Weigh Passengers Before Flights? Hawaiian Airlines Controversy Grows

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Hawaiian Airlines shows no signs of stopping its controversial policy of weighing passengers traveling from Honolulu to American Samoa, a 2,600 mile trip. Six complaints have been filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation since Sept. 29, and all have been denied.

The policy began in October, after the airline noted that more fuel was burned on the flight to American Samoa. A six-month voluntary survey weighed passengers before boarding. The results showed, on average, each person and their luggage weighed 30 pounds more than expected, Fortune reported.

The airline ruled out other possible causes, including fuel loss due to strong winds. The complaints to the policy were denied, as the airline officials claimed an even distribution of weight could prevent a crash landing.

Passengers are now assigned a seat upon check-in to make sure the weight is evenly distributed around the cabin of the plane. The airline uses Boeing 767 jets for the flight, with two seats on each side of the plane and three seats in the middle two aisles.

Applying the survey results to the flights, the airline found that if adults sat in one row of the plane, the combined weight of the passengers could exceed load limitations in crash-landing situations. The airline plans to keep at least one seat open per row or place children under the age of 13 in those seats.

“[I’ve] never heard of any other U.S. airline doing this on any other route that it operates,” said Henry Harteveldt, a San Francisco-based travel industry analyst, to The Associated Press.

The policy has become a controversial issue, as passengers have complained it discriminates against individuals of Samoan descent, who fly the route the most.

“What they’re saying is Samoans are obese,” Atimua Migi said to The Associated Press as he was saying goodbye to his father.

“That’s an entirely incorrect assumption,” said John Snook, Hawaiian’s chief operating officer.

According to the CIA’s World Factbook in 2008, Samoans had the highest rate of obesity in the world with 74.6 percent of its adult population considered obese.

Hawaiian Airlines joins Samoa Air and Uzbekistan Airlines, who started their policies in 2013 and 2015, respectively, in weighing its passengers.

Snook told The AP that the Federal Aviation Administration establishes average weights of passengers with their carry-on luggage for carriers. The airline said that “airlines may choose to conduct their own survey in markets which they believe weights differ materially from FAA averages.”

Daniel King, one of the six complainants, told The AP that the policy is discriminatory because it only focuses on the American Samoa flight. He said most passengers on the flight are of Samoan descent.

“Hawaiian Airline’s policy of not offering pre-assigned seats on certain flights is not on its face discriminatory,” U.S. Transportation Department spokeswoman Caitlin Harvey said.

Other passengers are not offended by the airline’s new policy.

“I’m cool with it, I don’t mind,” said Jake Brown, as he headed to American Samoa for the first time.