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ODA inspectors ensure airline baggage scale accuracy

Oregon airport baggage scales checked & okayed in time for busy holiday travel season

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 Weights and Measures Program. “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 ODA’s field inspectors who examine approximately 56,009 licensed 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, Klamath Falls, and Coos Bay/North Bend. Most major airlines charge anywhere from $25 up to $175 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. (photo above courtesy of Port of Portland).

“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. The inspected scales are operated by a majority of the airlines flying out of PDX– United, American, Southwest, Alaska, US Airways, Frontier, Seaport, Virgin, Skywest, and Jet Blue. Overall, airports in Portland, Eugene, Medford, Klamath Falls, and Coos Bay/North Bend had 55 baggage scales tested with five found to be in violation. That’s 9 percent of the scales. Of the five tagged for a violation, one scale weighed too heavy (in favor of the airline), one was missing a weight display viewable to the customer, and three were simply not working properly.

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

In 2012, 62 baggage scales were examined and five were tagged with a violation– about 8 percent of all scales inspected. Of those five, four were scales that weighed to light (in favor of the customer).

Compared to others across the country, Oregon airports don’t look so bad. According to news accounts of airports in Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, nearly a third of the 196 baggage scales tested over a one-week period last month were rejected for repair. On the other hand, inspections at New York City airports show only a 4 percent rate of inaccuracy.

Given that nearly 30,000 commercial flights moved more than 2.3 million customers out of Portland International Airport alone 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 Nelson. 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 Josh Nelson at (503) 986-4751.

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