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Airport scales at check-ins are inspected


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POSTED: Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Question: Why don't all the scales at Northwest Airlines weigh the same? Going into their concourse, we were told to have our bags weighed. One weighed 47 pounds; the other, 49 pounds. But when we checked in, those bags weighed more. Is this a scam? Someone went over and checked the first scales, came back and said they were wrong. To us this was like seeing a price tag on an item but being told we had to pay more at the check stand.

Answer: The scales in Honolulu Airport's concourse areas are there to give you an idea of how much your bags weigh — they generally are not required to be exact by the state Department of Agriculture's Quality Assurance Division, Measurement Standards Branch.

But the scales at the check-in counters of all airlines are required to be “;accurate.”;

The scales are the responsibility of each individual air carrier, said Tammy Mori, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

In the case of the 13 scales at Northwest Airlines' check-in counters, inspectors determined 12 were “;accurate and within tolerance.”;

The one scale that was not accurate was weighing less, so it actually was weighing in favor of passengers, said Janelle Saneishi, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture.

The department had received a complaint about the Northwest scales by the time we inquired about them, and inspectors had already checked all its scales.

Northwest has 15 scales in the departure terminal. The two at curbside are used to estimate the weight of baggage, allowing passengers the opportunity to redistribute items before they get to the check-in counter, Saneishi said.

“;These are provided as a customer convenience, similar to the scales provided in the produce section of a supermarket, which estimate the produce weight,”; she explained. The scales at supermarket checkout counters are used to determine actual price.

Similarly, since the two curbside scales are not used to actually determine baggage fees, they are not required to be registered annually with the state.

However, Northwest's curbside scales had been registered, and both were found to be “;out of tolerance,”; Saneishi said.

One scale was found to be underweighing at minus 4 pounds per 100 pounds, while the other was underweighing by minus 2 pounds per 100 pounds. Saneishi said the “;tolerance level”; is plus or minus 0.5 pounds per 100 pounds.

Because they had been registered, inspectors rejected both scales and took them out of service.

Inspectors also advised the airline that they should place signs on the curbside scales indicating they were for estimating weight only as a passenger convenience, Saneishi said.

Northwest has since corrected all three scales, and all were back in service, she said. Inspectors also noted that signs are now visible on the curbside scales.

Saneishi said inspectors also have been checking other airline scales, but inspections are ongoing and she had no current information about how many other scales may have been inaccurate.

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