Oops: Title “Miss” Causes TUI 737 To Take Off Overweight

Filed Under: Other Airlines

The UK Air Accident Investigations Branch has released a report about a “serious incident” that occurred with a TUI Boeing 737 in July 2020. The cause? Confusion over “Miss” vs. “Ms.”

Why a TUI Boeing 737 took off overweight

This incident involves a TUI Airways Boeing 737-800 with the registration code G-TAWG, which operated a flight from Birmingham to Palma de Mallorca on July 21, 2020.

Long story short, TUI had suspended operations for several months due to coronavirus restrictions, and prior to this flight, the reservations system from which the load sheet was produced had been upgraded.

Airlines use average weights of men, women, and children, to determine all kinds of operational data, including the takeoff weight, takeoff thrust, etc.

Unfortunately there was a fault with this new system:

  • When a female passenger checked in for the flight or had the title “Miss” on their reservation, the system calculated the person’s weight as a child
  • The airline uses a standard weight of 35kg for children, and a standard weight of 69kg for female adults
  • With 38 females checked in incorrectly and misidentified as children, the plane had a takeoff weight that was 1,244kg higher than calculated

Interestingly the pilots had noted the discrepancy — the flight plan gave an expected takeoff weight of 66,495kg, while the load sheet gave a weight that was 1,606kg less than that of the flight plan.

The pilots commented that the number of children shown on the load sheet was high, at 65 compared to the 29 that were expected. However, the captain recalled thinking that this was plausible, with how many people had been changing flights last minute due to travel restrictions.

Did this end up being a serious issue?

While UK aviation authorities investigated this as a “serious incident,” and there’s a detailed report that took roughly nine months to complete, in the end the flight operated without incident:

  • Nothing unusual was noticed by the crew on departure, and the flight continued normally
  • After the fact it was determined that the airspeed for takeoff should have been one knot greater than what was used, and that the thrust required should have been 88.9%, rather than 88.3%

To be clear, the plane didn’t take off above its maximum takeoff weight, but rather took off over its calculated takeoff weight (which has the potential to be equally problematic, if the discrepancy is big enough).

Fortunately this didn’t end up being a major issue, but it was still investigated thoroughly. One of the reasons aviation is so safe is because incidents are taken seriously even if they don’t end in catastrophe. Following the incident, TUI Airways introduced a new system that made sure that this mistake wouldn’t happen again.

Bottom line

There’s a lot that goes into flight operations running smoothly, and at times even the smallest mistake can have big implications. It’s fascinating to see the investigation that has gone into a July 2020 incident of a TUI 737 flight, where the weight of adult females was calculated as the weight of children, due to the title “Miss.”

Fortunately the flight operated as planned, though it’s an interesting story nonetheless.

(Tip of the hat to Christopher)

  1. This is just sloppy. When there is a higher than normal M/F/C split (or zone split or indeed any other loadsheet component), it should be flagged by load control to begin with and then verified by simple visual inspection by the crew. This is not rocket science and could have been checked in 30 seconds without it becoming an issue.

    Also, using standard weights means that the TOW calculated is always wrong. That in itself is not a problem as the margins are built in to protect against that becoming a major issue. However, 1+ ton variance is a fairly significant one and probably needed to be investigated to identify the root cause.

  2. With IoT sensors being so cheap nowadays, airports should just upgrade and include invisible weight scales in the gate areas/boarding gates. This way it’s easily possible to get accurate details.

  3. One UK newspaper is reporting that updating the software was outsourced to a different country where, culturally, “Miss” means a child — which is not necessarily the case in the UK.

    A fascinating by-product of globalisation?

  4. Why not use the same abreviations like on Boarding passes, MR/MRS/CHD etc? Or am I missing something?

  5. @The Nice Paul – that is why there is the IATA PSC manual which specifies the standards to be used regardless of culture or language or anything else. MR/MRS/MS/ADT for adults, MSTR/MISS/CHD for children.

  6. Why would anybody still use Miss? Just look at their web site and they have Mr, Miss, Ms, Mrs, Dr, Prof and Rev. Seems like if you are a Lord you won’t fly with TUI.

    Child goes up to age 17 (I know plenty of 14 year old’s heavier then me) and the title for a child is ‘Master’ or ‘Miss’.

    Seems like they just use the title for the weight calculation and because Miss exists for adults and children their sums won’t add up :-).

    Looking at BA they have a similar setup but at least there you can be a Dame, Lady, Baron, Lord etc. Seems like they are not flying with TUI 🙂

  7. It’s really a non-incident. The “average” passenger weight and “average” bag weight they use isn’t really based in reality. Your bag has a different weight if its checked at the gate vs checked at the plane, and miraculously weighs nothing if you carry it on board. Same with people. I’ve looked at a plane full of people that look like they weigh NO WHERE close to the “average” weight they’re assigned.

  8. I disagree with the suggestion that average passenger and bag weights are not based on reality. When I have had to weight passengers and bags while creating the load sheet for smaller aircraft, the average of the actual weights come pretty close to the standard weights we use.

  9. @German Expat
    I think in U.K. passports if you are a “Lord” then that appears as the first word of the family name. Though that potentially makes you Mr X Lord Y. It’s all very confusing.

    Which is why Sean M’s comment is helpful.

  10. All passengers should be weighed at check-in/boarding, together with their carry-on bags. That would enable airlines to be sure about what payload each aircraft has on take-off. A logical next step would be for ‘lightweight’ (ie less than average weight) passengers to be issued with a credit voucher to be used to obtain a discount on the cost of a future flight. Heavyweight passengers could (controversially, I predict) be surcharged.

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