Are Americans Getting Fatter? Just Ask the FAA

The average American is getting heavier. The FAA won’t let planes fly if there is too much weight on board. The result will probably be fewer of us can get on a plane at one time.

What does the Federal Aviation Administration have to do with the weight of the average American?

At first glance, not much. So it’s surprising that the FAA now finds itself in the middle of a lobbying battle on the issue of just how fat we are getting.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, about a third of American adults over 20 are now obese. Back in 1994, only one-fourth of us were obese.

Visiting a fast food restaurant and seeing how many Americans gobble down supersize fries and chocolate shakes for lunch would lead most observers to conclude there is a cause and effect between what we are eating and our weight. There may be a connection to the Department of Agriculture or the Health and Human Services folks, but what does this have to do with the FAA?

As it turns out, the FAA has not revised its guidance to the airline industry on computing passenger-weight estimates since 1995. And, since airplanes can’t exceed weight limits and fly safely, the average weight of people on an airplane becomes significant. The FAA estimates that the average flyer now weighs 180 in the summer and 185 in the winter. It is considering raising these figures to 190 in the summer and 195 in the winter. Actually, the estimates are going up more than they appear. The new weight rates would include clothing and one personal item. The old rates also included carry-on luggage.

Even these new limits may not be enough. According to the Journal article, a recent survey of 23 flights out of Albany, NY found fliers there weighed an average of 216 which included personal items carried on board.

This isn’t as important on a large 747 aircraft or the jet readers may take to visit their agency’s field offices. But, when you get to Atlanta and take the small aircraft to visit anywhere in the Southeast or you leave from Cincinnati on a small plane to a city in the Midwest, the average weight of all 50 passengers becomes a significant percentage of the weight of the aircraft.

Increasing the average weight estimates impacts airlines because they can’t exceed the weight limits of a plane. That means less luggage or fewer passengers or some combination to get the weight down.

So enjoy those big hamburgers and supersized colas. The FAA is trying to make sure we don’t bring down too many planes because the machines can’t handle the load.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47