Airplane takes off with less thrust after adults are assigned child’s weight

Software errors are a fact of life, but their seriousness can depend on the circumstances. A flight from the UK to Spain took off more than a tonne heavier than expected because female passengers using the title “Miss” had been mistakenly identified as children.

Described as a “serious incident” by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), the error saw 38 passengers on the flight allocated a child’s “standard weight” of 35kg (77 pounds) instead of the adult figure of 69kg (152 pounds).

The mistake meant the plane’s load sheet, used to calculate inputs during take-off, had a discrepancy of 1,244 kg (2,743 pounds). Thankfully, the pilot said the thrust was only “marginally less” than what was required. “This meant the safe operation of the aircraft was not compromised,” wrote the AAIB.

“This is your pilot speaking. Out of interest: how many people on this plane are children?”

According to the Press Association, the error resulted from an update to Anglo-German airline Tui’s reservation system while its planes were grounded because of Covid-19 restrictions. In the unnamed country where the software is programmed, the title “Miss” is used for a child and “Ms” for an adult female.

The system was corrected when the problem was first identified 11 days before the incident, but this did not correct the weight entries for the July 21 flights.

“The health and safety of our customers and crew is always our primary concern. Following this isolated incident, we corrected a fault identified in our IT system. As stated in the report, the safe operation of the flight was not compromised,” said TUI.