Check first, then weigh — it’s the Austrian way

After Janet Mosher surrenders her checked bag to Austrian Airlines, a representative surprises her by weighing it — and charging her extra. Why not give her an opportunity to repack?

Question: I recently flew from Salzburg, Austria, to Frankfurt on Austrian Airlines. I brought my carry-on and checked luggage to the desk when I checked in for the flight. The Austrian agent apparently had the discretion to weigh my check-in luggage and my hand-carried luggage. She abused that discretion by failing to inform me up front that she was going to weigh both pieces.

Instead, the agent tagged my checked bag and immediately sent it without my consent to an “irretrievable” — her words — baggage area. Then she told me she wanted to weigh my carry-on bag. It was overweight, but I could easily have met Austrian’s weight requirements by placing items from my carry-on to my checked bag, which was well below the airline’s weight limit.

I asked the agent to return my checked bag so I could transfer items from my carry-on. She refused. She was unhelpful, rigid, unfriendly, unaccommodating, and disinterested in the problem she created by sending my checked bag away before asking to weigh my carry-on bag.

The agent offered an absurd, unacceptable suggestion: Move the four excess kilos from my carry-on bag to another passenger’s checked bag that was sitting on the belt. I could not invade the property of another, even if that passenger was an acquaintance. The agent stuck me with a 75 euro surcharge.

Is it Austrian Airlines’ policy to train its agents to increase its profits by sticking its passengers with weight-limit infraction penalties — and to ensure those profits by tagging and [sending away] checked bags quickly, so unwitting passengers are prevented from transferring extra weight from their carry-on to their checked luggage?
These “gotcha” fees are capitalism at its worst.

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I’d like a refund of the 75 euros. After all, I did not have excess weight, it was merely distributed improperly between two bags. — Janet Mosher, Alexandria, Va.

Answer: What a clever way to earn a few extra euros. You might not know this, but ticket agents are under immense pressure to generate money for the airline. They’re often evaluated based on how much money — in airline-speak, it’s referred to as “ancillary” revenue — they can bring in for their station.

In this case, the agent should have reminded you of Austrian Airlines’ weight limits for baggage. The agent should have accepted your checked bag without sending it down the conveyor belt.

But you had options. You could have removed 4 kilos worth of items from your bag and tucked it inside your jacket or given it to a companion. If those didn’t work, you could have asked a supervisor for help. By your account, you had two hours before departure to get this squared away.

After returning to the States, you had two options. You could have reached out to an executive at Austrian Airlines — I list the names, numbers and email addresses on this site. As a last resort, you could have disputed the charges on your credit card if you paid with plastic. If you used a chipped card and signed, it might be a difficult charge to question, but nothing is impossible.

Personally, I’m troubled by this story. It’s bad enough that airline agents are being held to a financial benchmark, rather than a customer service one. But the fact that they’re using tricks to collect more money from you makes it even worse. Austrian should have words with this agent, whose name I redacted from this story but is known to you and now to Austrian Airlines.

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I contacted Austrian on your behalf. As a gesture of “good will” the airline agreed to refund the luggage fee.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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