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 Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Fishplate

    Wells Fargo airlines…

  • Lindabator

    there is an area JUST outside the checkin area with scales and prices clearly marked – if you choose to ignore it, and then do not want to add excess items to a friend’s bag (have had that with friends before as I tend to underpack), then a gate agent who is there to check you in, not play musical bags considering the option(s), is correct in assuming you were comfortable with the overweight bag, or just didn’t care – personal responsibility goes a long way

  • Alan Gore

    Any of those “unique to us” rules is a gold mine when a large percentage of your customers come from far away and have never encountered it before. They will never fly your airline again, but you will never have to deal with them again either.

  • How was this unique to this airline? Every airline I’ve ever flown has weight limits for checked luggage, and fees for bags that exceed the limits. And weighing hand luggage is standard practice in most European airports, regardless of airline.

  • nyctraveler

    I’ve learned that airlines outside of the US tend to weigh your carry-on bag and they are sticklers for the rules. Which is why I always travel with a luggage scale. I never leave my home/hotel without weighing my luggage first (both carry-on and checked pieces). This allows me to redistribute (or leave behind) items without the added pressure… and bonus: no surprises and the check-in desk!

  • sirwired

    Most carriers outside North America have carry-on weight limits. Austrian is not unique at all in this aspect.

  • sirwired

    I could see how this happened; many airports use automated scale/conveyor systems to check bags, and certainly once they get fed onto the main belt, fishing out a single bag to scurry it back to the check-in desk is a non-starter. (At larger airports, there won’t be a single human that touches the bag until it’s loaded into the cart/container.)

    Just because you want something very, Very, much doesn’t mean it’s practical to do.

  • Kerr

    Is that true internationally? I’ve seen many at domestic airports, but not at international ones.

  • taxed2themax

    My experience is that it tends to be more common outside of the US than inside, but as each airports set-up is different, there can be differences.. That said, I DO agree with the “personal responsibility” going a long way. So long as Austria disclosed the weight limits in advance, and that the weight measurements taken at the airport were correct, then I can’t really fault Austrian here.
    I don’t think it’s beyond reasonable that when you get into the check-in line that you are implicitly saying that you are check-in ready.
    Would it be nice for the agent to remind you of the limit? Sure.. but failing to do so does not then mean a refund is something I think is reasonable for what was an overweight bag.

  • Mel65

    4 kilos is 9 pounds! That’s a lot of extra crap in a carry on bag! If I knew that an airline had a policy to weigh everything, I’d make pretty darn sure that I was under in both bags, especially if the checked bag was “way under” the weight limit. Why carry all that excess on board? I’m glad they refunded it, 75 euros is pretty steep, but this was on the passenger.

  • sirwired

    I can guess that most of her traveling is on US airlines, where you can put whatever you like in your bag, as long as you can heave it into the overhead bin.

  • sirwired

    On another note, my wife and I were watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade the other night… to paraphrase a memorable scene from that movie:

    Arnold Schwarznegger:
    “Ziss is how ve say “carry on bag” in America”: Shot of Arnold, with bulging muscles, painfully heaving an overstuffed carry-on into an overhead compartment.

    “Ziss is how ve say “carry on” in my native Austria”: Shot of Arnold gently placing a light bag on a luggage scale, and watching as the agent slides over a slip of paper with “75 EUR DUE” written on it in huge type. “Nooooooooo!!!!!!!!!”

    P.S. Anybody who prefers Temple of Doom, or, even worse, Crystal Skull, to Last Crusade, is clearly too stupid to live.

  • Alan Gore

    Since when? In all these years, I’ve never had my carryons weighed. Does it have to do with appearing to have a lot?

  • Amy

    For at least 20 years, since I first flew internationally. Returning to America from Gatwick, my hand luggage was too heavy, so I put stuff in my friend’s bag. It was 100% my own fault for not knowing the rules. Ever since then, I make sure to check weight limits for both checked and carry on luggage at every point of departure on my itineraries.

