Finnair Asks Passengers To Step Up In A Three-Month Weight Study

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If your travel plans included a trip on Finland’s flag carrier Finnair, you just might get a complimentary weight check at the gate—not for your carry-on bag, for you. The weight check is voluntary and a part of a three-month study meant to improve safety through better weight-and-balance calculations. The results of the scale-tipping will remain anonymous.

Though facing some public relations pushback for the program, Finnair defends its action, assuring travelers it will not store personal data and that individual passengers’ weights will be combined with the weight of their clothing and carry-on luggage for a single value, which will only be visible to one gate agent. “We use the weighing data for the average calculations required for the safe operation of flights,” according to Satu Munnukka, the head of ground processes for Finnair.

In a Huffington Post story, a Finnair spokesperson said the purpose of the three-month experiment is to check the accuracy of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) standard weight estimates of 187 pounds for a man and 147 pounds for a woman, weights which vary by nationality and ticket class. The spokesperson told HuffPost, “We want to see if the data we’re using for calculations is accurate. We use them for every flight, and they’re important for the aircraft’s performance. When you explain this to [passengers], they understand.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

34 COMMENTS

  1. About time. I got stuck in a center seat recently with 2 big girthed humans spilling over folds of fat past my armrests. insult to injury I had to pay extra for a slightly overweight bag!

  2. I had that same thing happen to me about 30 years ago. It was a turning point. After my experience I was determined to never fly commercially again unless absolutely necessary. I have flown maybe three times since that lovely incident.

  3. What I don’t understand is why a person is not charged by how much they weigh including their personal belongings when the cost to transport a person by plane is so directly related to cost to transport. UPS, FedEx, the trucking industry etc. all charge based on bulk and weight.🤷‍♂️ Why should one person who weighs 120lbs. pay the same ticket price as one who weighs 350lbs. when the cost to transport anything is so directly related to cost of transporting. Nothing could be more discriminatory than this.

  4. It would be interesting to see the response by the flying public to charge based strictly upon total combine person and luggage weight. I’m betting it would be more profitable for airlines to charge by weight vs. count.

  5. It’s interesting where the comments have run to so far. The article specifically states the purpose is to gather data to validate the averages currently being used EASA for weight and balance calculations. There was no mention of changing ticket prices based on passenger weight. I agree, I prefer to fly myself and family when practical, but I do so because I love to fly. It’s seldom cheaper than flying coach and I am always asking people their weights during trip planning for the preflight W&B calculations.

  6. During a different lifetime working a remote unimproved airstrip environment in piston engine straight wing airplanes, I carried a bathroom scale with me and counted every pound at airstrips I had rated at less than gross weight airstrips. It was obviously a safety issue, and admittedly that environment was not comparable to today’s airline environment.

    No doubt the airline industry would do and jump at anything to make an extra buck. However Finnair’s rationale, “the purpose of the three-month experiment is to check the accuracy of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) standard weight estimates of 187 pounds for a man and 147 pounds for a woman” seems reasonable to me. Many times as a boarding airline passenger I have wondered how the averages on which the airlines base their W&B calculations can possibly be accurate.

  7. My days of loving flying for transportation are long gone. Had a SWA flight three weeks ago. Full flight of course. At least half of the passengers were way overweight. Several had trouble getting down the aisle, as the long lines backed up behind them. All carrying large carry on. The bins filled and folks were pushing shoving probably breaking bin doors trying to get it to fit. My wife had an open seat next to her. And as shameful as it sounds, we were both think please not him or her as obese persons headed out way. But one of them did take the open seat spilling over onto my wife the entire trip. I had to pee so bad that I was about to explode, but didn’t dare start the process of getting the big guy out of my way to cross over him. It seems I have drifted from the topic. But not really. Aircraft cabin weights are increasing rapidly from both passenger size and carry ons. I do think a new standard assumed passenger weight is way over due. At each gate have imbedded taxi onto scales and find the truth.

  8. Listen up fellas, I’m gonna jump on the “fat people should be charged more” bandwagon. Instead of using averages, they should charge by weight and weigh each passenger before they get on the plane. This makes practical sense; the only thing standing in the way are people’s feelings. Unfortunately, it would not be politically expedient to make fat people pay more. However, it’s ok to charge skinny people more pound for pound (ton for ton?). The whole “it’s ok to be as fat and unhealthy as you want” mantra is not only deceitful, but harmful as well. At any rate, it would have a multitude of benefits. It would make flying safer, more efficient, benefit the airlines financially, and give an incentive for corpulent folk to lose some of that “body baggage”. The only down side would be people screaming about being “fat-shamed”. So, not only should airlines charge by weight, but I believe they have the right to do so.

    • Maybe discount for people under whatever the average weight is now, and standard for heavier people.

      From Wikepedia:

      Average adult human weight varies by continent, from about 60 kg (130 lb) in Asia and Africa to about 80 kg (180 lb) in North America, with men on average weighing more than women.

      Add 10 pounds or so for clothes and shoes.

