Worldfocus special correspondent Martin Seemungal writes about what it’s like to be a mobile journalist and vents about his luggage in Spain.
I’m a frequent traveler, but rarely fly on budget airlines. But when I learned an upcoming assignment would be in Spain, a friend told me “Fly with Vueling!” It’s the Spanish version of Ryanair or Easyjet…and so began my experience with a so-called “budget” airlines.
I had heard many stories about flying with budget airlines: The mad scramble for the elusive seat was a particular favorite and always somehow reminded me of the running with the bulls — only a lot less romantic.
But the crux of this whole matter is luggage. In general, when it comes to budget airlines, it seems you can’t take very much of anything. You can’t take much on the plane and you can’t put much in the plane down below.
When you start the whole process with Vueling, there’s a bunch of rules and regulations — the ones few people read — and somewhere in there is a number 20Kg, which is associated with a word: Suitcase.
You begin the booking procedure, departure and return dates, and then there’s a little box titled “suitcases for check in” which allows you to book/buy a suitcase, should you wish to. If you click on the dropdown you’ll get the option of choosing how many you would like to book/buy.
Now, I’m a television journalist and I travel with two checked bags. So, I chose to pay a small fee for two suitcases. Somewhere in all the warnings, you’re told that if you show up at check-in without paying for whatever it is you’re carrying, you will be charged more. I bought my ticket with two suitcases, confident I had covered all the bases.
Two and a half weeks later, I showed up at the check-in desk in Barcelona with the same two bags, armed with my computer printout. I put my bags on the scale and was immediately told “You have more than 20kg; you’ll have to pay for 25kg excess.”
At that point, I whipped out my printout and pointed to the fact I had already paid for two suitcases. I was prepared to pay for 5kg extra but an additional 20kg was outrageous.
It had no effect. I was told that each passenger is only allowed 20kg of checked baggage. “But I paid for two suitcases — surely that means another 20kg,” I argued.
But I was told that the number of suitcases has “nothing to do with the weight you are allowed.”
I was stunned. “You can’t be serious,” I said. But she was.
“Did you check the FAQs?” she said. “It’s all there.” I went to the relevant bit of the FAQs and came away no further ahead. Passengers can check in up to 20kg of luggage at a cost of 10 euro per flight and suitcase it stated. It then goes on to say that the maximum checked-in weight per passenger is 50Kg. I found it all ambiguous at best, misleading at worst.
I asked to see the supervisor. Despite my protests, he confirmed that, yes, that was the rule — 20kg per passenger, and you have to pay extra for every kilo above that. In the heat of our discussion, he then came out with a line I will never forget: “Sir, you can buy six suitcases if you want, but you’re still only allowed to take 20kg of checked luggage.”
I waited a moment before saying anything, hoping the silence would help amplify the insanity of his remark.
“Well, who would do that?” I said quietly. “Who would buy six suitcases to carry 20kg?”
“Sir, you’re not the first person who has had this kind of problem. Technically you’re supposed to fly back on your return flight under the same conditions as your outward flight. Of course, if you want to fly with the extra weight you’ll have to pay, but if you contact the airline maybe you’ll get a refund.”
I had no choice but to pay the equivalent of about $260 U.S. I later went online and filed an official complaint stating the process is misleading and asking for a refund.
It seems it wouldn’t take much to clear up the ambiguity. Somewhere near the part where you have the dropdown to buy one or two or FIVE suitcases. There should be a clear explanation that in fact: “The number of suitcases has no relation to the amount of checked luggage you are allowed.” Something like that. Or “You can buy all the suitcases you want but we strongly advise you not to put anything in most of them.”
I think if people saw that, they’d make sure to buy one suitcase and one suitcase only and fill it with 20kgs and only 20kgs.
I still haven’t heard back from Vueling, but I did get one of those automatically generated survey things telling me I was a valued and esteemed customer and asking me to comment on my recent flight with Vueling.
They can’t be serious!
– Martin Seemungal