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On the Spot: Travelers pounded for baggage's weight

A couple is told at a Paris airport that they must pay an extra $800. Does the fact that they were using a low-cost airline have something to do with it?

March 06, 2011|By Catharine Hamm | Los Angeles Times Travel editor

Question: My wife and I traveled to Ireland by way of Paris on Aer Lingus. When we got to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, an agent eyeballed our bags and said they exceeded the weight limit and that we owed 600 euros (about $800) total. Can this be right?

Chester Tadeja, Chino

Answer: Mon Dieu, or, said another way, the airline may be right because it says it's right.

Aer Lingus is certain that Tadeja's bags were overweight and says it has the paperwork to prove it. Tadeja says no, that the counter agent just looked at those bags. Aer Lingus says it might have looked as though the agent was just eyeballing the bags but that scales are there and that "it is highly unlikely checked/hand luggage is not weighed." And, the service rep notes, there's that receipt showing the 40 kilos of overweight. Tadeja says he's seen that receipt and isn't it a little bit odd that the baggage weighed exactly 40?


FOR THE RECORD:
On the Spot: In the March 6 Travel section, the On the Spot column, about airline baggage fees, referred to Ryanair as a British-based company. It is based in Ireland. —

One other piece of the story: The Tadejas arrived in Paris on a day of an airport bomb scare, and, they said, they felt as though they were being rushed through the check-in process. Also, they noted, the agent who handled their baggage didn't speak much English, and they had difficulty making themselves understood. The agent was, however, able to communicate with them well enough to make them understand that they had better pay up or they'd miss their flight — a flight that cost them about $70 each. Such a bargain.

And that may be the crux of the issue. Aer Lingus is a low-cost carrier. Low-cost carriers in Europe like to charge for everything. As revenue-hungry as our domestic carriers are, none that I know of has yet threatened to convert its bathrooms to pay as you go, as Britain's Ryanair has.

Ah, yes, Ryanair. It has become the model, says Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel, a consumer website, for other European low-cost carriers. So you'll find on its website, for example, an "infant fee" of 20 British pounds, about $32, and a fee of 5 pounds ($8) for booking your ticket using anything but a MasterCard prepaid debit card.

If that's the model, it's not surprising to find that Aer Lingus charges a checked-bag fee. It's even less surprising when you discover that Ryanair owns a good chunk of Aer Lingus. Candy gram!

If you pay Aer Lingus' baggage fees at the airport (as opposed to online), the cost for an Ireland-Europe flight is 20 euros (about $28). That's for bags up to 20 kilos (44 pounds).

For excess weight, its website lists a fee for a short-haul flight of 15 euros (or 12 British pounds, or about $20 in both cases) for every kilo a bag weighs over 20. But Tadeja says he weighed his bags when he got to Ireland: One was 16.7 kilos, one was 18.5, and the two other pieces were carry-on that weighed a combined 12.2 kilos. Aer Lingus' response: How do we know that the scale he was using was right?

We don't. But we do know that in this case, the airline is asking him to prove a negative, which is almost impossible. Banas of SmarterTravel suggests one way to protect yourself: Carry a set of portable baggage scales with you. That $20 investment could save you hundreds.

But only if the airline doesn't assume you're a swindler and a liar. Good luck with that.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

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