  9. I’ve encountered mandatory weigh-ins a few times with small island-hoppers in the Pacific. The only one where I recall fellow passengers (Americans, mostly) actually grumbling employed an old big-dial freight scale right out on the ramp in full view of all. Baggage was weighed separately so there was no blaming it on some heavy piece of gear you were carrying.

  10. I flew the Airbus 321 for many years. Several times I saw planes that weighed about 10,000 LBS more than the FAA weights the company used. For every 2000 LBS it means you need one more knot on the landing. So with 10,000 you are coming in 5 kts. slow and you could see it on the pitch coming down the glideslope. The plane’s nose would be one degree higher than normal. One reason for the tail strikes on the Airbus 321 was because the plane weighed more than what the pilots thought. I would never allow more than 4 degrees nose up on the ILS with the 321.
    Kind of goes back to the angle of attack vs the airspeed on the landing debate. I looked at both.

    • I can only dream of holding an airspeed within one knot or pitch within one degree. When I was ZLA years ago, we couldn’t give folks direct beyond nav aid limits. However, if they would provide us the correct course heading, then we could assign that. TWA came off LAX one evening and requested direct ORD. I asked him what’s the heading. He said zero six five and one half. I said, you can’t fly one half of a degree. He said, ” Captains can!!!” I told him fly zero six five and one half. Go direct when able.

  11. I hate to rain on the parade of the “charge by the pound” supporters, but it isn’t going to work. The main reason is that almost all tickets are sold on line and not purchased when you show up at the airport. So, unless you want to have a scale hooked up to their computers, there is no way to know what the person may weigh in advance. If you ask them to enter their weight, they will just lie. I dislike sitting next to a portly passenger as much as the next person, but I just don’t see a practical way to charge by the pound. My main issue with large passengers is the safety issue. If someone has difficulty getting down the aisle on boarding, imagine what an impediment they would be in an emergency evacuation.

    • Your advanced ticket purchase will increase, or, decrease in price and adjusted accordingly as you check in on the scale at the check-in counter. Remember, you bought your ticket on line with a credit, or debit card. It’s real easy to make the adjustment. With the introduction of AI in just about every facet of our lives, there won’t even be a human being behind the counter. Before you even step on the scale the machine already knows who you are and is ready to make the adjustment to your ticket price as soon as you fully step on the scale. The beauty of AI.

      • You don’t even need check in. You could have the adjustment made right at boarding. Once max gross weight is attained, no more boarding. You’re just going to have to wait for the next plane. Kind of like getting bumped.

    • You could have them enter their weight when buying their ticket, then have a scale under the security body scanning booth to double check their number. If the number the passenger entered doesn’t match their weigh-in, they’d be charged (or refunded) the difference. Like tom my said, that would be quite easy with credit cards. You could even set a tolerance for an allowable difference between passenger-reported weight and measured weight (say 5%), and only charge or refund if outside of that tolerance.

  12. Since the Finnair weight check is voluntary, how useful will it be? Presuming the overweight passengers will decline to have their weight checked.

  13. Hi, everyone! Interesting discussion, though it does seem at times to have deviated from the point of the article, which is that Finnair is trying to determine whether their standards need to be updated to address the changes in size of humans. Hopefully the FAA will undertake a similar study that will lead to airplane cabin and seat dimensions being more comfortable for the average passenger!

    Some questions for the ‘pay by the pound’ advocates here – while that does seem to be a creative idea, it does raise some questions for me such as:
    – Since it seems like your complaints are more directed at the width of your fellow humans and not their weight, per se, would there be some sort of BMI adjustment made to account for that, or should the airlines just instead take a waist measurement of each person?
    – Would we also have to take a shoulder measurement, as some folks into bodybuilding have very wide shoulders that tend to spread wider than their seat back, while their hips fit just fine!
    – Since women on average are lighter than men, would it be the case that women on average pay less for their airplane tickets than men?
    – How would age factor into the idea? Would older people, who generally are more sedentary and prone to weight gain, wind up paying more on average than young, active people?
    – How would genetic factors play into the idea? Would people from genetic groups that are on average larger than the aggregate population pay more, or would there be a genetic normalization factor applied?
    – Would a larger person be issued a refund if he were able to lean into the aisle to keep his body completely clear of the adjacent seat?
    – Would a smaller person be charged an extra fee for continually extending his elbows past the armrest and into the adjacent seat?
    – Would a person with long legs be charged an extra fee for having to angle his legs into the space of the adjacent seat?

    Just some things to ponder as you think it through! Have a great day!

    • Your’er turning a simple solution into a complex one.

      First: Weight and bulk are the primary drivers of transportation cost for pretty much any form of transportation. Just ask UPS, USPS and FedEx to name a few.

      Second: People who weigh more are pretty much always larger than people who weigh less and vise versa. BMI is directly related to weight in a big way.

      Those two points alone justify ticket pricing by weight to be considerably more equitable than it currently is. Change in pricing policy can happen right now, today. It can literally be put in place within days, or, weeks. It would be more fair, unbiased and non-discriminatory immediately. You cannot reasonably argue against what I have just laid out other than maybe implementation.

