In the United States, most airlines enforce a policy of two checked bags per passenger, each not to exceed 50 pounds. And at some airlines, a bag weighing more than 50 but under 70 pounds will cost you an additional $25. It's annoying, and for many passengers, it's an inconvenience, but consider this: At least you're not flying an airline called easyJet.
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A few weeks ago, I decided to check out European low cost carrier easyJet, and made a booking with one of my staffers to fly from Luton airport outside of London to Paris. The fares were certainly cheap enough — about $50 each way. And there was an additional optional box to check on the internet booking form: The airline said I was allowed only one check-in bag with a 20kg (44-pound) limit, but if I checked the box and paid an additional fee — five British pounds per passenger (or about $20 for two people) I'd be allowed to check two bags. I checked the box. It seemed fair enough.
I arrived two hours ahead of time for my flight to Paris, and that's when the airline hit me with a whammy, and a big one.
The counter agent at easyJet claimed I was 40 kilograms (88 pounds) over. How could that be? I had checked the box. I had spent the extra money for the second bag for two people —thus we were checking in two bags each — and each was 20 kilos or less in weight. I had been careful not to overpack.
But the airline still claimed I was 40 kilos over, and they were going to charge me. I wasn’t happy, but there was nothing I could do. Was the charge $25? $50? Hardly. The excess bag charges for one 48 minute flight from the U.K. to Paris: a whopping $514.69! I was trapped. Had no choice but to pay. And two days later, on another easyJet flight, they charged me $585.62.
How did this happen? Turns out it’s all in the fine print. Yes, for an additional charge I am allowed to check in a second bag on easyJet, but the airline does not increase the weight allowance no matter how many additional bags you check!
As a result, I had paid less than $200 for two people to fly on two separate easyJet flights with baggage that was well within the size and weight limits of any U.S. domestic or international carrier. And the bag charges? $1,100.31!
Now comes the absurd part: I went back and checked the advertised fares for the flights I was on. I could have easily stopped a total of 20 strangers at the airport and offered them a free trip to Paris or London — round trip — for what it cost two people to check in an additional one bag each!
In my entire flying and journalism experience of reporting airline ripoffs and draconian charges, easyJet is easy all right — it easily wins the most abusive overcharging award.
I did some checking to see what it would have cost me to courier 44 kilos to Paris, not from London, but from Los Angeles: $200.75 on DHL, and delivered to my hotel in Paris.
I also checked on how much my round trip fare (plus my companion's) would have been on Air France flying from Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle: $283 each, with two checked bags each allowed, or $566, substantially less than the $1,100 bag charges plus the easyJet airfare.
EasyJet is by no means the only carrier attempting to get away with skyway robbery. British Airways has recently instituted the one bag rule (plus excessive excess bag charges on the second bag) on their flights from Heathrow just about everywhere except the United State.
And low cost carrier Ryanair is even worse. Their weight limit per passenger for checked bags isn't 20 kilos, It's just 15! But as in my case with easyJet, most people won't discover this until they're already at the airport, and it’s too late to do anything except pay.
On the Ryanair Web site (www.ryanair.com), much like easyJet, you can quickly book inexpensive flights. For example, with only two days notice, I was able to find a flight from London to Venice for only 29 pounds (58 dollars) one way and 19.99 pounds (about $40) on the return. But nowhere on the site's main page, or even on the booking page where I had to give my credit card to confirm the reservation and buy the tickets, was there a disclosure about the airline's equally outrageous baggage policies. But after searching, I found it on another "terms and conditions" link, and you've got to see it to believe it. And I quote:
- "A Baggage Fee is charged for the carriage of each item of Checked Baggage. The Baggage Fee may be prepaid at the current discounted rate of €6.00/£5.00 per item of baggage/per one way flight when making your reservation. If the Baggage Fee is paid after you have made your booking either at the airport, or through a Ryanair call centre, at the full rate per item of baggage/per one way flight is charged.
- Passenger may purchase up to 5 items of baggage per person. Please Note: That the total Checked Baggage Allowance per person is 15kg irrespective of the number of items of baggage purchased per person. There is no baggage allowance for infants.
- Any passenger checking in baggage exceeding the 15kg checked baggage allowance per person will be charged an excess baggage fee currently at a rate of £5.50/€8 per kilo (or local currency equivalent).
- Passengers may not use the unused checked baggage allowance of other passengers. No pooling/sharing of the checked baggage allowance is permitted, even within a party travelling on the same Confirmation Number.
- One item of hand baggage per person, weighing no more than 10kg and with dimensions of less than 55cm x 40cm x 20cm, may be carried into the aircraft cabin (restrictions apply from certain countries) "
Ouch! The fine print says it all. Check anything more than 15 kilograms (a little over 33 pounds) and mortgage your house. I suspect that pretty soon they'll start weighing, YOU.
I emailed Sir Stelios Haji-Ioanou, the Greek-Cypriot born British entrepeneur who founded easyJet, and a man who I’ve met on numerous occasions at various travel industry conferences (where we’ve both been speakers) and asked him to explain these stratospheric charges.
His response, in an email back to me:
“Are you saying you believe our people got the weights wrong, or you are surprised at the per kilo rate of easyJet and the dollar sterling exchange rate?
I believe our rates are competitive for European economy short haul..."
Competitive? If this is being competitive, OK, I give up. EasyJet might win the short haul air fare race in Europe, but based on these charges, if we are responsible (and hopefully fiscally sane) travelers, they deserve to lose the marathon.
The moral to this story is simple: If you're a backpacker owning nothing more than T-shirts and flip flops — and they’d better not be heavy flip flops — or you're a drifter with no bags, then easyJet, Ryanair and on some flights, British Air are the airlines for you. But if you're a real traveler, even with modest check-in bags, be prepared for serious, and in my experience heart attack-inducing sticker shock.
Bottom line: I am now no longer flying easyJet, or Ryanair. easyJet got away with gouging me – that’s the only way I can put it — for more than $1,100. But now, I am warning everyone else. This isn't just bad passenger service. This is intentional, greedy and mean spirited. And in my book, this constitutes nothing less than a declaration of war against all of us. It's time to fight back. I would suggest you avoid these airlines until they change these policies, but if you choose to fly them, remember, you've been warned.
Peter Greenberg is TODAY's travel editor. His column appears weekly on TODAYshow.com. Visit his Web site at PeterGreenberg.com.
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