I’m Sorry The Flight Has A Weight Restriction, You’ve Been Bumped

by Passrider on October 12, 2012


Lufthansa Airbus A380 taking Off from Houston-IntercontinentalHave you ever gotten bumped because your flight was weight-restricted? I’m sure you have. Do you know what all this means? Here’s my attempt to explain it.

The aviation industry started with cargo and then people were added.  So as much as we think that people are the reason for flying, its really cargo.  More money is usually made from cargo and it does not complain :-).  An airplane is designed with what’s called a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW).  This is the combined weight of everything, the plane, baggage, fuel, cargo, people, food, etc., everything.  That weight should not be exceeded otherwise the airplane won’t take off or will require more runway to takeoff.  This MTOW is also dependent on atmospheric conditions as well as elevation.  So if the air is thinner, then the amount of weight is different than a sea level takeoff.  So what does that have to do with me getting bumped off a flight you ask?

Kuwait City KuwaitWell, I’m glad you asked.  When that maximum takeoff weight is achieved, either passengers are left behind or cargo.  Usually its the cargo.  But if all the paid customers are accounted for and there are say twenty passriders on the list and it takes 7 to get to maximum takeoff weight, guess what, thirteen of you are not going.  So you will hear the agent say that the operations folks are doing the Math and trying to figure out if they can take you.  Then the flight goes out with empty seats and you are not so happy.

Sometimes, its not a cargo issue, but bad weather, so the airplane has to take more fuel as they have to fly around storms or there are headwinds (wind blowing against the plane in its direction of travel) so the flying time is longer than normal.  You usually hear weight restrictions in cities that are higher in elevation such as Cusco, Peru; Denver, CO; Quito, Ecuador or transatlantic or transcontinental flights.

Some airlines do bear that in mind though.  For example, Singapore Airlines realized that the Airbus A340-500 they used for Newark to Singapore could not make it on a full payload, so they adjusted the seating configuration so they would not have the issue.  today, what they do is just have 100 Business class seats on that airplane as opposed to the old Raffles and Economy class configuration they had initially.

Virgin Australia Boeing 777-300ER in MELHow do you plan for this?  If its a known route that has weight restrictions, you’ll see a number of what’s called Held seats when you look at the PBTs (Passenger Board Totals).  This just gives you an idea as it may change when the flight is ready to go out.  You really have no control over this, except to make alternate arrangements if you can, i.e. look for flights that can get you to an alternate destination and know what time you have to bail in order to make that flight.  Good luck.

So the next time you get bumped off a flight due to weight restriction, the agent is not just being weird, you now know the reason for it.  What have you found in your travels? Anything to add or correct?  Please leave a comment below.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Matt November 1, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Add United flights out of Munich to the list. The flights always look good, but I don’t think I’ve ever successfully flown out without running into weigh issues.

Reply

avatar Geralyn November 9, 2012 at 8:00 am

I had a unique situation come up on a smaller plane the other day when I was non-reving from CLT to BTR. The flight attendant asked one passenger to move from rows 1-5 to the back of the plane. The plane only had 15 or so rows. As a non-revenue rider, I felt I should be the one to be “inconvenienced” and make the move. Once I moved I asked the flight attendant out of curiosity why the move was necessary and he said that they needed to balance out the weight of the plane. That was the first I had ever heard of that.

Reply

avatar mike boden November 7, 2014 at 4:48 pm

All aircraft have a weight and balance table (Ask any old Flt Engineer) and a center of gravity. Find a small toy airplane and balance the wing tips on your fingers, if it is perfectly level, it is” in the envelope” nose down or up, it is not. That is the way it will try to fly. Not good. No harder than that.

Reply

avatar Cheryl Reed-Kuelbs November 13, 2014 at 3:57 pm

I work the CRJ 200’s. This is really common. If the plane is light on baggage in cargo they will move passengers to the back to distribute the weight correctly. 

Reply

avatar Rob November 9, 2012 at 10:50 am

Geralyn, the most common time this happens is when not many passengers on the flight have checked bags. Bags are weight in the back of the airplane. When the engineers design the plane, they assume there will be a certain amount of weight back there for a given passenger count. If that’s not the case, the plane ends up “nose heavy”, which could make the it unsafe. To fix the problem, we (pilots) figure out how much weight has to be moved and how far it needs to be moved. We tell the flight attendant, and he/she takes care of it.

Reply

avatar Rob November 9, 2012 at 10:50 am

Geralyn, the most common time this happens is when not many passengers on the flight have checked bags. Bags are weight in the back of the airplane. When the engineers design the plane, they assume there will be a certain amount of weight back there for a given passenger count. If that’s not the case, the plane ends up “nose heavy”, which could make the it unsafe. To fix the problem, we (pilots) figure out how much weight has to be moved and how far it needs to be moved. We tell the flight attendant, and he/she takes care of it.

Reply

avatar Richard December 7, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Why would usair have to bump 25 passangers off a flight from saint Martin to Charlotte? Was it the runway at Charlotte or saint Martin? We fly out same time to phila with no problem.

Reply

avatar Kerwin McKenzie December 9, 2013 at 8:48 am

Hi Richard,
Thank you for your feedback.
My guess is that they had weight restrictions due to cargo, winds, temperature or some other factor. The runway at St. Maarten is quite short and the mountain at the end of it does not help either. They would not leave any passengers behind unless it was absolutely necessary.
I hope this helps.

Kerwin.

Reply

avatar Bruce November 7, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Geralyn;
In “big” planes, with multiple cargo holds, the rampers can adjust cargo forward or rearward into different compartments to adjust the “center of gravity” of the airplane.  In airplanes with only one cargo hold, like the Embraer 145, or many of the turbo-prop fleets, passengers get moved to make the same adjustment.

Reply

avatar Sharon January 10, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Really interesting .     I’m  having some health issues was wondering who to approach to get assistance to get from one gate to another.
love the pass rider newsletter.

Reply

avatar susan January 16, 2015 at 7:19 pm

This happens often in key west

Reply

avatar Kerwin McKenzie January 16, 2015 at 8:58 pm

Thanks Susan.
You just never know. Had a situation on a trans-con recently, but it was lifted.
Thanks for the heads up.

Kerwin
http://www.Passrider.com
http://www.Facebook.com/Passrider.

Reply

avatar LD Williams January 17, 2015 at 12:04 am

If you are lucky enough to know the Captain, you may convince him to claim an extra 200 lbs fuel burn while taxiing and awaiting takeoff.  This will be enough to reduce weight restriction enough for one additional passenger.  Good luck.

Reply

avatar Bob Black March 24, 2015 at 1:10 am

yes wtg and  balance is requred or u rotate too soon or too late on takeoff. Some bad accidents have happened due to this.    Departing Durango, Colo years ago on a Frontier DC 3 [former Army Air Force C-47 } the station agent moved some six sand bags from forward to aft of the plane down the aisle. We then thundered out at 2230 hrs with 21 tired businees men , climbed out and cleared Wolf Creek Pass at 9000 ft enroute to Den Stapleton Field.  Frontier, very experienced in mountain flying trained many airline pilots from all over the world. I believe they only lost six passengers in some 45 years of commercial operations and  that departing Pueblo, CO  which is very flat some 20 miles East of the Rockies.  Engine  failure i  think.

Reply

avatar Rob June 28, 2015 at 8:28 pm

FLL to SEA via Alaska Air bumps passengers frequently for weight/balance issues.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: