Total fee absurdity: when your luggage costs more than your airfare


Tom Ungar and his wife spent $128 to fly from Venice, Italy, to Naples, which is a ridiculously low fare. But when their checked luggage tipped the scales at just over 20 kilos, their airline demanded an additional $152.

A luggage fee that exceeds your airfare? Welcome to the wacky world of a la carte fees — a world filled with consumer “benefits” that airline apologists believe you’ll love.

Ungar’s case is something of an extreme example. He was flying on easyJet, an airline known for its preposterous luggage policies. But ignore his cautionary tale at your own peril, because this is the world the Big Three legacy airlines aspire to, if we, their captive customers, would just let them.

Ungar’s misadventure began when he checked in for his flight in Venice recently. After placing their baggage on the scales, an easyJet employee informed the couple that their luggage was “a bit” overweight and pointed them to another representative. That person said their luggage was free to fly for an additional fee of $152.
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Ryanair orders passenger with bag question to “shut up” — does she deserve a refund?

The Irish discount carrier Ryanair has a well-earned reputation for unapologetically burying its customers in fees, including charges for carrying their bags on board. It isn’t as well-known for its unfailingly polite defenses of its indefensible policies and their uneven implementation.

Yomna Nasr’s story probably won’t change your opinion of Ryanair. But after reading it, you may grudgingly give it points for its clever non-apologies.
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Do travelers need new federal protections?

It’s not your imagination. Congress seems to be paying closer attention to travelers’ welfare.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the International Travelers Bill of Rights, proposed bipartisan legislation that would require online travel agencies to disclose information about the potential health and safety risks of overseas vacation destinations marketed on their sites. A week earlier, I covered the aggressive new tarmac-delay laws included in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill.
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Is this enough compensation? Refunded $800 for $2,500 worth of missing clothes

Leonard Henderson’s ski trip to Telluride, Colo., didn’t go as planned. US Airways lost his luggage and it stayed lost for the duration of the trip.

He had to buy new clothes, for which the airline promised to reimburse him, but when the time came for it to refund his purchases, US Airways balked. Henderson paid $2,500 for new gear, but the airline only covered $800.

Is that enough?
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Is this enough compensation? 5,000 miles for a late bag

When something goes wrong on a trip, you don’t always get the compensation you deserve — you get what you negotiate. Alright, maybe that’s not an original line, but it is an appropriate way to introduce Barbara Leon’s case.

Did American Airlines offer her the appropriate compensation for failing to deliver her bag to Greensboro, NC, on time? Or should it have refunded the baggage fee, as she requested?

These are interesting questions, because there are no real industry standards for on-time luggage delivery, in an age where bags generally don’t fly free. On one extreme, you have Alaska Airlines, which offers either $20 off a future flight or 2,000 miles if your bag is more than 20 minutes late — and on the other hand, you have legacy carriers who often give you nothing.

Leon flew from Miami to Greensboro with her son and his wife and three children in December. She checked two bags curbside, one of which was overweight. Leon paid $25 for the first bag and $85 for the second bag.

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Passengers say they miss luggage-inclusive fares the most

It’s been more than two years since most major airlines “unbundled” their fares and began charging passengers for the first checked bag. And although air travelers are now paying more for their luggage than ever — $2.7 billion last year, compared with just $1.1 billion in 2008 — they are deeply unhappy about it, according to a new poll.

A survey of more than 1,000 travelers by the Consumer Travel Alliance suggests air travelers are more upset about the checked luggage charges than any other airline fee. Asked what they missed the most about air travel, 56 percent said it was the ability to check their first bag without paying extra. Roughly 20 percent said they missed meals, and slightly fewer — 19 percent — missed the ability to make a confirmed seat reservation. About five percent of respondents missed the free pillows and blankets.

“It’s almost impossible for the casual traveler to go without luggage, or even the road warriors who have to stay over several nights,” says Robin Edelston, a frequent traveler from Cos Cob, Conn. “And charging for checked luggage encourages people to cram stuff into the overhead bins when the airlines should be encouraging people to stow it in cargo.”
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Airlines on track to collect more than $3 billion for checked luggage this year

Thought those reservation change fees I showed you yesterday were shocking? Then check this out.

