Is Aruba part of the United States? I’m not the one asking. Hank Roden, a fine art photographer from Urbanna, Va., is, and it’s more of a rhetorical question.
When he tried to check a bag on a recent US Airways flight from Aruba to Miami, a gate agent charged him $25.
But hang on — aren’t checked bags on international flights included in the price of your US Airways ticket? Yes, they are.
“This is not an international flight,” the ticket agent deadpanned as she scanned his passport.
The experience was a little “weird,” Roden said. Why would an airline classify a flight as domestic when it’s obviously not? Could be the money.
Redrawing the map can benefit a travel company in several unseen ways, from giving it a competitive edge to allowing it to collect more fees from unsuspecting passengers.
US Airways has a perfectly logical explanation for what happened to Roden. Airlines classify their international operations differently when it comes to fees. Oddly, the Caribbean is regarded as a domestic operation, which may come as a little bit of a surprise to the good citizens of Aruba. Roden flew there on American Airlines, which has a different bag policy than US Airways, and which may have added to the passenger’s confusion. The two airlines are currently merging operations.
“He was charged correctly,” says John McDonald, a spokesman for both airlines.
If you think that’s odd, then pay attention to your next credit card bill. If you’ve booked a trip with a company based outside the United States — say, an international airline or a hotel based outside of the country — you might find an unpleasant surprise on your statement. It’s a foreign exchange fee, arbitrarily charged if you’re doing business with a company outside the States, even if you’re buying it at home and paying in dollars.
Does it cost the company anything extra? Nope. They define your U.S. purchase as being international, slapping an extra 3% on your bill.
Why? Because they can.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to snag an upgrade on a flight from Atlanta to Honolulu with my family. I spent the first few hours of the flight in the front of the plane. But when I tried to yield my business class seat to my better half, who was in economy class with the kids, a flight attendant blocked my way.
“You can’t do that on an international flight,” she says.
“Hawaii is part of the United States,” I reminded her.
She allowed me to downgrade.
“It’s a semantic game,” says Skip Miller, who’s had an identical conversation with a flight attendant in the past. Now retired from the Air Force, he recalls the U.S. military does the same thing, categorizing assignments in Alaska and Hawaii as “overseas” because they are not physically connected to the lower 48 states.
In talking with travelers, though, it seems this kind of gerrymandering — redrawing national borders to suit a company — usually benefits the company more than the customer.