      Third: AI is the game changer. Before you put your credit card away after booking your flight AI will know everything about you in a very big way. AI will know your BMI, your current weight, your hair color, your political affiliation , your shoe size, what you eat, what you like to eat, what your just ate, I think you get my point. AI will be making pricing adjustments to your ticket right up to the point of boarding. You won’t be able to hide anything including those five donuts and three beers you just gulped down five minutes before boarding.

      Everything about you will be factored into your final ticket price mostly because it should and some because it just will be. It is what it is. In addition the flight crew will have an up to date profile of who they have boarding on their plane. The flight crew will know if there is a nut case ready to board. They will have a profile of every passenger and know exactly how to deal with you. They will know more about you than you know about you. Even George Orwell couldn’t dream this stuff up, but, it’s here.

      • Hi, tom my! Thanks for your response to my post. I would note that your very first post on this subject (and the majority of those advocating for the ‘pay-by-the-pound’ scheme as well) had nothing to do with the airline recouping its costs to transport a person of heavier weight, but rather with your personal discomfort as a passenger having to sit next to a large-sized person (though, I will admit, you quickly moved to that secondary argument). Based on that passenger comfort argument, weight distribution and body type matter quite a bit; while I might cause great discomfort for a seatmate at my current weight, my younger, taller, more athletic son at the same weight would likely be a very pleasant travel companion! Weight alone doesn’t discern who makes a good traveling partner; after all, even the package services ask the dimensions of your box in addition to the weight!

        I’ve decided not to address the rest of your post regarding holding ticket prices open until boarding. While I don’t think that it’s a practical or inevitable, much less legal, system (see the US DOT’s website on airline traveler’s rights if you need more information), it seems based on your statement that I “can’t reasonably argue” against it that you have already shut yourself off to consideration of alternative positions anyway. Better for both of us to just get on with our Saturdays instead!

        Hope you have a great day!

        • I’m just pointing out where I know it will inevitably go. You also have a great day JA. Back to work on my bike.

        • The “pay by the pound” system would allow the airlines to recoup their cost of carrying heavier passengers. It’s currently a guessing game, so airlines have to add a considerable margin of error in terms of weight in order to stay safely within the performance limits of the aircraft and runways. With the “pay per pound” system, they would know their weight more accurately, which would allow them to replace some of their current safety margin with paying passengers.

    • Here’s a simple solution:

      Have them enter their weight when buying their ticket, then have a scale under the security scanning booth to check their number. If it doesn’t match their reported value, charge (or refund) them the difference. You could also throw size into the equation, but I think weight is a more important factor.

      As for your other questions, yes, lighter people would pay less. The reality is, weight is at a premium in airplanes, simply because if they’re too heavy they won’t fly. A bus, train, or ship you can overload without catastrophic consequences, not so with planes.

      If you were to package a person into a crate and ship them via FedEx, you would be charged by the weight and size of that person. Why not do so with passenger carriers? The main problem is that cargo doesn’t have feelings or egos, but people do.

  14. They have those go-no-go gauges for carry-on bags at the gate, why not make one for people and have it at security?

    “Umm sorry sir, but you need to contact UPS if you want to fly.”

  15. All this talking of weighing passengers will just create complexity and confusion and, in the end, accomplish nothing.

    The whole point of statistical averages is the ability to get an answer without having to measure everything. One can go through the whole process of weighing 100 adult airline passengers, add up the results and end up very close to 19,000 lbs. Or one can simply multiple 100 (the number of passengers) by the FAA “average” human weight + carry-on of 190 and arrive at the same result.

    When you’re dealing with sufficiently large groups of people, weighing each person doesn’t make it more accurate.

    The whole point of the Finnair study is to see if “average” weight has changed from current values. Something similar happened after the Air Midwest 5481 crash in Charlotte back in 2003. There the FAA found that the average weight of the actual passengers was some 20 lbs more than what the FAA published. Since then the FAA has upped the average number to 190 lbs (including carry-on), and 195 lbs in the winter (due to heavier clothing). The old number was 170 lbs, last updated in… 1936!

    With smaller planes (under 30 seats) the number of passengers makes for a smaller sample size which can lead to a larger variation. In those cases the airline may weigh individual passengers, or ask for their weight (and FAA guidance suggests adding 10 lbs and/or estimate if the number seems low), or reduce the size of the balance moments to a more conservative value.

    But with larger planes there is little accuracy to be gained by weighing everyone. “Common Sense” talks about how more and more fat people are flying on planes. But that’s an observational bias – fat people stick out in a crowd. Next time you go flying, start looking for the kids, babies, skinny or short people, etc. You may notice far more of them than before simply because you’re now looking for them.

    PS – back in my skydiving days one jumper started thinking about weight-and-balance on the Twin-Otters. 21 jumpers would merrily climb aboard with not a scale in sight. He did his own little survey, asking each jumper as they boarded for their “exit weight” (jumper+gear). After a few such surveys, he was surprised to find the final number stayed pretty much the same. Skydivers come in all shapes and sizes, from little waifish women wearing skin-tight suits to reduce drag (and sometimes even lead vests), to big portly guys wearing oversize floppy suits to slow down their fall rates. Yet when 21 random jumpers lined up for the next load, their total weight remained pretty much the same.

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