Hawaiian Airlines passengers are no longer allowed to pre-select their own seats on flights between Hawaii and Pago Pago in American Samoa – a new rule that has to do with what people flying the route weigh.
A six-month voluntary survey, which included weighing, found that on average, passengers and their carry-on bags were 13.6 kilograms heavier than anticipated.
The Samoan islands have among the highest rates of obesity in the world, a phenomenon blamed largely on fast foods. Weight-related health issues have been rising in American Samoa since the 1970s.
For airlines, fuel burn increases if more weight needs to be carried – but the real issue is how the weight is distributed in the aircraft. There was concern that if a row of very large people were seated together, a family, for instance, their combined weight could create problems in an emergency.
Passengers will now be assigned seats when they check in at Honolulu and Pago Pago airports to ensure weight is evenly distributed around the jets’ cabins. Hawaiian uses a B767-300 wide-body twin-jet on the route, a pretty big aircraft, about two and a half times the weight of a B737.
After the new policy sparked complaints to US officials – and claims that Samoans were being targeted because of their weight – Hawaiian Airlines issued the following statement:
Hawaiian Airlines generated headlines around the world when we eliminated pre-selection of seats for travelers to and from Pago Pago, American Samoa. Unfortunately, most of those stories were inaccurate. This has nothing to do with individual weights or with the overall weigh of our aircraft.
We hope the following Q&A helps set the record straight:
What is the issue?
Hawaiian Airlines is now requiring passengers travelling to and from Pago Pago, American Samoa, to obtain their seat assignments at the airport. This is being done to allow us to manage the distribution of weight in the main cabin of the aircraft.
Why do you need to manage the distribution of weight in your cabin?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) establishes average weights for airlines to use when assessing weight and balance on an aircraft. The FAA uses data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES. That average weight is updated periodically.
Airlines may choose to conduct their own survey in markets in which they believe weights differ materially from FAA averages. This FAA Advisory Circular sets out those parameters.
Hawaiian Airlines elected to conduct such a survey for our Pago Pago service because our projected fuel consumption was different from the actual consumption, indicating a possible weight discrepancy. We used the survey requirements outlined in the FAA Advisory Circular. We have done similar weight surveys in our Asian markets, where the average weight was lower than assumed. This is also important to know for weight and balance issues.
The Pago Pago average weights were higher than assumed by about 30 pounds [13.6kg]. Using the new weights, a full row of adults may theoretically exceed the load limitations of the floor in a row in extreme circumstances (such as a crash landing). Keeping one seat open or ensuring a seat is filled with a child mitigates that risk.
Why can’t passengers pre-select seats?
We want to make sure that we can seat families and couples together on the aircraft. Because of the weight distribution limitations, the most efficient way to do that is by assigning seats at the airport. Some have asked why we can’t redesign our website to support the weight management parameters. Most of the travel in Pago Pago is booked by agencies through global systems that we don’t control, so that won’t be helpful.
Are passengers still being weighed?
No. The survey took place for six months beginning in February. It was completed in August.
Does this mean the aircraft have been unsafe?
Not at all. Our aircraft are safe. This is about making sure the collective weight of each row is within the aircraft manufacturer’s guidelines for floor load in extreme circumstances.
Why not limit the carry-on luggage instead?
Since this is about weight distribution throughout the cabin, even if the carry-on weight is reduced for this route, the restrictions would still need to be in place. Please note that assigning seats is the most efficient way to properly distribute weight within the cabin. This also allows us to make sure that families with children are seated together, for example, and it minimizes the confusion created by changing pre-selected seats.
News reports suggest that Hawaiian Airlines will be assigning seats based on passenger weight. Is that true?
No. Individual passenger weights are not relevant to us. Using the new weights, a full row of adults may theoretically exceed the load limitations of the floor in a row in extreme circumstances (such as a crash landing). Keeping one seat open or ensuring a seat is filled with a child mitigates that risk.
Will guests on Pago Pago flights be able to select seats in the future?
At this time, based on current factors, manual seat assignments will remain in place. As stated earlier, we frequently review operational data for all routes to determine how to best manage weight distribution. Should anything change, we will let our customers know.
What are my options if I’m unhappy with my airport seat assignment?
Our agents will make every effort to accommodate passengers in seats that are satisfactory to them.
Written by Peter Needham