Here’s what airlines have charged us in baggage fees during the last 20 years. Notice any trends?

From 2007 to 2009, the number jumped from $464 million to an astounding $2.7 billion, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. If the first-quarter number holds for the rest of the year — and that’s a big “if” considering that it continues to go up — then the airline industry will collect more than $3 billion in baggage fees for 2010.

Holy smokes!

Let’s look at some of the biggest beneficiaries.
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Straight talk about the truly dismal state of airline baggage, and what it means to you

To get an idea of how badly airlines might treat your luggage in the summer of 2010, consider the latest offer by The Stafford London by Kempinski. It’s called the “Baggage Emergency Response Squad.”

I’m not making this up.

The squad is on call 24 hours a day, so that when weary travelers step off the plane and walk to the baggage claim, only to find their luggage didn’t arrive with them — despite paying a significant checking fee — they have somewhere to turn. Obviously, the airlines aren’t doing the job.
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“We must act now to stop overhead baggage fees before they become commonplace”

It was just a matter of time before the government got involved in the carry-on fee fight. You’ll recall that last week, Spirit Airlines announced it would begin charging for carry-ons this summer. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood panned the idea, while Spirit’s president, Ben Baldanza, defended it as being customer-friendly.

Yesterday, five U.S. Senators weighed in by introducing the Block Airlines’ Gratuitous Fees (BAG Fees) Act of 2010. Cute, huh?
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Spirit’s Baldanza: “The basis for this new fee was founded in improved customer service”

Earlier this week, Spirit Airlines announced it would begin charging for carry-on luggage. That drew criticism from the Secretary of Transportation, who I interviewed on Wednesday. I wanted to give Ben Baldanza, Spirit’s chief executive, an opportunity to respond — and to explain the rationale behind charging for carry-on bags. Here’s our interview:

Why did you decide to start charging for carry-on luggage?

Last fall, we identified excessive carry-on baggage as the number-one controllable reason that our planes were being delayed at the gate. We challenged ourselves to eliminate these delays without raising customer prices or Spirit’s costs, and to make the boarding process quicker and easier for our customers.
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Help! My baggage didn’t make the connection

Question: I am a Marine based in Nicosia, Cyprus. I have a situation, and I am looking for some guidance.

I recently bought tickets from Travelocity for my fiancee, Cara. Her return itinerary had her flying from Cyprus to Athens and then on to Munich on a Lufthansa flight operated by Aegean Airlines.

Her stopover in Athens was 50 minutes, which was not a problem. But when we checked in at Cyprus, she was only given a boarding pass to Athens and was told to pick up another boarding pass in Athens after retrieving her luggage. It didn’t make sense.

To make a long story short, I contacted Travelocity but Cara missed her connection in Athens and had to pay $250 to change her flight, and had to stay in a hotel for the night until the next day, which also wasn’t cheap.

I don’t know if this is just a mix up and we just got the short end of the stick, or if there is something we can do. Any help would be greatly appreciated. — Joshua Smith, Nicosia, Cyprus

Answer: Cara should have been able to check her baggage all the way through to Munich, no questions asked. When you phoned Travelocity, they should have given you a straight answer about why that wasn’t possible and helped you and your fiancee figure out a solution.
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“You will be charged $25 per bag on your return flight”

I never meant to openly challenge American Airlines’ indefensible policy of charging those who can least afford it – budget-conscious leisure travelers – for the first checked bag. I had no intention of making a scene when I boarded a flight to Dallas with my family this morning.

But sometimes, these things can’t be avoided.

We were traveling with one carry-on bag per person. But three members of our party were kids, so it looked as if we were trying to pull a fast one, hauling everything but the kitchen sink on board. Also, the luggage template they forced us to squeeze our bags into looked as if it could barely fit a pocketbook. (Is it my imagination, or are those templates getting smaller?)
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