Broken Scales Help Airlines Profit On Fraudulent Baggage Weight Fees

Before leaving home, Shawn’s bags weighed 44 pounds. At Chicago, the airport scale said they weighed 44 pounds. When lifting off from Phoenix, the airport’s scales said the bag weighed 52 lbs, incurring at $50 fee. When he landed in Chicago, he weighed the bags again at the check-in counter. 47.5 pounds. “Her bag had lost 4.5 pounds on a 3 1/2 hour flight,” Shawn told After writing a complaint letter, Shawn received a $50 voucher from American Airlines who defended their fraudulent scale by saying they were in “full compliance with the policies for scale calibrations.” So apparently the policy allows for defrauding passengers. The voucher is nice, but I would want my actual money back. And what of all the other travelers who didn’t pay attention or didn’t complain? Pure profit.

American Airlines offers $50 voucher after being accused of scale ’sham’ [Elliot]

(Photo: Getty)


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  1. mgy says:

    Of course, and this gets pointed out every single time a company gets caught doing something like this, they won’t correct the behavior. They’ll offer a voucher to the one person that realizes the error, effectively sweeping the issue under the rug, and in doing so, have basically earned themselves even MORE money when the voucher gets used.

    I tend to prefer to fly American Airlines, but this despicable.

  2. donnie5 says:

    I wish my scale was off by about 20 pounds….

  3. LetMeGetTheManager says:

    I want to check a 25-pound barbell as one of my suitcases. Just to see how much it weighs when I go through…

  4. gqcarrick says:

    Why aren’t the county or state weights and measures people going in and checking these scales on a regular basis? They check scales in super markets and they check gas pumps, they should be checking these pretty regularly too.

  5. chris101d says:


    Lying to yourself wont help here :)


    Should call foxnews with that one…seems like their kind of FOX WATCHDOG UNDERCOVER deal :)

  6. opsomath says:

    I like the barbell idea a lot. Be sure to take a handheld video camera. Then post it on Youtube.

  7. @gqcarrick: State cert for scales are only done once a year, and people freaking out about being overcharged $00.000001 for gas make them spend more time testing pumps which people, “think they got cheated on my fill up”

  8. MayorBee says:

    @opsomath: I’m sure using a video camera in an airport wouldn’t cause a whole new set of troubles.

  9. Geekybiker says:

    Just call that state’s department of weights and measures. They’d love to hear about them breaking the rules.

  10. The “policy” refers to the testing schedule of the scale as performed by the appropriate state agencies as well as the rate in which the scale is calibrated by the user.

    Scales can and will drift. Being compliant does not prevent such drifts, nor does it prevent a broken scale.

    BTW scale errors also benefit consumers as much as they harm consumers. 50-50 chance either way.

  11. flyingphotog says:

    American Airlines… are we surprised??

  12. Hawk07 says:

    I guess all the good stuff was taken from the bag as it progressed through the journey.

  13. Buran says:

    @MayorBee: Airports are public property (at least here ours is owned by the City of St. Louis). As long as you are not filming anything “secret”, I doubt they can stop you.

  14. dragonvpm says:

    @Corporate-Shill: A while back Texas released names and figures for gas station pumps that were miscalibrated. Strangely, of the ones caught, 95%+ or so were off in the station’s favor, and only something like 2 were off in the customer’s favor.

    Somehow I doubt that scales are much better. I wouldn’t be surprised if airlines pay attention to drift and “adjust” the scales so that they are in their favor more often than not. Not to mention that a 10-15% error (depending on who’s scale was accurate in the post) is far beyond any normal level of drift. If their scales are genuinely that unreliable they should be replaced immediately.

    Even if the error was in the customer’s favor, who wants to fly on an airline whose baggage weight could be off +/- 10-15%? That sounds like a great recipe for overloading a plane and causing an accident.

  15. bravo says:

    @Buran: try filming a session of the Supreme Court, which is very much not secret and also takes place on public property. Just because you’re on public property doesn’t mean you can film whatever you want.

  16. MayorBee says:

    @Buran: They might not be able to legally stop you, but they can legally detain you and question you for whatever reason they’d like. I think it comes down to picking your battles. If they ask you to stop, you’d probably better stop, even though you don’t technically “have to”.

  17. Rachael says:

    Oh, hey, they got money back? LUCKY THEM.

    I once flew United and paid an overage charge for my bag, but my flights were delayed then cancelled. I took advantage of the extra day to divide my bag up better and just ship stuff to myself. The next day I came back with my receipt for the overweight baggage and was told that the guy who handled returns was “gone for the day” so I’d have to call customer service later on.

    Called customer service, was told to e-mail instead. I e-mailed immediately (way back in January) and got nothing. Re-sent the e-mail. Nothing. Called and was told to e-mail again. Re-sent the e-mail again. Finally, I got a letter in the mail saying that they’d received my e-mails and would be having a representative call me “soon” to handle the issue, but in the meantime I needed to e-mail the PROPER office instead.

