Friday, October 9, 2015

weight & balance issues on an airplane

I took a round-trip flight recently from Milwaukee, WI, to Lynchburg, VA, with a stopover to change planes in Charlotte, NC.  On the flight from Milwaukee to Charlotte, and again on the flight from Charlotte to Milwaukee there were "weight and balance issues."  It was 14 years since the last time I was in an airplane, but I'd only encountered "weight and balance issues" on a plane once before in my life.  That was on a small plane hopping between islands in the Caribbean.

Anyway, on the flight out of Milwaukee, shortly after everyone was aboard, the flight attendant got on the speaker and said that they had a "weight and balance issue" and they needed someone to volunteer to move from one of the first four rows back to the rear of the plane.  I was in seat 3A, from where I'd just taken this picture:
It looked like everyone else in the first rows were couples, so I raised my hand and volunteered.  I moved back to seat 10C where I took this picture:
On the return flight from Charlotte to Milwaukee it happened again.  Only this time the flight attendant asked that TWO people volunteer to move from the first four rows to the back.  I was in seat 4F, but someone in row-1 immediately volunteered, and while he was getting up to move to the rear, someone in row-2 also volunteered.  So, I remained in seat 4F.

But the experience made me wonder about "weight and balance issues."  On the schedule I'd printed out for my flight, it said that there were occasional delays on the flight from Charlotte to Milwaukee.  Was it because no one volunteered to change seats?  What would they do if no one volunteered?

So, when I got home I did some research.  It turns out that "weight and balance issues" are fairly common on smaller airplanes.  And they are particularly common on the CRJ-200.  Here's a picture I took of the Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) aircraft shortly after I'd gotten off in Charlotte:
And here's a stock shot of a CRJ-200 I found on the Internet:
Looking around the Internet I found a web site HERE which calls it a "Barbie Jet" and says that there are also other names for it: Satan’s Chariot, Climb Restricted Jet, Mini Lawn Dart, the Flying Bus, and Future Beer Can.  The person writing that article tells of being asked to move from seat 2D to 12D for "weight and balance purposes."

Personally, I had absolutely no problem with the aircraft or the flight.  I just thought the "weight and balance issue" was interesting.  And I wondered what would happen if no one volunteered.  But, further research indicates that it might be more common for the flight attendant to TELL someone they need to move to the rear for "weight and balance purposes."  The instruction carries the weight of law, since the flight attendant is an acting agent of the captain.

I found a blog HERE where 37 passengers were asked to get off the plane in England because someone had accidentally put too much fuel in the tanks.  I found a BBC News article HERE where 71 passengers on another flight from England refused to stay on board because of "weight and balance" issues and demanded to get off the plane.  Apparently it was because a cargo door was jammed and they couldn't use that space for luggage, so it created a "weight and balance issue."   It doesn't say how many were asked to move, only that 71 got off.

A blog HERE says:
The CRJ-200 can be a pain when it comes to weight and balance. It is usually no big deal where the people are seated when it is under about 40 passengers. It's only when it is nearly full that you often have to make sure the empty seats are toward the front.
RJs can be VERY sensitive to W&B issues. Part of the issue is that each person in this example is 2% of the theoretical total pax weight load, instead of say .5% on a 200-pax plane. So yes that's definitely an issue for small planes. 
I could only find one place on the Internet where someone refused to change seats.  Click HERE:
Aircraft less than half full. Me sitting over wing in an aisle seat, vacant middle seat and a person at the window.

Just before take off, a female cabin crew approaches me and states

"I am sorry sir, but due to weight and balance reasons, you will need to move three rows back"

What the is this about... seriously. If an 80kg person moving 3 metres is so critical to the W&B of a 400+ton aircraft, then we are all in trouble. Hopefully no-one leaves their seat during the flight.

Unfortunately, the request was so stupid, that I politely refused, told her I was comfortable where I was and asked her to explain her why.

Just a thought.... if you treat passengers like idiots... they might just take offence and become uncooperative.

Could someone shed some light on this ridiculous request. Is it used often for some reason? Why would the request be made... keeping in mind the aircraft was less than half full... and CC are not Load Controllers.
I haven't found anything in that blog which explains exactly what happened when the guy refused.  I assume that someone else simply volunteered.  The passenger says that the Flight Attendant just went about his/her business as if nothing had happened.  But, it's interesting that the guy felt it was some kind of demeaning request and that it was beneath him to submit to such a request.

For what it's worth, there were no "weight and balance issues" on the much smaller planes I took from Charlotte to Lynchburg and back again.  Here's a photo of one of those planes (a Dash 8-300) at the airport in Lynchburg, VA:
(I thought it was also unusual that of the 8 times I had to get on or off an airplane, only once did the passengers use a loading ramp (when boarding in Milwaukee).  All the other times we used stairs to the pavement and a ground-level door in the terminal.) 
And now I think I know all that I need to know about "weight and balance issues."  It's "normal," particularly on the CRJ-200, and most of the time people just volunteer.  But it was relatively new to me.  The time I encountered the issue when I was in the Caribbean, I thought it was because of the heat and the air being too thin or something.  But, it was probably just a "weight and balance issue" there, too.


  1. Mr. Lake,

    Just discovered your blogs/websites. Great to be curious.

    The FAA has a fairly succinct treatment of aircraft weight and balance at

    It also contains what appear to be pilot worksheets to determine if an adjustment is necessary. The document describe the issue as being focused on the relationship between the location of the longitudinal center of gravity (or weight) and the location of the center of lift. This issue arises in anything that moves through air (to a lesser extent water) and uses aerodynamic forces to maintain stability, such as space rockets in the early stages of liftoff or during staging maneuvers or ballistic projectiles. The feathers of an arrow (like the fins on a rocket) are added to move the center of pressure back behind the center of gravity of the rest of the arrow so that the arrow is forced to fly a straight trajectory.

    1. Anonymous,

      Thanks. I used to be in the Air Force, and I've done a lot of flying in my day. I just haven't done any for 14 years before that recent trip.

      Another thing that I don't think they had 14 years ago is "zones." I'm not sure what that is all about, but they loaded by "zone." "Zone 1" were frequent-flyer passengers, military people and I don't know what else. I thought they'd load from back to front, but there didn't seem to be any pattern to where the "zones" were. I was in "zone 4" on the jets and in "zone 3" on the turbo-props. According to a link I found - - it seems to be a way of stopping people from grabbing all the storage space before everyone is aboard.