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TL;DR: What options does one have at (US) airports when they know the luggage weighing scales are inaccurate?

This has happened twice now. My bags always appear heavier when measured at the flight check in counters. The weighing scales at the airport show them heavier by at least 5 pounds.

One time at Atlanta airport, although I was surprised that my luggage was overweight, the lady behind the counter didn't bother about it, but the last time I flew out of Dallas on an AA-Quantas flight, the lady behind the counter asked me to pay 100 bucks for going over my limit because the scale at the airport showed 50.5 lbs while the permissible limit is 50 lbs. When I asked to be re-weighed I was asked to join the end of the queue for further assistance as I was holding up other passengers for my 'irrational behavior'. I just had to pay up as I would have missed my flight.

I still want to know what options does one have at (US) airports when they know the luggage weighing scales are inaccurate?

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One possibility is that your scales are inaccurate, no? You could set them to measure 5ish pounds over, and thereby allow for the discrepancy. Once you're at the airport though, I'm not sure :/ –  Mark Mayo Feb 27 at 0:17
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I weigh my luggage, literally, over three different scales at home before leaving for the airport - all three show minimum variance - about .5 lbs –  happybuddha Feb 27 at 7:14
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I don't know about the US, but in Europe, at least some coutries, the scale is inspected every year. It's mandatory to have a certification. Having this said, it's not impossible that for some strange reason the scale breaks. In general your question makes sense. I've been in similar situations where you either pay or loose the flight. The companies know this and you are clearly the weakest link. I would also like to know what are your rights at the airport, specially if you loose a flight ant it's proven you are right. –  nsn Feb 27 at 8:29
    
Some airports offer scales in the check-in area to check for yourself. I've seen this at Changi airport before, so I'm not sure how common those are, but it might be an option to look out for something like that. –  drat Feb 27 at 10:42

3 Answers 3

So this had been bugging me as it'd never occurred to me before not to trust their scales, but your question makes perfect sense, especially as you've checked all your scales. So I did some digging.

CBS Local in Boston did an investigative spot check with an inspector - (all airports are meant to be tested and standardised) and found 30% of them to be inaccurate/broken - although only 2 pounds out at the max. LAX had a pass rate of 94%, while Ontario was 73%.

It says something that the inspector himself says he travels with his own set of scales:

Hobica actually travels with his own personal scale to make sure he’s not overcharged because of a faulty scale.

So that's one possible solution - to travel with your own set.

Lifehacker quotes Hipmunk who quotes a Wall Street Journal article saying that between 6 and 77% of airport scales are inaccurate by at least a pound.

Another of the Lifehacker articles suggests that digital luggage scales might be a 'travel essential'.

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That's a good answer/solution, but it still brings us to a fundamental problem. Why would the person behind the desk trust the traveler scale? –  nsn Feb 27 at 11:23
    
True. I guess it could be fairly easy if you carry a standardised weight with you with the scales - or their maintenance department would have one (since they check them daily according to the article). If you put a weight labelled 1lb on the scales and yours shows 1lb and theirs shows 3lb (which some of the ones in the article could!), then it's promptly showing a big problem. Even if they disagree, ask if you can take a photo so that you can discuss with their customer service later - they might be happy to get the issue moved along. –  Mark Mayo Feb 27 at 11:28
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If the scale in your example has a constant error then it will read 2 pounds when nothing is on it, and it will be obvious that something is wrong. If it has a linear (percentage) error then it will read 120 pounds for the OP's 40 pound bag and it will again be obvious that something is wrong. In the OP's case, it seems more likely that the scale reads about 10-20% too heavy - for a scale with 1 lb precision, a 1 lb standard weight won't help with that. You'd need a 10 or 20 pound standard weight - and with that in your luggage, if you weren't over the limit before, you are now! –  Nate Eldredge Feb 27 at 15:53
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@MarkMayo This is exactly what I once did in Bangladesh. At the local grocery store I could almost feel the 2 kilos of rice not really 2 kilos (What do I know the difference in 4lbs and 2 kgs) - So I quickly picked up some Nestle's product (assuming them products to be near accurately packed) - looked at the weight - picked up about 2 kilos of that stuff and asked the store fella to weigh it. It was about 300 gms lesser than the expected weight ! –  happybuddha Feb 27 at 23:12
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There's a way to do a standardized weight without carrying too much--a water container of known volume. –  Loren Pechtel Feb 28 at 2:23

To save $100 fee take out an article or piece of clothing that weights 1/2 lb and either put in your carry on bag or wear it. Then get bag reweighed.

This is fast so you can still make your flight, avoids the fee and doesn't waste time arguing over the scale accuracy. I have done this several times at check in without problem. The key is putting your bag on the scale early in the check in process so you can see the weight while the gate agent is working on your ticket.

Some airports such as LHR have public scales and repacking areas to make this task easier. I use a digital scale and usually double check the weight at the public scale.

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One obvious solution is to take luggage well under the (theoretical) maximum. If you know that 23 kg means about 20, there is no need to agonize about scale accuracy or to weight everything three times and the problem disappears.

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If you know that 23 kg means about 20 -> I dont know that 23 kg means about 20. Why would 23 kilos mean 20 kilos ? If I dont take any luggage at all - the problem disappears -does this answer even attempt to answer the question ? –  happybuddha Mar 5 at 23:42
    
Why? Because you just said it does (also note the difference between “about 20” and “20 kg”, it's not the same thing). The situation is pretty simple: The airline sets the rules and you have very little effective recourse because the amounts in question are small and you are under pressure to make your flight. Now 500g tolerance is a bit much, possibly illegal, and you could argue it borders on deceptive advertising but you know what the rule really is in practice and you can avoid extra fees easily. If you want to take chances for one extra kilo, do it knowing the risks. –  Relaxed Mar 6 at 6:49
    
Incidentally, it seems some food companies put a little more in their package than what's printed on them to avoid complaints. Airlines and airports use the situation to err in the other direction and ignore complaints but at the end of the day the deal is the same: You pay for some approximate amount and you wouldn't switch airlines/brands for a few grams cereals more or a few hundred grams luggage less, everything else being equal. –  Relaxed Mar 6 at 6:57

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