Airline starts weighing passengers at the gate

Finnair is weighing volunteer passengers at the gate to collect data on travelers.

Finnair is weighing volunteer passengers at the gate to collect data on travelers. Markus Mainka/dpa/AP

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We all know what it’s like to have our baggage weighed at an airport check-in. Most of us are also familiar with the “crouch of shame” – the position adopted when rummaging through a bag to remove something heavy, when you’ve been informed your bag is just ounces overweight.

But now, some brave airline passengers are consenting to being weighed themselves before boarding the plane.

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In a trial by European carrier Finnair at its Helsinki Airport hub, volunteer passengers are being weighed at the departure gate in order to allow the airline to refine weight estimates for planes before takeoff.

And in a nightmare scenario for anyone who’s ever tried to nonchalantly sneak an overweight cabin bag onto the plane, passengers are being weighed together with their carry-on bags.

Luckily for anyone carrying a bulging bag, the weigh-ins are not linked to individual bookings or passenger data. Everything is anonymous, Päivyt Tallqvist, Finnair’s senior vice president communications, told CNN, with only the member of staff at the gate seeing the weight.

The trial started on Monday, and by Thursday morning 800 volunteers had already taken part, Tallqvist, said, adding that the airline was “positively surprised by the number of volunteers.”

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We have communicated about this survey to Finnair customers via our social media channels and our mobile app, and the first volunteers were proactively asking to take part even before the equipment was set up,” she said.

They plan to weigh 1,200 passengers for the winter season, and more for the summer.

Tallqvist said that the airline is collating data about the average weight of passengers and their hand luggage “for the purpose of aircraft balance and performance calculations that are needed for the safe operation of flights.”

Heavier in winter

Finnair is collecting the data from passengers boarding at Helsinki airport.

Finnair is collecting the data from passengers boarding at Helsinki airport. Alessandro Rampazzo/AFP/Getty Images

Airlines calculate planes’ weight – the weight of everyone onboard, as well as cargo and baggage in the hold, and things like catering and water tanks onboard – before each take off, along with their center of gravity. The weight and trim of an aircraft can affect where passengers can sit, and in some cases even how many passengers are allowed onboard, and how much luggage can go in the hold. Each aircraft you fly in has a set maximum weight for safe takeoff.

“While airlines know the weight of all other aspects, the weight of customers and their carry-on baggage is calculated using average weights confirmed by the Civil Aviation Authority,” said Tallqvist.

Airlines generally use average passenger weights provided by the European Aviation Safety Authority, but they can also use their own, signed off by the authorities. Finnair has used its own measurements since 2018, but these must be updated every five years – hence the refresh.

Korean Air conducted its own weighing program in 2023, while Air New Zealand also did a weight survey last year.

Finnair is collecting data for both winter and summer seasons, since passengers tend to wear heavier clothing and coats during the cold Finnish winters. The winter readings will be completed in February, with the summer ones taken between April and May.

The says it airline will calculate an average weight from the measurements taken, and will send the data to the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency for verification. The weights will be used for loading calculations from 2025-30.

And while many passengers would rather keep their weight a secret, Satu Munnukka, Finnair’s head of ground processes, assured nervous passengers in a statement that “the collected data is not linked in any way to the customer’s personal data.”

Munnukka added: “We record the total weight and background information of the customer and their carry-on baggage, but we do not ask for the name or booking number, for example.

“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.”

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