Instrumentation & Measurement Magazine 23-2 - 102

legalmetrology
Veronica Scotti

Airport: When Measurements Harass Passengers

T

he number of measurements performed in an airport
is probably countless and of paramount importance
for airport and flight security and safety. Measurements are performed following strict rules and best practice in
metrology, otherwise our skies would not
be as highly safe as they are. However, there
is a small number of measurements, related
to passengers' luggage that have a non-negligible and sometimes annoying impact on
travelers and that are quite likely not performed in a totally fair and metrologically
sound way.
Each of us has faced, in our travels, problems related to luggage size, especially with
low-cost flights. Sometimes it is possible to
"debate" about the size and win, but most
of the time, this is not a successful match.
This problem is related to the lack of homogeneous policies
in this field, due to the variety of rules which differ from one
airline to another, and also to a somehow "fuzzy" way with
which the legal metrology requirements are considered.
Let me try to shed some light on this issue.

Legal Framework
From a legal perspective the most important convention that
deals with this matter and that determines passengers' rights
is the Montreal Convention, signed in 1999. As a matter of fact,
most conditions established by this convention are aimed at
granting reimbursement or compensating passengers in case
of luggage loss, delays or missed connections, but they do not
set any rule related to luggage size and weight.
Actually, airlines are free to decide which size of hand
luggage is allowed on board or not. Moreover, the size of handluggage includes not only the dimensions (length + width +
height), but also its weight as an even more important element
to allow it on board. Apparently, passengers have no right,
from the legal point of view, to claim against companies' policies and decision on whether to allow their luggage on board.

Airlines
As mentioned, companies can issue rules about luggage without any restriction when deciding what is more suitable (from
102	

the economic perspective). Table 1 resumes the scenario. Information listed is taken from website of each air company in
November 2019 and refers to Economy class. Other tickets may
differ and may allow different luggage sizes.
It should not be disregarded that the amount of bag fees
earned by companies is not negligible: the US airlines cashed
4.6 billion dollars from bag fees in 2018 [1].

The Legal Perspective
As shown by Table 1, the luggage sizes are certainly different,
but, from the metrological point of view, they could overlap
when considering measurement uncertainty, especially deriving from the "instrument" used to perform the measurement.
This raises an interesting, unanswered question, especially
when long, intercontinental flights involving connections with
different airlines are considered: What happens if a passenger
is allowed to carry on board his/her hand luggage in the first
leg and not in the next one?
Actually, the legal framework, not considering mandatory
rules and allowing companies to set their own rules, does not
leave (complete) room for passengers to claim against airline
decisions. Metrology, on the other hand, could perhaps help to
find a solution or a more uniform treatment.
First of all, it is worth noting that many countries (especially
in EU) have established rules, included in Legal Metrology, that
are compulsory and that relate to some measurement instruments such as balances. In this framework, balances used to
weigh luggage in airports should be considered and verified,
following a strict procedure described in laws, to ensure that the
Maximum Permissible Errors (MPE) established in technical
rules (such as the OIML recommendations) are not exceeded.
The important point, here, is to recognize that, since penalties or additional fares can be applied as the result of luggage
size measurements, these very measurements as well as the
instruments employed to perform them fall inside the framework of legal metrology, that is the branch of metrology aimed
at ensuring the fairness of measurement results, so that none
of the involved parties is damaged by the measurement results
themselves.
The role played by the International Organization of
Legal Metrology (OIML) is relevant in these matters and
should be carefully considered. The OIML is an international

IEEE Instrumentation & Measurement Magazine	
1094-6969/19/$25.00©2019IEEE

April 2020



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