- Airlines won’t weigh passengers to stay within safety limits despite being heavier, says experts.
- Airlines can conduct passenger surveys and use CDC population averages to calculate weights.
- American Airlines told Insider that its average passenger is now eight pounds heavier.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Airline passengers have gotten heavier, but companies are unlikely to weigh individual passengers at the check-in desk to help keep an aircraft within its safety limits, two industry experts told Insider.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates commercial airlines, told Insider that while weighing passengers was “an option,” most companies would use other methods.
Henry Harteveldt, president of travel research firm Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider that this was highly unlikely to happen.
“The airline check-in experience is not going to turn into a Weight Watchers-like scenario,” he said. “Airlines do not ask passengers how much they weigh, and they’re not about to start doing so.”
American Airlines told Insider on June 10 that its average customer now weighs 182 pounds in summer and 187 pounds in winter, an “eight-pound increase for both seasons,” a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Unnamed airline officials also told the Wall Street Journal that average passenger and baggage weights had risen between 5% and 10%, but did not specify over what period.
The FAA gave companies until June 12 to submit new average passenger weight estimates, a vital part of an aircraft’s weight and balance calculations needed for safe travel.
The agency gives airlines options for how to calculate passenger weights, including weighing customers before boarding, or by asking them to volunteer their weight – in this case, the FAA’s advisory document says that operators “should make a reasonable estimate” of a passengers’ weight if they believe that it had been “understated.”
But Helane Becker, airlines analyst and managing director of investment bank Cowen, told Insider that she doesn’t see this occurring in the US.
She said the trend in rising passengers weights is not new, and that she expects to see “airlines adjusting charges for overweight bags.”
“It is likely they will accept less mail and other small packages to be able to stay under weight limits,” Becker said.
Other FAA options include conducting random passenger weight surveys, or using official population weight estimates from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
American and Southwest Airlines told Insider that they use figures from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to calculate weight and balance.
The most recent NHANES published in January shows the average US adult male weighs 199.8 pounds, up 4.1 pounds from the previous report in 2016, while the average US woman weighs 170.8 pounds, an increase of 2.3 pounds over the same period.
American also told Insider that there would be no changes to its customer experience, despite the revised weight estimates.
Industry body Airlines for America, which speaks on behalf of ten major airlines, said in an emailed statement it didn’t “anticipate there will be any noticeable changes” for customers.
Delta Air Lines said they had developed an “implementation plan” to minimize any impact on customers, although it did not share any details.
Alaska Airlines told Insider that the impact of weight changes would be “negligible” and would only “effect select long-haul routes during headwind conditions.”
United Airlines declined to share their FAA weight submission with Insider. JetBlue did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.