Here’s Why Hawaiian Is Weighing Passengers Before Boarding A Boeing 767

Update: Here’s an explanation from Hawaiian Airlines about why they’ve been doing this.

If you’ve taken enough flights on regional jets or props, you may have dealt with a case of “weight and balance,” where passengers had to be reseated to balance out the weight on the plane. Typically this doesn’t involve actually weighing passengers, but rather they’re just using weight averages and then making sure passengers are equally distributed throughout the plane.

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However, if you’re on a small enough plane you may have dealt with a case where they actually do outright weigh passengers. Samoa Air, for example, charges passengers by the kilo. They claim it’s the fairest system in the world, and they’re quite proud of it. Admittedly they only operate a fleet of small props, so weight really is the limiting factor for those kinds of planes.

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Well, American Samoa is once again making headlines for passengers and their weight, though this time around it has nothing to do with their own Samoa Air.

Hawaiian Airlines operates Boeing 767 service between Honolulu and Pago Pago, a flight that covers a distance of ~2,600 miles (which is less than half of the range of the 767). Hawaiian no longer allows passengers to pre-assign seats on these flights, and is instead weighing them at check-in before allocating seats.

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Why on Hawaiian’s flight to/from Pago Pago specifically? Apparently because there’s an obesity epidemic in American Samoa, and they need to control the weight and balance of the plane. Per BBC:

However, Hawaiian Airlines’ decision may be driven by the fact that American Samoa is rated as one of the most obese countries in the world. Obesity in the Pacific Islands is said to be of epidemic proportions, with citizens developing a taste for cheap, imported fast food rather than their traditional diets. One in three Samoans suffers from type 2 diabetes as a result of their diet, America’s NPR radio reported earlier this year.

Interestingly some people have filed complaints with the US Department of Transportation over this policy, questioning the rationale. Per RNZ:

An American Samoa businessman, who filed a complaint with the US Department of Transport against Hawaiian Airlines, questions the rationale the airline has given for their new ticketing policy.

“And of course Hawaiian is saying that ‘yes it is a safety issue’ but, you know, weight distribution …so have we been flying unsafe for all these years?”

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m also a bit surprised that a 767 could have weight and balance issues if passengers are disproportionately heavy. At the same time, I’m also not sure what incentive Hawaiian would have to do this other than safety. They have no reason to make the check-in process more complicated than they have to, so this is an area where I’d give them the benefit of the doubt. Then again, I’m not a frequent flyer between Honolulu and Pago Pago, so that’s easy for me to say.

I’m curious to see what comes of this.

Do we have any Airbus/Boeing pilots here who can chime in on how much of a difference passenger weight can make on a 767 on a ~2,600 mile flight? Is this actually directly weight and balance related, or is there more to it, like Hawaiian trying to maximize the cargo load without exceeding the maximum takeoff weight?

(Tip of the hat to Point Me to the Plane)

Comments

  1. This is a normal procedure also in Indonesia for small airlines. I remember before I took flight with Air Transportasi between Bali and Lombok I had to stand up on the scale together with my handbag. I think only western people are heavy compare to Asians 🙂

  2. Well, think about it, the lighter the aircraft overall, the more important it is to distribute the weight correctly.

  3. “citizens developing a taste for cheap, imported fast food rather than their traditional diets.” – another sad epidemic stemming from US pop culture. it’s a sweeping across the face of planet, much like their music, movies, ‘technology’ that’s making life a race for the bottom.

  4. Good emphasis by Ryan above.

    In addition, an imbalanced aircraft can lead to increased drag due to the change in attitude needed to provide the lift to stay at a steady altitude during cruise. Safety is a critical issue for smaller regional aircraft. In the case of a 767, the incentive would be small fuel savings, which will aggregate to major cost savings over time.

  5. @Kai – Your turn to think about it…Lucky was referring to the 767. But you would have to read the entire post to know that.

