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.
“The baggage penalty cost more than the airfare for the two of us,” says Ungar. “Astounding.”
The Ungars felt they had no choice but to pay. They returned to the check-in line, where the first employee made a suggestion: Why not repack your bags and carry the excess items on the plane with you?
“She was surprised the first woman at the check-in area did not make the suggestion herself,” he says. “We then walked right back up to the second check-in counter where there was still no line, and the representative said she had already sent our luggage for loading. I asked her why she had already sent it on, and to please get it back so we could lighten our luggage.”
Of course, easyJet refused.
Ancillary fee heroes — or villains?
EasyJet is often held up as one of the ancillary fee heroes of the airline industry. It earns nearly 20 percent of its revenues from forcing passengers to pay for luggage, seat assignments and boarding passes, among other things. In 2012, that came to a cool $1.1 billion, which is not bad for a little European airline. It ranked eighth among worldwide air carriers, according to IdeaWorks, which advises airlines on how to make more money from extras.
“The airline simply has too large an ancillary revenue presence to be excluded from the top 10 lists,” IdeaWorks admiringly concluded.
Yet to passengers like Ungar, there’s nothing heroic about demanding more money for your luggage. When he disputed the “ancillary” fee at the gate, he was told he had no choice.
“Unless we paid the penalty, our baggage would not be returned, and we would be denied access to board our flight,” he says. “My options were to either pay the ransom and ruin one day, or not pay and have the entire vacation ruined. I really had no choice; I had to pay.”
EasyJet kept saying “No.” An appeal to its managers got them absolutely nowhere, despite a written promise that they would look into Ungar’s problem. The airline seemed determined to keep their $152.