How Accurate are Airport Luggage Scales?

September 13, 2017
Katie Uniacke

In this age of budget travel, it can seem like every airline is out to get as much extra money out of you as physically possible. Whether it’s taking away the free food on board, charging you to reserve a seat in advance, or making their website as complicated as humanely possible, you can’t be blamed for thinking they’re deliberately trying to catch us out.

But are they really?

The weight of your luggage can be a contentious issue, and frequent-flyers are used to the sight of groups of people frantically redistributing items between their suitcases before checking in, making sure they’re under the weight limit imposed by the airline they happen to be flying with that day.

An image of a person with his luggage on the airport weight scale

You often hear stories of people arriving at an airport having weighed their luggage at home and being safely under the limit, only to get to the front of the check-in queue and be told they’re going to have to pay for excess baggage. When you’re running a bit late for your flight, arguing with an overworked employee at the check-in desk is stress that you really don’t need.

If you’re travelling on a budget, paying an excess baggage fee just isn’t an option, and even if you’ve got money to spare I’m sure you’d rather spend it on cocktails on a tropical beach rather than on a fine for being a few pounds over the weight limit.


Are the scales accurate?

Broadly speaking, and I know you might not want to hear this, yes. All scales at airports in the US and in most countries around the world have to be calibrated on yearly basis. However, as was pointed out by someone who really knows their airlines in an article on the Huffington Post, once a year is not a lot for a set of scales that’s pressed into service hundreds of times a day, 365 days a year. It’s inevitable that the reading may be slightly off, and that the bag that was 47lbs on your bathroom scales might weigh in at 52lbs on the airport scales.


What can you do?

  1. Keep a close eye

It’s important to be vigilant so that you don’t end up holding up the people behind you in the queue because ain’t nobody got time for that. Everyone else is in just as much of a hurry as you are. When you first place your bag on the scales and hand your passport over, take advantage of the time they take to check your ticket to glance at the weight showing up.

If it’s slightly over the limit, have a few things in mind that are easily accessible in your bag that you can quickly whip out and either transfer into another, lighter suitcase or your carry-on bag, or put on. Have it all nice and close to the surface so you don’t have to be that person sending their underwear flying everywhere as the check-in queue looks on. Bulky jackets and books are good options.


  1. Get a second opinion.

If your bag does prove to be over the limit and you can’t easily take anything out, ask if you can weigh it on another set of scales to make sure that it really is an issue with your bag rather than just a slightly temperamental set of scales. If it’s only a fraction over the weight limit, it may well come in as slightly under the limit on a different set.


  1. Make sure you leave a buffer.

When packing, it’s best to leave a buffer of at least 5lbs under the weight limit, in case either your scales or the scales at the airport aren’t quite right. It’s worth sacrificing that extra pair of jeans to avoid any unnecessary stress when you’re jetting off on holiday.


  1. Upgrade your scales.

Let’s face it, your bathroom scales probably haven’t been checked since they were bought, and that may have been quite a long time ago. Chances are, they aren’t the most accurate things in the world anymore, so the airline scales that are checked yearly might be the superior beast.

What’s more, you can’t exactly take your bathroom scales with you on your trip to help you find out if all those souvenirs for your granny have pushed you over the weight limit.

If you travel a lot, it might be worth investing in a portable, light, handheld digital luggage scale that you can pop in your suitcase or hand luggage and take with you on your adventures, safe in the knowledge you’ll never have to do the embarrassing suitcase re-pack at the check-in counter again.


Image – Jun Seita cc by 2.0

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