  6. Dave:

    People in every region of the world are rational agents able to choose what they like. Barbadans didn’t like McDonalds, so there’s no McDonalds in Barbados. People in most countries like McDonalds, so they have McDonalds in their country.

    Isn’t it more important that people have what they like, again, as rational agents, rather than having Dave’s idea of what culture each should have?

  7. @James K
    While i agree that your comment about “people” being rational agents making choices I especially feel sad for children in these regions who are not yet advanced to the age of reason and whose bodies are being poisoned largely by outside influences targeting them.

    More on the topic, I heard somewhere that the US Airline industry sets the average weight of each passenger with luggage at 185 pounds. For myself, I’m well below that number even with 35 pounds of luggage but it’s hard to imagine that’s the average weight of a passenger with luggage traveling on flights originating here in the USA.

  8. Ben,

    I don’t know what you’re trying to get at in your question, but EVERY flight and/or type of plane is impacted by weight and balance issues. The reason you’ve seen small planes weigh people and big planes don’t has less to do with the aircraft and more to do with simple math, and something called “the law of large numbers.” Your phrasing is suggesting to me that you’re trying to put the airline in a sort of “gotcha” moment.

    Think this through for a second: The FAA uses an average weight of 190 lbs per passenger. What are the odds that a single person weighs exactly 190 lbs? Pretty low. What are the odds that two people weigh an average of 190 lbs? A little better than that, but still low. Over a large enough “sample” (which is really what an aircraft full of people is mathematically) it’s more likely that the average passenger weight averages out to 190 lbs.

    So, you’re thinking in terms of aircraft characteristics, when you really should be approaching this mathematically.

    Let me give you a different math example, that has less to do with people than it does bags. Have you ever flown into ORF (Norfolk, VA)? There’s a crap-ton of military traffic heading down there. When I used to work on the ramp at IAD, we’d send out entire planes full of military folk, complete with military duffel bags. Have you ever weighed a military duffel bag? I have, they’re close to 50 lbs. At the time (this was almost 15 years ago) the FAA average baggage weight was 25 lbs. My cargo hold would be stuffed to the gills with 50 lb bags that were marked as weighing 25 lbs. Over 30-40 bags, this adds up.

    Would you, as a pilot, willingly take off if you *knew* your weight and balance forms are off by several hundred pounds? I’m talking about a paper-work legal aircraft, with proper paper work, but with numbers that are fiction. Let me ask you this: Would you willingly pilot a chart flight with a football team and their equipment, claiming every bag weighs 34 lbs and each passenger weighs 190 lbs? (No, you’d use realistic numbers and they do. It’s just that the weight of a football player isn’t considered sensitive.)

    That Air Midwest crash in CLT happened for a couple of reasons, but this was a contributing factor. Subsequent to that crash, the FAA increased the average baggage weights.

    You didn’t mention anything about subsequent actions Hawaiian is taking (such as increased fuel, less cargo, etc), but I can guarantee you this: If Hawaiian has reason to believe that their weight and balance numbers are bogus, they open themselves up to liability if they use them and an accident occurs and this is a contributing factor. Think about it. When you’re talking about obesity, you can be talking about people 50-100 lbs over weight. Take an aircraft with 200 people, that are all 100 lbs overweight. This is 20,000 extra pounds that is unaccounted for. 20,000 lbs is the equivalent of an extra *105* people at the average 190 lb weight. (Even if they’re 50 lbs overweight, that would be an extra 52 people, no?)

    At the very least, they NEED to collect this data. What they do with it is a different story, but actually collecting the data? Yes, it’s very much a safety issue, as you cannot operate the aircraft safely (I’m talking about fuel, cargo loading, and all of those tertiary factors that are very real safety concerns) without this information.

    Hawaiian should not be shamed for doing this. This is the right thing to do.

  9. @ Dan — +1 on the athletics example. I used to help coordinate charter flights for football/basketball championship games in college. The team, band, and cheer squad would often charter a plane. We would have to weigh every person and piece of equipment, assign seats accordingly, then ship excess cargo, or offer seats to alumni if we had extra room. Huge differences in loads compared to the “averages” depending on the event.