    E-mailed them and guess what: no call, no e-mail back, no nothing! I guess my $50 isn’t really worth their hassle?

  18. CrazyNyceDave says:

    I had something similar happen to me last summer at Seattle Tacoma airport via JetBlue. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but my bag was weighed at JFK with no problem. Then I flew back with a lot LESS stuff and they said the bag was over the weight limit. I protested and the counter clerk said he could “waive” the fee. Fine. Whatever.

  19. simplegreen says:

    OMFG! OH I KNEW IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I was hopping a plane from BWI to PITT this past winter for business. I traveled that route very often and knew i usually packed the same thing every time. Underware, socks, a pair of shoes, tolietries.

    Get up to the electronic check in, drop my bag on the scale and start printing my ticket. The CSR who really didnt seem like she wanted to be there at 6am looked at the weight and said the bag was over 50 lbs. I said that was impossible she argued the point and basically said I needed to pay the additional fee. I refused and demanded she weight it on another scale. 37.4 lbs.

    This is just like gas pumps, they are calibrated to deliver a certain amount of gas at a certain temp. When we cant trust that we cant trust the entire system. I can totally see how this could be scamming millions of dollars deliberately or not out of travlers. I would demand my money back.

  20. psychos says:

    I always weigh my stuff at home if it’s going to be near the limit. True, this can be tricky if you’re on a trip and staying in a hotel with no scale, and you’ve acquired heavy stuff during your trip. Chances are good the hotel will send up a scale if you really need one. I’ve had my underweight bags read over a few times, and telling the agent that I weighed them beforehand remedied the situation in most cases. I did have to do the stupid hold-up-the-line-while-I-transfer-stuff-between-bags dance, flying business class out of Gatwick back to the US of all things, when I was supposedly over by all of 2kg and my other checked bag was only about 15kg.

    There are companies that sell little portable scales that are basically a hook with a dial attached to it. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of any of those as I’ve never used them.

    @LetMeGetTheManager: Probably would weigh less than this did!


    (I was, of course, pleasantly reassured by the TSA swabbing this threatening item for explosives, but concerned that they did not x-ray it.)

  21. dragonfire81 says:

    @gqcarrick: Because they are most likely getting some form of kickback not to.

  22. tripnman says:

    “Her bag had lost 4.5 pounds on a 3 1/2 hour flight,” Shawn told

    About the weight of a nice camera or a few pairs of shoes – did she make sure all of her stuff was still there? Check AA’s e-bay listings so you can buy it back!

  23. NotATool says:

    @Buran: If they do stop you, just remember you don’t HAVE to show them your receipt…

  24. ShadowFalls says:

    One of the most messed up thing with this situation and many others is t hat airlines think a voucher is adequate compensation. As if you really want to fly with them again after having a bad experience…

  25. baristabrawl says:

    I carry a small hand scale with me. It goes up to 55 lbs. If there is a question I will weigh my bags…right in front of them. That’ll show ’em! Then I’ll let everyone else weight their bags, too.

  26. mantari says:

    Don’t worry. First they made luggage to make it easier to get through a security screening. Now they’ll make luggage with a built-in scale to get you past the ticket counter.

  27. Lambasted says:

    American Airlines took money that didn’t belong to them. A $50 dollar voucher towards another ticket purchase is not a refund. Why are airlines such snakes?

    I had this same type problem with Burlington Coat Factory once. They overcharged me but would only give the overcharge amount back as a store credit. I was livid and accused them of stealing my money. The manager wouldn’t even call their corporate office for approval. Needless to say, I never shopped there again. I gave my store credit away to a friend to use.

    Are there any business left that aren’t trying to bamboozle customers?

  28. @Buran:

    1. Commercial Service Airports are publicly owned airports that have at least 2,500 passenger boardings each calendar year and receive scheduled passenger service. Passenger boardings refer to revenue passenger boardings on an aircraft in service in air commerce whether or not in scheduled service. The definition also includes passengers who continue on an aircraft in international flight that stops at an airport in any of the 50 States for a non-traffic purpose, such as refueling or aircraft maintenance rather than passenger activity. Passenger boardings at airports that receive scheduled passenger service are also referred to as Enplanements.
    1. Nonprimary Commercial Service Airports are Commercial Service Airports that have at least 2,500 and no more than 10,000 passenger boardings each year.
    2. Primary Airports are Commercial Service Airports that have more than 10,000 passenger boardings each year. Hub categories for Primary Airports are defined as a percentage of total passenger boardings within the United States in the most current calendar year ending before the start of the current fiscal year. For example, calendar year 2001 data are used for fiscal year 2003 since the fiscal year began 9 months after the end of that calendar year. The table below depicts the formulae used for the definition of airport categories based on statutory provisions cited within the table, including Hub Type described in 49 USC 47102.
    2. Cargo Service Airports are airports that, in addition to any other air transportation services that may be available, are served by aircraft providing air transportation of only cargo with a total annual landed weight of more than 100 million pounds. “Landed weight” means the weight of aircraft transporting only cargo in intrastate, interstate, and foreign air transportation. An airport may be both a commercial service and a cargo service airport.
    3. Reliever Airports are airports designated by the FAA to relieve congestion at Commercial Service Airports and to provide improved general aviation access to the overall community. These may be publicly or privately-owned.
    4. The remaining airports, while not specifically defined in Title 49 USC, are commonly described as General Aviation Airports. This airport type is the largest single group of airports in the U.S. system. The category also includes privately owned, public use airports that enplane 2500 or more passengers annually and receive scheduled airline service. The airport privatization pilot program authorized under Title 49 U.S.C., Section 47134, may affect individual general aviation airports. Under this program, some private rather than public ownership provisions are allowed, and questions on it should be directed to the Airport Compliance Division.

