Why Finnair Is Weighing Some Of Its Passengers Before They Board

More than 180 travelers stepped on the scales, but not for the reason you might be thinking.
11/02/2017 03:30pm ET

A Finnish airline made headlines this week after weighing some of its passengers before they boarded planes.

Some reports suggested this would become the airline’s new normal, but in fact, the weigh-ins ran for a limited time and were totally voluntary. Still, they’re worth discussing for the interesting reason behind them.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Helsinki-based Finnair asked for passenger volunteers to be weighed before departing Helsinki Airport. The airline did so to check its unique passenger population against weight estimates provided by the European Aviation Safety Agency, according to the airline’s communications director Päivyt Tallqvist.

Passengers who volunteered boarded a scale with their outerwear and carry-on luggage. Their weight was only visible to the airline clerk, Tallqvist told HuffPost.

Paivyt Tallqvist
A Finnair pilot boards the scale with his carry-on bag at Helsinki Airport. He was one of some 180 volunteers to be weighed by the airline.

Like many European airlines, Finnair relies on passenger weight estimates provided by the EASA in 2009, Tallqvist said. They use the estimates along with the weights of checked luggage, aircraft and cargo to make important safety calculations that affect balance, performance and fuel consumption, she added.

The EASA’s weight estimates put the average male passenger at about 187 pounds and the average female passenger at about 147 pounds. However, passenger weights can vary by nationality, ticket class (for example, men in first class tend to weigh more than those in economy, the BBC reports) and time of year (Finnish passengers usually contribute more weight in winter due to their bulky coats, Tallqvist said). Finnair wants to collect its own data so it can be sure what its own average passenger weighs.

“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. When you explain this to [passengers], they understand.”

Tallqvist Paivyt
Finnair gate agents stand ready to welcome volunteer passengers during this week's tests at Helsinki Airport.

Finnair is analyzing the results of this week’s test and will weigh about 2,000 more passengers on a voluntary basis during winter and spring, Tallqvist added.

This isn’t the first airline to break out the scales. In 2013, now-defunct Samoa Airlines attracted media attention for its practice of charging passengers partly based on their weight. In 2015, Uzbekistan Airlines announced it would weigh passengers before boarding, citing an allegedly bogus international airline rule. The airline zapped its program before any weigh-ins took place. The following year, travelers filed complaints against Hawaiian Airlines for weighing them before flights to American Samoa, which the airline said was part of a test similar to Finnair’s.

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