  10. doesn’t the flight computer indicate imbalances before pushback? i’ve been on many a regional jet where they moved us around on the fly; couldn’t have been due to rough estimates.

  11. @pavel

    What, do you think there’s an electronic scale built into each seat? Depending on the airline, the “flight computer” still requires the Flight Attendant to mark where each person is sitting, she brings it up to the cockpit, the pilots do the math, and then they move passengers around to balance out the aircraft if things are out of whack.

    But none of these things are going to take into account passengers much heavier than average. That movement is simply the “balance” part of “weight AND balance.”

  12. 1. I’ve flown this route. It’s horrible, especially on the return, even in first-class. That’s because the flight leaves Pago Pago late at night and Hawaiian basically doesn’t cater it because there’s no catering facility in Pago Pago. You’re left with some finger food and drinks — that’s it. Additionally, the tablets that Hawaiian distributes don’t have enough content for anyone who intends to watch the device for entertainment on most of the flight to/from American Samoa.
    2. A skinny American Samoan is rare. A few years ago, the world’s busiest McDonald’s was in Pago Pago. Despite tuna being the major industry, it’s very difficult to actually buy fresh seafood. It’s incredibly rare. Most of the food is shipped in. They grow very little — even produce — in part because food stamps discourage locals from having their own garden.
    3. American Samoa is a dirty island, despite otherwise being a tropical paradise. There is trash everywhere. The beaches are seldom clean for swimming because of trash, pollution and sewage. Many residents don’t have indoor plumbing and proper septic/sewer systems. The trash and sewage flows into creeks, which flow into the sea. Wild dogs are everywhere and are a nuisance. By contrast, independent Samoa has numerous international flights, premium hotels and is a vacation destination for Australians and New Zealanders.
    4. American Samoa is a U.S. territory but is technically not part of the United States. In fact, American Samoans are not U.S. citizens–they’re U.S. nationals. Most of the Constitution doesn’t apply there. Kind of like Gitmo.

  13. @pavel – the flight computer will use angle-of-attack data, speeds and altitude settings to maintain the attitude needed for level flight. It doesn’t know anything about the weight distribution of the aircraft. The captain and first officer are in charge of the calculations. On sparsely occupied flights, the captain/fo may ask the FAs to request a certain number of people to move up based on average weight assumption of an individual. An aircraft with a slightly heavier nose is preferred one with a heavier tail, due to the higher impact of turbulence on a tail heavy aircraft during landing/take-off. Ultimately, a balanced aircraft with a 1-2 deg angle-of-attack is the happy medium. This is why many flat seats are actually 178 or 179 degrees when “flat” since the aircraft will fly with an angle of attack just a tad above the horizon.

  14. The flight crew can, on any flight, anywhere, request a manual weight of every passenger. It is legal. It is in the operations specifications for the airline. More often than not though, they use average weights. They have been tested by the FAA and are statistically valid. However, should a flght crew ever have reason to believe the average weights won’t be applicable, due for example to a professional football team being on the flight, they CAN request manual weights. It would make sense if you operate a flight that constantly has large numbers of obviously overweight people on it, that the airline would take that into consideration for planning purposes. It is not like they are fat shaming the passengers or something; they just need to know the weights! If it really is that bad to have to weigh people every time, the airline could develop new “average” weights for that specific route.

  15. It called Food stamps FREE everything .. I saw them feeding pigs with free caned food THEN eating the pig because it tastes better ..That’s the US in 10 years or less .

  16. What are you guys talking about, it is obviously the airlines fault for trying to be safe!

    The businessman is absolutely right to feel aggrieved when he ate junk food, grew fat and subsequently being weighed by the airline to ensure his own safety.

    What is this common sense nonsense you guys are talking about? This is America!

  17. Smaller airplanes are required to specifically weigh all passangers and then assign seating as required. It is no different for a large aircraft if the majority of passengers are all overweight. The centre of gravity on an airplane is always moving forward or back depending on how it is loaded. It is imperative that the centre of gravity on the airplane be within limits.

