Recent news featuring various airlines around the world checking passengers’ weights before boarding for fuel efficiency and optimisation purposes, might have some readers wondering: what happens if everyone is too heavy for the flight to take off or reach its destination?
Now that scenario has played out in real life, and we have an answer. Japan’s national carrier, Japanese Airlines (JAL) has been forced to lay on an extra service after a large group of sumo wrestlers – athletes known for their considerable body mass – were booked to fly with them.
The wrestlers were bound for the southern Japanese island of Amami Oshima, which has a celebrated and deeply-rooted history of sumo. Every village on the island has a sumo ring and sumo wrestling works its way into every aspect of life and culture, such as spring and harvest festivals. It is a tradition to take newborn baby boys to put their feet in the sumo ring to symbolise a hope the child will grow up strong.
Strong is certainly one way to put it. Averaging 120 kg (18.9 stone), which is about 50 kg more than the typical flyer, the wrestlers were booked on two different Boeing 737-800s from Tokyo and Osaka, to head to the sumo-loving island for a festival when airline staff began questioning whether the scheduled aircraft, a smaller model for domestic flights, could handle both the sporting heavyweights and sufficient fuel for the journey.
Among concerns about weight limits on the scheduled craft and how the regional Amami airport would cope with landing and handling a larger jet, the airline made the rare move of laying on an additional flight specially for these flyers at the last minute. 27 of the wrestlers took it, with 14 flying from Osaka to Tokyo to catch it. Further flights were also arranged to take the athletes home after the sumo extravaganza.
Surrounded by giants?
A group of high school student wrestlers from Gunma prefecture who attended the sumo festival and sat together on the return flight, spoke to TV Asahi and described the experience of being on a flight with so many sumo giants.
I think the middle seat was the toughest.said one sumo wrestler
Sumo, which literally translates to “striking one another”, is a form of competitive full-contact modern martial art, where a rikishi (wrestler) tries to force his opponent out of a circular ring (dohyō) or into making ground contact with a bodypart other than the soles of his feet. It is considered the national sport of Japan.
While there are no rules to dictate weight, the image of a huge sumo wrestler is synonymous with Japan and the sport. Sumo wrestlers are, contrary to their image, extremely strong and agile, and the life of the full-time athlete is a disciplined one as part of a communal stable. They do though have a shorter life expectancy than the average Japanese man.