    Of course, there’s discretion involved. I’ve not had my bags weighed every time (especially when lines are backing up), and those who carry small bags typically aren’t stopped for a weighing. Nevertheless, the weight policies exist, and are easily found online. Just because someone’s never seen it or heard of it doesn’t mean the policies don’t exist, or that they don’t have to abide by the rules.

  • John Keahey

    A key is reading each airline’s baggage-weight rules when buying a ticket. I then use my compact scale that I always travel with to weigh bags — checked and carry-on — before checking in. If you’re close to the limit, arrive at the check-in early, go to an empty agent station and put it on the big scale. Sometimes those airline scales are not calibrated properly and can be off a pound or two. However you do it, make sure you know the weight-limit rules; they often change with each airline.

  • John Keahey

    Yep. What you say is common practice. When tagged, it’s gone, to make room on the scale for the next item.

  • random_observation_source

    I’m disturbed that the agent’s suggestion was to put her stuff in someone else’s bag. Don’t most airports have constant announcements on not doing that sort of thing?

  • Michael__K
  • Rebecca

    I also was thinking that the OP is imagining a giant conspiracy that doesn’t exist. She’s simply following the same procedure she probably does for every single person that comes to her counter.

    I have been in a situation more than once where I was afraid I might need to move around some contents because I thought a bag might be over limit. And I have always told the agent first. They’ve never been anything but polite, allowing me to weigh the bags and move anything if necessary, which I’ve done a couple times.

    I think the agent probably expects the passenger will ask if they’re afraid a piece of luggage is over the weight limit. Certainly, they shouldn’t have to let passengers know the limits and ask if they need to check each piece before tagging their luggage and sending it down the belt. Which is really what the OP is saying every single agent at the airport should do, every time. And I find that ridiculous.

  • Rebecca

    I don’t remember Arnold Schwarzenegger being in the Last Crusade. I know I’m not crazy, I love Indiana Jones (well except Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – South Park got it right when they said George Lucas and Steven Spielberg raped Indy), I remember watching them over and over in my childhood. So I googled to be sure and he’s not in that movie. I am missing something here?

  • Rebecca

    I’m just not wrapping my head around the fact that what this OP is actually suggesting is that upon checking bags (every agent, every time) should tell you the weight limits. Then ask if you want your items weighed to see if you need to move them around. That’s ridiculous. It isn’t some conspiracy where the agents are told to try to make passengers pay over limit fees. That’s also ridiculous.

  • Bill___A

    The airline could have handled it better, but it is the responsibility of the passenger to ensure they comply with the weight restrictions.

  • sirwired

    (I was thinking of the scene of the “Austrian Goodbye” (Elsa kissing Indy) vs. the “German Goodbye” (the Nazi stooge hitting Indy in the face.) Yeah, I’ve moved things around a bit…

  • Amy

    I think we all would have been shocked if Southwest, Jet Blue, and Alaska weighed hand luggage in Europe, considering they don’t fly there. ;-)

    With the other airlines, you simply have to be aware if you’re flying with one of their codeshare partners, as the operating carrier may have different policies. Again, that’s why you always check the rules for the airline you’re actually flying on.

  • Carrie Livingston

    I’ve only flown with KLM and definitely didn’t deal with weight issues in my carry on’s and didn’t have to pay extra. It would never have occurred to me to weigh my carry on.

    And if it had been weighed, I would have been dead in the water. I was so overloaded going back. Never again. Throw away clothing, shoes, and pack a ton less!

  • Michael__K

    Sure. However it’s entirely possible for even frequent fliers in the US to travel for many years — including internationally — without ever encountering this limit and without realizing it is even a possibility which ought to be researched.

  • Amy

    You’re absolutely right. And as I mentioned, that’s exactly what happened to me the first time I flew internationally.

    However, the passenger’s reaction should be “Since I screwed up, I’m responsible, and I have to pay the price,” not “Since I’m ignorant of the rules, they shouldn’t apply to me, now watch me throw a fit.”