  18. Correct but that will never happen because it’s not their fault it’s ur fault U didn’t give them enough Freebee”s .
    Just Shameless what we do to them people .

  19. For a long time check-in clerks used to estimate passengers’ weights as they checked in. So weight has long been important even if airlines shied away from asking passengers to stand on scales. And of course checked bags get weighed.

    Between bigger planes and remote check-in, this obviously doesn’t happen any more, but 400 people at 200 pounds is still about 40 tons. Not nothing

  20. Martin ur correct they overload planes to make $$$$$$$$$$$.. I only fly Great Airlines . VEGAS on Sun $11.
    Tanks Lucky

  21. After reading all these post. I am going to assume. No one is a 767 pilot. I flew that plane for 7 years, before transitioning to something bigger.

    This policy probably has to do with inaccurate fuel burns aka safety.This may seem like no big deal, but they use trend information in calculating the fuel burn. This info is also used in maintence monitoring and ETOPS. Chances are their maintence department and dispatchers noticed an increased average burn on that route vs other routes, they want to know why. Most often a greater than planed burn, means your heavier that you think.

    The more accurate the weight the more accurate the burn.

    Airlines typically like to carry as little as possible, pilots like to carry as much as possible.

    I don’t think this has to do much with weight and balance. It’s easy to get a 76 in CG limit and it would be underweight for that short of a distance. Even including alternates.

  22. I struggle to see how these people can buy “everything” on that level of food stamp assistance… Quite the opposite in fact given anyone who has the slightest idea what they’re talking about on this issue knows not having enough money is generally what pushes poor people towards fast food instead of more expensive healthy choices.

    However, this is not something I blame on the government given these people have the power to look after themselves if they weren’t so lazy and/or indifferent.

    Given food stamps are designed to stop people starving, I’m not sure how you can justify removing them from looters either. (Well, I know how YOU justify it, I mean as a decent human being)

  23. Bitch and moan all you want, but the airline is offering to transport YOU for a fee. No different that the post office of Fedex. Logic says we should all be weighed and measured.

    You get one seat and pay per pound. Only fair. Why do I have to pay for the extra fuel a 400 pound passenger is using?

  24. You would think the seat size restricts the passenger size that can fit into them, otherwise they should pay for two seats – that would solve the problem. Wouldn’t fancy a couple of obese locals either side of me in Economy.

  25. Callum
    I eat lean Streak, no skin chicken and pork all the time way cheaper then fast food ..When I get LAZY I eat Fast Food only .It’s a bad habit their in .I bet they have FREE healthcare too why not ,

  26. They are tankering fuel because it’s cheaper to buy fuel in Hawaii then it is in samoa. Therefore all pax need to be weighed for max fuel on board and mire importantly for landing weight at the other end.

  27. Untrue on a 17 hr flt it takes THREE GALS TO CARRY THE ONE GAL TO USE ON LANDING . Great airline that PC stuff let them buy 2 seats and all set next to each other . SW COMMANDED me to set between to Whales I TOAD her I don’t think so lady and walked on .

    WEIGHT IS MONEY GET IT MONEY !!!!!

  28. “An aircraft with a slightly heavier nose is preferred one with a heavier tail, due to the higher impact of turbulence on a tail heavy aircraft during landing/take-off.”

    More importantly, a tail-heavy aircraft (center of gravity behind center of lift) is not stable in the longitudinal axis. Nose-heavy airplanes are naturally stable. Absent pilot (or autopilot, etc.) input, their nose will drop in a stall condition, which recovers from the stall. In a tail-heavy aircraft, the nose will *rise* absent control input in a stall, making the stall worse. Beyond a certain point, the stall may become completely unrecoverable. Of course, even in a properly-balanced aircraft, you can still be a moron and hold the nose high during a stall (see: AF447,) but if you don’t give any control input, the aircraft will pitch down and recover from the stall.

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