Airline Puts Scales at Gate to Weigh Passengers in Safety Study

Reuters/Phil Noble
Reuters/Phil Noble

Finnair, the flagship airline of Finland, announced this week that it’s begun inviting passengers at the Helsinki Airport to hop on a scale with their carry-on luggage to be weighed.

Stepping on the scale will be voluntary for passengers and is part of a three-month study to improve balance calculations and enhance flight safety, Finnair said in a statement Monday.

“The weighing is voluntary and anonymous, and the data will only be used to optimize Finnair’s current aircraft balance calculations,” Finnair said.

The voluntary nature of the policy didn’t stop Finnair from catching flak for the study, which many hailed as discriminating against overweight passengers.

Finnair says it is not storing any personal data with the recorded weight, adding that passenger’s weight will be combined with the weight of their clothes and carry-on luggage. The total weight can only be seen by a single gate agent.

It isn’t the first time an airline has weighed its passengers. Others in Asia and the Pacific have announced policies to weigh customers, including the flag carriers Korean Air, Uzbekistan Airways, and Air New Zealand.

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Finnair says the data they learn from weighing passengers and their bags will ensure the airline doesn’t exceed the set maximum weight a plane can bear before it takes off.

“We use the weighing data for the average calculations required for the safe operation of flights,” said Satu Munnukka, head of Finnair’s ground processes, in a statement.

The airlines said the weighing of passengers will be limited to the Finnish capital, where Finnair is headquartered.

No commercial airlines in the U.S. have recently required passengers to be weighed at the gate, but United, Spirit, Frontier, Hawaiian, and American Airlines each require overweight passengers to purchase a second seat if they’re unable to fit into a single one.

Finnair’s statement made no mention of an uptick in obese passengers being tied to the new policy, repeatedly emphasizing its exclusively for safety.

Päivyt Tallqvist, a spokesperson for Finnair, told the Huffington Post the airline is hoping to see just how accurate European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s weight estimates really are. It says the average man is about 187 pounds and the average woman is 147 pounds, with weights varying by nationality and ticket class. Also a factor is the time of year, as passengers in the wintertime—particularly those transiting to or leaving frigid Finland—often carry or wear heavy winter coats.

“This is part of having a very strong safety culture in our organization,” Tallqvist 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.”

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