  • Michael__K

    I don’t get the idea that this passenger didn’t think the rules applied to her. She was upset she wasn’t alerted to the carry-on weight limit at check-in before her checked bag was processed and taken away.

    I understand the agent isn’t obligated to bring this to her attention prior, but that would be the thoughtful and professional thing to do. At least there ought to be a prominent sign posted (was there? was it a language issue?)

    On the other hand, she would have been stuck if the carry-on bags were weighed (only) at the gate. Which would seem more logical to me. If she removed 4 kilos before check-in and handed it to an acquaintance and put the 4 kilos back in her bag after check-in, would that be okay?

  • Jason Hanna

    I basically agree with you. It’s not a good idea to have people at the front of the line blocking it for everyone else while they shift things around trying to make weight.

    You present your bags, they’re ready for check-in. No do-overs.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    And if you don’t have a compact scale, your hotel bellman (or main desk) may have a scale you can use. We’ve done that, and rearranged our stuff in our luggage to balance them to fall within the weight scale.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    When we have flown to Asia, there are people at the gates with scales to weigh your carry-on for our return flights to US.
    We have been on tours in Europe and Asia with Australians and their airlines are really strict about carry-ons (size and weight).
    The weight restrictions for carry-on luggage are listed on the airline’s website.

  • C Schwartz

    The Austrian website has the information on weight limits.

    How much carry-on baggage items you may carry on board is determined by the service class you have booked:
    Economy Class: 1 x 8 kg
    Business Class: 2 x 8 kg

    Different European carriers have different weight limits for carry on baggage.

    All one has to do is look at the website or look at the info that is sent with the booking.

  • Annie M

    Why don’t people buy luggage scales? I never travel without one.

  • joycexyz

    Is weighing carry-ons something new? I thought they went by size…which is often ignored.

  • joycexyz

    Wouldn’t you love to be in line behind someone who is repacking?

  • joycexyz


  • joycexyz

    If my carry-on were so heavy that it couldn’t meet weight limits, I don’t think I’d be able to “carry” it!

  • Hanope

    I’ve been flying internationally for 15 years to Europe and back and I’ve never had anyone request to weigh my or my family’s carry-on bags. Now granted, all we usually carry on are normal sized back packs that are obviously not completely full and easily fit under the seats in front of us. Maybe it depends on what the gate agent sees you intend to carry on?

  • Michael Anthony

    As someone who flies internationally several times a year, it’s rare for carryon bags to be weighed. Never happened to me on Qantas, SIA, BA, Emirates, Air France, Air Canada, etc. Think of all the things we are NOT SUPPOSED to put in checked bags and you could easily have an overweight carryon. And just what is the limit? I just did a a cursory check and it’s not even easy to find. I would be just as shocked as this woman was.

    It’s one thing if you’re carrying on luggage to avoid fees, but if I have a small backpack as my carryon versus someone’s roll-on, and I’m charged? Not fair and unacceptable. Carriers need to get their act together. Charge away for those afraid to check luggage, but not for true carryon pieces.

  • jmj

    Similar has happened to me stateside, but with checked bags. Agent weighed first bag, 40 lbs or so. Sent it through. 2nd bag is 52 lbs. (honestly didn’t think to check). He was going to charge me but I took a few things out to put in my carry on.

    Learned my lesson–put the heavy bags on first.

    I certainly don’t think it was a conspiracy, but just the gate agent doing his job. I just wish he wasn’t so efficient! :-)

  • jim6555

    Are the signs that explain what this area is for in English as well as German? If you don’t understand the local language, it is easy to ignore the signs.

  • DepartureLevel

    Sounds like a rogue agent moving too fast. I’m sure there are some agents who just don’t use common sense but most will offer a suggestion to move weight from one bag to another and not be so quick to send one down the shute.

  • John McDonald

    remember Hitler was Austrian not German

  • Blamona

    Abuse the discretion? It was probably obvious letting it in line. Rules apply to everyone, she makes it sound she was singled out. Coincidence her bag was 9 pounds over? International airlines in different parts of the world have always weighed my carry ons. Some airlines ask your weight and seat you based on that

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