- A Finnish airline made headlines after it said it would weigh its passengers
- Group says one week survey will update averages and make for safer travel
An airline’s policy to weigh volunteer to get better estimates of a flight’s weight before taking off is ‘long overdue’, experts have claimed.
Finnish company Finnair has divided travellers and consumer rights experts with its review of how much passengers weigh and bring on board with heavy coats and carry-on items.
The organisation told MailOnline it is measuring passengers to get ‘accurate data for aircraft performance and balance calculations’ that are ‘needed for the safe operation of flights’ – instead of relying on European standard weights.
The move has been welcomed by some experts who say such a policy is ’20 years overdue’ for international airlines – and revived debate around whether, separately, passengers should pay a ‘fat tax’ fee relative to their weight, as with carry-on luggage.
A former USAF engineer told MailOnline the policy was ‘long overdue’.
‘Airlines estimates of weight and weight distribution on aircraft are very important to flight safety. Weights are assumed based on [averages] from decades ago. The bottom line is that people are much larger and heavier than they were decades ago.
He said overloaded planes are ‘flying blind’ without up-to-date information, which he warned was ‘extremely dangerous’.
But frequent flyers warn the policies must not overstep their limits, arguing that weighing passengers for safety reasons could be ‘humiliating’ for some who could be left ‘particularly vulnerable to discrimination’.
Speaking to MailOnline today, travel and consumer rights journalist Laura Sanders said: ‘Relying on averages could become less accurate as aircrafts are packed to the rafters and we could see more instances where passengers are asked to get off the plane to reduce weight.
‘Weighing passengers and their luggage before each flight to manage weight distribution on an individual level instead of relying on averages is sensible, but if you’re being weighed at the gate, it’s already too late and a huge inconvenience if you’re asked not to fly to avoid tipping the scales (not to mention embarrassing).
‘This could leave overweight people and solo travellers particularly vulnerable to discrimination as they’re the easiest to remove (families and friends will want to stay together).’
She suggested airlines considering weighing passengers could instead request they input their weight at the time of booking the flight to support safety directives without exposing travellers to humiliation.
Finnair told MailOnline the decision to weigh volunteers came about in 2017 when they chose to use their own guide measures instead of relying on the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA)’s standard weights.
These estimate the average male weighs 88kg and the average female 70kg.
Finnair’s current standard weights, based on their own testing, finds that men weigh, on average, 96kg while women weigh 76kg. They note this varies depending on the season and by route.
‘In our Asian traffic, the weights are a bit lower,’ they gave as an example.
Finnair will be measuring passengers in one-week surveys through February and again in April and May. They explained the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s winter season ends in March and they ‘need data from both the winter and summer seasons, as in winter customers typically have heavier clothing’.
Communications director Päivyt Tallqvist told the Huffington Post that Finns tend to bring a lot more weight onto the plane in colder months as they come prepared with thick, heavy coats.
‘This is part of having a very strong safety culture in our organization,’ Tallqvist said.
‘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.
Observations will also take a note of age, gender and class of travel. Finnair stresses this is not a permanent policy.
While the system aims to get better averages to ensure safer travel, experts warn the move may have deterred some customers.
Kate Staniforth, Head of Marketing at Travel Republic, said: ‘Airlines do have the option to use average weights provided by aviation authorities, or collect their own data, like Finnair.
‘Given the controversy that has risen around the topic, with people accusing the airline of ‘body shaming’, and backlash forming on social media, other airlines might be hesitant to follow suit and choose to use averages given by the authorities.’
easyJet today told MailOnline they had no plans to enact a similar policy.
Norwegian, another budget airline operating in the UK, also told MailOnline they ‘don’t have any plans to start weighing our passengers’.
‘Weighing passengers before boarding would require additional boarding time and that would not be convenient for the passengers as boarding should be as easy and smooth as possible,’ a statement read.
A Wizz Air spokesperson said: ‘We are not considering making any of these changes to our operations. Doing so would be discriminatory and harm the dignity of our customers.
‘A more accurate measurement of individual passenger weight would not mean safer flying but would instead disrupt handling operations and destroy the customer experience.