  29. CharlieInSeattle says:

    My company sent an e-mail out about AA charging for backage, I just sent the corp person in charge of Business trips a copy of this. Maybe a cooperate customer can raise hell with AA.

  30. atsetters says:

    I’m a reporter with WLWT News 5 in Cincinnati. I would love to do a story with someone in our viewing area who thinks they’ve been stuck with a similar problem at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport. You can reach me at I’m curious to know if there is any oversight of the scales by the state, and this would be a great way to dig into the story. Thanks.

  31. bradanomics says:


    I would have called the police.

  32. Jevia says:

    All the $50 voucher was good for was (1) ensuring the customer would use them again, and thus pay the company more money; and (2) really only being worth $35 because no doubt the voucher can only be used when a reservation is made over the telephone, which costs $15.

  33. JZDK8B says:

    Mention the Sarbines Oaxley Act the resukt of the ENron scandal, if they are using scales in a financial transaction, they have to calibrate those scales daily and maintain a log of doing so. Also the scales must be certified by an outsidde contractor once a year. Failure to do so could be a material defect and senior people will LOSE their jobs

  34. Buran says:

    @Papa Midnight: Just quoting some big long unreadable morass leaves me unable to tell what you are trying to point out exactly.

    And like I said “as long as you are not trying to film things you shouldn’t” they won’t stop you. I have used my pro-level DSLR in airports before and not been hassled. Oh, and there are specific rules against using a camera in many courts, but outside of specific rules, you ARE permitted to use a camera on public property.

    No such specific rules exist for airports except for areas marked as such.

  35. LUV2CattleCall says:

    Get one of these….I have one and it’s a handy tool!

    Once, Southwest (at JAX) weighed my bag at 51.5 lbs…but the Balanzza said 49.2. They gave me a voucher for a free r/t right away (without me asking for any compensation). The agent also hand-wrote a note that she taped to the scale, informing all agents to subtract 5 lbs. from whatever the scale says.

    jetBlue, (at MCO) dealt with things a bit differently. My bag was 47.5 lbs, but their scale said 52…quite a difference. When I whipped out my scale, the agent said that doesn’t matter because “our scales are checked each morning by the FAA inspector” (So many things wrong with that statement, I don’t even know where to start!). I took out a bottle of shampoo and a book, had her weigh it a snuck the shampoo and book back in as I wheeled my bag to the TSA CT scanner thing.

    Which is why, even though I work at a competing airline (we only overlap on a few routes though), I “luv2cattlecall.”


  36. RvLeshrac says:

    The real kicker here is that, if anything, the bags should weigh *less* in Phoenix, though it probably wouldn’t be measurable.

    Drier air in Phoenix vs. Chicago, in addition to the fact that Phoenix is 1,000ft above sea level vs. Chicago’s 600ft elevation, would cause the bags to weigh less.

  37. barty says:

    I had one bag that was slightly overweight when flying back from Vegas this past weekend, and the ticket agent was nice enough to just let me take a couple of items out, re-weigh, then put it back in. But we’re only talking about 1-2 lbs over though. Thankfully there are still a few real human beings and not just corporate drones working for airlines these days. This was with a discounter to boot!

    Honestly, its pretty arbitrary anyway. Unless its a very hot and humid day on a large and fully loaded aircraft, a jet isn’t going to be using full throttle to take off, nor is its fuel consumption going to rise drastically because your bag weighed 51 lbs vs 49 lbs. In truth, its just another way for airlines to nickel and dime people to death.

  38. RvLeshrac says:


    It isn’t going to use more fuel because YOUR bag weighed 51 lbs vs. 49 lbs… but this is becoming more a question of “How do we raise ticket prices to offset fuel costs without raising ticket prices,” and the easiest way to do that is to implement surcharges for baggage size – if *everyone* on the flight shaves 5lbs off their bags to keep from paying extra, that saves a substantial amount of fuel.

    Saying that *your* bags don’t matter in the grand scheme of things is like saying that “One person’s vote doesn’t count” – it is true that one vote doesn’t count and one bag makes no difference, but when 1 million people think their vote doesn’t count, or when 100 people think that 10 lbs “won’t matter,” you have problems.