“Americans are getting fatter.”
Surprisingly, this statement relates to FAA guidance – not a Weight Watchers marketing plan. And it is the premise behind what is sure to be a controversial program that could be coming soon to an American airport near you.
It’s a well-known fact of aviation that carriers need to calculate an aircraft’s weight, and balance cargo and passengers for safe flight.
However, as reported in online industry publication View From the Wing, “the assumptions they’ve been using for passengers are outdated.”
The American government is turning to airlines themselves to collect the data to show just how much heavier pax have become, in order to update weight guidelines – especially for smaller aircraft.
The report says the FAA drafted new guidance for aircraft weight and balance last year, “and we’re reaching the point where final FAA action should take place.”
So the regulatory body has turned to airlines to conduct so-called random ‘surveys’ of passengers’ weight, “representing at least 15% of an airline’s daily departures in the secure area of the airport (to ensure that connecting passengers are included).”
If passengers already think that modern air travel has become like a cattle car, scales at the boarding gate will not help them regain a sense of the adventure – or even, dignity, of flying.
It’s cold comfort to note that, “This is voluntary and passengers have to be allowed to opt out, with airlines then selecting another passenger at random and not the person who is next in line,” and that the scale’s “readout should be hidden from public view.”
How thoughtful. And if anyone can opt out, how accurate will a survey be if only thin people have their weight recorded?
What’s more, the process might not be a one-off for the purposes of updated guidance. The report says, “the FAA recommends operators accomplish such a review every 36 calendar-months,” but notes that it could become a permanent boarding exercise where, “carriers have the option of marking down the actual weights of each passenger on every flight, either by weighing everyone or just asking their weights and then having gate agents guess if a passenger is lying.”
And we thought being a boarding agent was a tough enough job already. Start second-guessing pax’ self-reported weights and see how that goes.
If there is any silver lining at all, it’s the suggestion this may actually increase space on flights if new, increased weight per pax calculations mean some aircraft may be required to carry fewer people.
Don’t get your hopes up.
As the report notes, “None of this would be happening for passenger comfort. So even in the extreme, where airlines had to change their seating capacity, it would mean more legroom (fewer passengers) and not more seat width even though it is passenger girths that have changed.”
It also points out that “airlines will be lobbying vociferously against changes that would affect seating capacity, and they have allies in Congress,” so it’s highly unlikely that, “the FAA will make changes that require removing seats from aircraft no matter what the data says.”