my seat area.

    We already have apps that can measure body sizes for custom clothing. Airlines should employ a simple body-scanner that determines if an obese person exceeds the seat width and then defaults them into a two-seat purchasing arrangement.

    It’s a win for everyone. Airlines make more money and passengers are more comfortable.

  20. @DeePeeGrumps, I see that you don’t consider fat people as part of ‘everyone’, since they would have to pay double and I don’t imagine anybody would consider paying double to be a ‘win’. Congrats for keeping yourself trim though.

  21. Hm, a total weight allowance per passenger? I’m picturing that 4’9 tiny girl with two huge, heavy pieces of “hand” luggage which she cannot get into the overhead bins, but luckily the 6’5 professional bulker next to her can help out (plus he is only carrying a “man purse” so there is ample space). 🙂
    I agree on the width though. If someone buys a seat in Y they buy a seat, not 3/4 or 2/3 of a seat because of an overweight person next to them. Width is definitely easier to control than height.

  22. Inevitably I always seem to be seated next to someone that has broad shoulders shaped like an American football player (either naturally stocky or due to obesity).

    Their arms shoulders sometimes extend so far into the space I’m sitting in that I end up having to angle to one side for the flight. That’s why I like the aisle seat as at least I have somewhere for my body to go when that happens. For a short flight I politely just accept it and never say anything. Thankfully it hasn’t happened much on long flights. Reapeatedly sitting for long durations with your spine twisted and/or angled off the vertical is a recipe for back problems.

    Thats why I appreciate upgrades to the front so much, when I can get them.

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