Ag Dept. inspects airport baggage scales

ODA inspectors ensure airline baggage scale accuracy
Oregon Agriculture Department,

You know the scales at the airport that are used to determine the weight of your check-in baggage and whether you need to pay additional fees? Well, inspectors with the Oregon Department of Agriculture are looking at those scales to make sure they are accurate. Any of the devices that were not working properly have been repaired in advance of the busy holiday travel season.

“Air travelers in Oregon can rest assured that the baggage scales have been tested and approved,” says Josh Nelson, field supervisor with ODA’s Measurement Standards Division. “They can fly with confidence right now that the weight displayed for their check-in baggage is correct.”

Oregon consumers and businesses both benefit from the 18 Measurement Standards Division (MSD) field inspectors who examine approximately 54,590 weighing and measuring devices of all types currently in commercial use across the state. The inspections help foster a high level of accuracy and confidence in Oregon’s commercial weighing and measuring system.

Among the weighing devices receiving an annual inspection are airport baggage scales at all commercial service airports in Oregon. That includes scales located in Portland, Eugene, Medford, Salem, Klamath Falls, Redmond, Pendleton, and Coos Bay/North Bend. Most major airlines now charge anywhere from $20 up to $200 if individual pieces of luggage weigh more than 50 pounds. In order to prevent consumers from getting charged these additional fees from inaccurate scales, ODA inspectors examine all baggage scales each year prior to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday travel season.

“We make it a priority to test these devices before the travel season gets its busiest so that there is time for the scale to be corrected if need be,” says Nelson. “The accuracy of these scales will often determine whether an additional charge is applied or not.”

As is the case with any inaccurate weighing or measuring device, the error doesn’t necessarily work against the consumer. Sometimes, the scale may be shortchanging the actual weight of the luggage when perhaps an extra charge should have been applied. For ODA inspectors, the plan of action is clear- a scale that is not accurate requires a repair and retest. If the error is in favor of the consumer, the scale can remain in operation before the repair is made. If it’s in favor of the airline, the scale cannot be used until it is fixed. All scales not in compliance are given a special tag by the inspector that is removed only after repair and retesting.

Inspectors bring with them the amount of weight suitable for the capacity of the scale. For a 500 pound scale, for instance, they bring 500 pounds in weights, placing them on the scale at incremental values to ensure the scale is accurate in measuring light baggage and heavy baggage.

“We also look for other mechanical aspects of the scale,” says Nelson. “We want to make sure the scale is level, that it doesn’t have anything inhibiting the weight platform. We look for debris buildup and make sure the customer’s view of the scale platform and its reading is not obscured. It is a requirement for any commercially used scale in a direct sale where the customer is present- the customer must be able to see the indicator and the process of weighing or measuring.”

Airline customers can look for the State of Oregon shaped approval sticker on the scale or indicator to make sure the device has been inspected and approved by the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Oregon’s busiest airport- Portland International- was checked prior to Thanksgiving by an ODA inspector. These scales are operated by airlines flying out of PDX- Continental, Delta, United, America, Southwest, Alaska, US Airways, Frontier, and Jet Blue. There were 67 baggage scales tested and six were found to be in violation. That’s about 9 percent of the scales. Of the six tagged for a violation, three scales were weighing too light (in favor of the consumer), two were weighing too heavy (in favor of the airline), and one scale was simply unlicensed with ODA.

“This is a common looking percentage,” says Nelson. “We routinely find equipment malfunction through general wear and tear of the scales.”

Actually, this year marks a slight improvement. In 2010, 70 baggage scales were examined at PDX and nine were tagged with a violation- about 13 percent of all scales inspected. Compared to other airports across the country, Portland doesn’t look so bad. According to news accounts of the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, about a third of the 548 baggage scales have been rejected for repair over the past six years.

Inspections at Los Angeles International Airport show about a 16 percent rate of inaccuracy. The Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California has a rejection rate of only 7 percent.

Given that 31,118 commercial flights moved more than 2.1 million customers out of Portland International Airport last November and December, it’s easy to see how malfunctioning baggage scales might add up to a lot of money. All the more reason to make sure someone is checking the scales for accuracy.

Of course, the traveler can take some steps on their own to make sure they are never impacted by an inaccurate scale.

“My recommendation is to weigh the luggage yourself at home and give yourself maybe five pounds of buffer,” says MSD administrator Jason Barber. Obviously, it would be nice to know that your own scale is accurate as well. But that’s why a five pound cushion should be sufficient.

Whether it’s the airport in Portland or those in other Oregon cities, ODA is confident that consumers can travel safely and “accurately” during the peak travel season.

“We can give a very high level of assurance that baggage scales at all Oregon airports are accurate for the holiday travel season,” says Nelson. “We’ve looked and any repairs necessary would have been made by now.”

For more information, contact Jason Barber at (503) 986-4767.

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