‘Aircraft weight and balance is calculated before take-off based on an average weight per person, including hand luggage. This is common industry practice.’
Readers were divided by the implication that an airline could collect data on the weight.
Suzanne Baum, a travel writer and lifestyle editor from London, said: ‘Weighing passengers for airline safety reasons is appalling. I actually think it is humiliating. I know, for one, as a person who used to regularly get weighed at my weekly Weight Watchers meeting, that it is a very private matter. One that comes with discreetness, particularly if you are conscious of your weight.
‘Stepping on to an airlines scale in front of strangers is not something that appeals to me, and I can imagine I am not alone. Weighing ourselves can be a very personal and often sensitive thing; I know for one if the airline scales made me a lot heavier than my home ones did, I’d be thoroughly annoyed and be a tad irritated on my flight!
‘For me, flying is all about the experience and as a frequent traveller, I think I’ll skip Finnair and roll down the runway with another airline.’
Finnair said: ‘Only the customer service agent working at the measuring point can see the total weight, so you can participate in the study with peace of mind.’
Scott Dixon, Consumer and Motoring Disputes Expert, supported the policy. He told MailOnline: ‘It’s an interesting topic and although it may be viewed as discriminatory, a cursory glance around any street in the UK reveals that we are an obese nation and there is a price to pay for it.
‘Airlines weigh and charge for excess baggage, so why should people be treated any differently?
‘Obese people may object and say that they are being discriminated against, but this is a lifestyle choice for most.’
John Appleby, a MailOnline reader, said: ‘Airlines charge a fortune for luggage but why should a light person pay for luggage that is not even the difference between their weight and a larger person’s weight.
‘In fact there should be an average weight of people and luggage. If you and your luggage are heavier then you pay, if you are under then you don’t.’
Christine Burns, another reader, told MailOnline: ‘I don’t think [Finnair] is going far enough, although, at least it’s a start!
‘There have been many times when I have been squashed between large people on flights.
‘They just about (but not always(!)) manage to squeeze their hips between the arm rests, leaving their shoulders and voluminous arms to overflow into my seat!
‘To add insult to injury, I know that they have paid the same as I have, and have the same 20/23kg of checked-in luggage!’
An anonymous reader said: ‘I think it’s a good idea precisely because it helps personnel comply with the aircraft manufacturers’ guidelines regarding the plane’s carrying capacity.
‘If someone feels they’re being ”shamed’ for their weight, perhaps it’s because they’re ashamed and don’t want others to know the exact number. If it helps ensure the safety of others, any shame should be directed at their attempts to disallow this practice.’
In 2009, The Guardian reported that Ryanair had proposed a ‘fat tax’ for larger passengers and warned that the charge ‘could fall foul of discrimination laws before it ever takes effect’. Ryanair does not operate such a levy.
A year later, 58 per cent of Britons said they would support overweight passengers paying more to fly, according to research from Holiday Extras.
45 per cent believed it made no difference to them if an airline started charging extra based on weight, and six percent even said the measures would actively encourage them to fly more often.
In 2017, another poll by jetcost.co.uk revealed nearly 90 per cent Britons believed overweight passengers should pay more to fly.
Nearly 80 per cent also said they thought ‘plus-sized zones’ should be introduced on flights.
MailOnline conducted a poll today, asking readers whether they would support passengers paying more or less depending on their weight.
At the time of writing, 70 per cent said they would support such a charge. 30 per cent said they would not.
A Finnair spokesperson said: ‘As per aviation regulations, airlines are required to update the average weight of passengers every five years, to ensure the data used for flight planning and aircraft balance calculations is accurate.
‘This is why Finnair is running a survey this week to collect data from volunteering customers.
‘No one flying with Finnair from Helsinki is under any obligation to be weighed before boarding their flight.
‘It is entirely voluntary. We want to reassure customers that participation is optional and all data collected is anonymous and will not be linked to their personal profiles.
‘We are pleased to reveal that 800 people have volunteered to take part in the survey so far, with more expected to take part in the coming days.
‘As an inclusive airline, we warmly welcome everyone onboard our flights.’