Finnair Start Weighing Passengers Before Boarding


Finnair Start Weighing Passengers Before Boarding

5 min read

Name, passport, booking number…weight? As odd and dystopian as it sounds, standing on the scales before boarding could become the norm following a trial by European carrier Finnair.

The Finnish flag carrier airline is trialling a scheme at Helsinki Airport that will see passengers being weighed along with their bags. So, what’s the thinking behind this scheme, is it something we’ll be seeing more of in the future, and does it mean everyone will know your weight if you fly with Finnair?

Finnair Begin Weighing Passengers

Firstly, it’s worth noting that this trial is voluntary, and the airline is not expecting huge numbers. Päivyt Tallqvist, the airline’s Senior Vice President of Communications, has stated that they expect to weigh 1,200 passengers during the first few months and more during the summer. In December 2023, the airline flew over 870,000 passengers, so this accounts for a very small percentage of the total passengers flying with Finnair during any given season.

The low numbers are not necessarily a sign that most passengers object to the notion of being weighed, but that most don’t want to add additional steps to the check-in process, which is already stressful.

Why Do They Care?

We haven’t checked, but we’d wager that there’s a forum or Facebook group somewhere claiming that Finnair only want to know your weight so they can calculate how much concessions to sell you on the plane. Or maybe they are in league with Weight Watchers. In reality, it’s all about fuel efficiency.

They care about your weight for the same reason they care about how much you’re carrying in your suitcase and whether you have any carry-on luggage. Everything that goes on the plane—from the seats to the catering trollies—is weighed, and it all impacts the total cost and efficiency of a flight.

A study on US domestic flights between 1970 and 2010 estimated that “excess passenger weight” was responsible for a loss of an additional “95.2 billion litres of fuel”, which in turn created “238 billion metric tonnes of additional greenhouse emissions”. It’s not that airlines are not calculating passenger weights, but that they are using averages, and as hard as it is to admit, we’re all getting a little fatter, so those averages keep growing.

2.5 billion adults are overweight and 1 in 8 are obese, and those numbers are much higher if you focus solely on the west. As our waistlines expand, so does the total weight of every domestic and international flight, and that means airlines are spending more on fuel and generating more CO2 emissions.

It also means they have to accommodate for these rising numbers by loading the planes with more fuel, thus weighing them down even more. By gathering information on passenger weight, they can create more accurate estimations of total weight and then ensure the plane is properly fuelled.

It’s like an F1 car. The teams want their vehicles to be as light as possible, so every gram is accounted for, and the car is only given the fuel that it needs to finish the race. The difference is that instead of a highly trained, super-fit driver, airlines are dealing with hundreds of holidaymakers carrying clothes, gadgets, books, and trinkets.

The total passenger weight also impacts other aspects, including how many passengers are allowed on board, and it’s something that changes from season to season. Planes are typically heavier during the winter as passengers carry heavier clothes and typically travel in thick outerwear as opposed to loose, light, and airy summer gear.

Privacy Issues

We live in a world where a single data breach or misplaced file is enough to give organised gangs of criminals all of your personal details—name, address, email address, passwords, social media accounts. So, it’s no surprise that privacy issues have been raised. Fortunately, Finnair have made it very clear that all of the collected data will be anonymous and not tied to any other passenger data (such as names and booking numbers). The only person who will see your weight is the member of staff who records it.

Other Passenger Weight Programs

Finnair are not the first airline to initiate a customer weight program. Both Korean Air and Air New Zealand launched similar programs in 2023.

Korean Air ran its program for a week at Gimpo International Airport (GMP) and 11 days at Incheon International Airport (ICA). As with Finnair, they weighed passengers with their luggage before passing the data on to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. The difference is that all passengers were approached for the program, and those who were uncomfortable were allowed to opt out.

Air New Zealand ran its scheme before Korean Air and Finnair, collecting passenger weight data from May 31 to July 2, 2023. The passengers stood on a digital scale and their weight was then entered into a survey without being viewable by the agent.

The Criticism

Needless to say, there has been some criticism of these programs. Passenger weight data is not recorded, the programs are voluntary (or opt-out), and they could lead to reduced travel costs, fuel loss, and emissions, but there are concerns for what might happen if such programs are rolled out across the industry.

The primary concern is that overweight/obese passengers could be discriminated against. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which airlines would be allowed to charge them more money, but they may be turned away from the flight if it is near its maximum capacity. Passengers are turned away all of the time, usually because the flight is overbooked. If there are lots of passengers heavier than the average weight previously calculated by the airline, they may seek to reduce that weight by removing passengers.

It remains to be seen if any such issues arise and it’s worth nothing that these are just a few short-term schemes used to gather survey data and improve average weight calculations. More will surely appear in the future, but there are no plans to make it a standard practice across the industry.