04/17/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Kevin You're Fat? Then Understand Weight and Balance of an Airplane

Silent Bob actor, Kevin Smith, has tweeted about his embarrassment after being kicked off a Southwest Airline flight for being too fat. Let's talk about physics. Airplanes fly in the air because there are certain indelible laws of gravity and physics. For example: the airplane is going to be able to get into the air because the weight and balance of the aircraft is congruent with the ability of the engines and the wings. This is something pilots are taught and expect to repeat much like a mantra or meditation: "Weight and balance, take off and landing."

I became a pilot years ago at John Wayne airport, it was right after the singer Aaliyah died because she forced her pilot to carry more baggage than the plane could physically handle. Her Louis Vuitton survived, she did not. The NTSB report stated that the total gross weight of her airplane was "substantially exceeded," which caused the center of gravity to be pushed too far forward. In other words, there was too much weight on the plane and the engines and wings could not lift the front of the airplane high enough to get the aircraft balanced and stable for a safe flight. The rest is tragic history.

So, back to Southwest, pilots are taught how much weight his or her aircraft can handle. And if the plane crashes, the pilot is the first person who will be questioned, so therefore a pilot has a right to be proactive and notify a passenger if their size is putting the weight and balance in question. Especially when, like Kevin Smith, the passenger's weight was taken into consideration at the time of purchasing an extra ticket to compensate the passenger's size. Mr. Smith knew that he needed to buy two seats, he was taking a chance (and putting other passengers in danger by getting his big body on that earlier flight). Remember, the engines and wings are able to get off the ground because the weight in the airplane is not exceeding its ability to fly safely.

If it the airplane surpasses its weigh restriction, the plane won't be able to take off. Or even worse, the airplane will crash going at a very fast speed. The pilot had a right to ask Mr. Smith to get off the plane. We all know the saying, "The straw that broke the camel's back." Kevin, you could have been that straw. Honestly, if it was your family on that plane and it crashed, who would you blame?

The math for each aircraft has been determined by the FAA and is available online. (Just google the airplane you are flying, FAA, and "weight and balance.") For example the calculated average weight for a passenger on a 737 is 170 pounds. That breaks down to:

  • Forward compartment ............................................... 18 people
  • Aft compartment ........................................................ 95 people

How about the average folks who are flying, how much do they weigh? The Journal of the American Medical Association states that the prevalence of obesity in the United States continues to be high, exceeding 30% in most sex and age groups. If that is the case, then is it safe to say that 30% of passengers are overweight?

Knowing all this, do overweight people have a right to get mad when they need to purchase an extra ticket or get kicked off fully-booked airplane? I think not. And, Dear Mr. Kevin Smith, I don't know how much you weigh, but based on your photos, you weigh more than 170 pounds. Let's suppose that I am on a fully-booked airplane with 20 overweight people who weigh, let's say 240 pounds -- that is 1400 more pounds than the aircraft should be carrying. Now, this will not be a problem if those overweight passengers have purchased an additional ticket to compensate for their extra weight, but if not, then everyone on the aircraft is in danger.

Yes, flying has become a tiresome drag and the airlines are not doing much to spruce up the friendly skies. But as passengers, it is our responsibility to understand the gravitational and physical laws that govern the sky. Even though this is physics, it ain't rocket science. You put too much weight on an aircraft and you will compromise the airplane's ability to do what is built to do.

Maybe obese passengers don't have shoe bombs or box cutters on them, but it seems to me that what could happen on board an aircraft filled with too many overweight people could be just as deadly.

My hat goes off to the captain of the Southwest flight who asked Kevin to get off the aircraft. Instead of a $100 flight voucher, perhaps Southwest should have given Kevin a $100 membership to the gym.

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