Martin Seemungal took to the skies with one of Spain’s budget airplanes.
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
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Dr. Jaus under a Creative Commons license.
March 20, 2009
Worldfocus is different thanks to you…
Worldfocus anchor Martin Savidge writes that thanks to you, your e-mails and comments, Worldfocus has been able to shed light on important international issues that are seldom covered. Join in on the conversation.
Click to listen: Online radio show on the Baha’i faith and modern Iran.
Tuesday night is radio night round here — BlogTalkRadio. This past week we spent a half hour discussing the case of seven Iranian members of the Ba’hai faith who have been arrested by the Iranian government for allegedly spying for Israel.
It’s of course a legitimate story for Worldfocus, and it’s also a perfect example of how we want to make this show different from typical news programs. The difference is you.
This story was first brought to my attention by a viewer. We ask for your comments usually at the end of the newscast and — perhaps surprising to some of you — we actually read all of them.
Shedding light on injustices around the world is of course a major goal of journalism, but such stories are increasingly seldom seen in the U.S. as domestic networks reduce their international staff and coverage. After reading the viewer’s e-mail, this story seemed very much a case of religious persecution. We reached out to our partners and found that ITN had actually done a report from Tehran, which was the piece that made it on to our program.
After that piece aired, we had a huge influx of email about it. It was that interest that prompted us to spend more time and go deeper on the issue with our online radio program. Both the communication from you and the radio program are possible because of the new technologies we’re experimenting with online.
We knew from the outset that our broadcast is really only a one-way form of communication. We talk to you.
Worldfocus.org is just as vital because it allows you to talk to us. What you liked or didn’t and what you think deserves to be covered. The site is also a way for you to read what people all over the world are saying about the international issues that impact all of us. You can join the conversation.
That has also been one of the core hopes of Worldfocus, to provide international insight to people that in turn sparks their thinking and a desire to know more. Then we hope you’ll come to our Web site, which is sort of an international watering hole to connect with other people from all around the globe and talk with them. We encourage you to share information or stories from our program with friends on the Web.
Which is another reason you are so important to Worldfocus. All of our budget goes into gathering news. We don’t have a promotions department or even a budget for such — so one last favor you can do for us. If you like Worldfocus…tell someone.
– Martin Savidge
Join in on the conversation by posting your comments below or Talk to US by submitting a video of your views.
March 18, 2009
Liberia rebuilds but fragments of the fighting remain
The streets of Monrovia. Photo: Megan Thompson
The former executive mansion in Monrovia. Photo: Megan Thompson
Producer Megan Thompson just returned from reporting in Liberia, where she encountered daily reminders of the country’s civil war as Liberia emerges from its past.
In Liberia, we listened to many stories of the 14-year civil war, but we also found stories we didn’t ask for: The hostess whose mother was killed, the driver who said he once painted his face with blood, the government intern whose family was almost slaughtered because a wall surrounded their home (soldiers thought that meant they were rich).
The civil war ended six years ago, but it tore apart this small West African nation. From the balcony of my hotel in downtown Monrovia, I looked out at the former executive mansion — now a shattered shell of a building, pocked with bullet marks and surrounded by trash.
The hotel owner told us that while he fortunately fled to his native Lebanon, about 100 people moved into the hotel to seek refuge from the fighting. That night in my dimly lit room, serenaded by the car horns and cacophony of the streets below, I wondered: Who was hiding in my room? What were their war stories?
Liberia is slowly pulling itself back on its feet and rebuilding. But everywhere you go, fragments of the fighting remain. Under the leadership of President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, electricity and water are being restored, schools are being built and Liberians everywhere are trying to find a way forward, away from the past.
In another sign of change, a brand new luxury resort has just opened on the outskirts of Monrovia. One night at the shiny new bar, the bartender tells us about his mother, also dead. He studies the drink recipe book intently, serious about learning this new trade, and talks about trying to make a future for himself: “You just have to move on.”
– Megan Thompson
Read correspondent Lynn Sherr’s blog post from Liberia: Liberian summit celebrates African women with laughter.
Watch for Worldfocus’ upcoming series on Liberia in the coming weeks.
March 17, 2009
A fiancée boards U.S.-bound plane, leaving Cuba for good
The view of Cuba from a plane.
Worldfocus editorial consultant Peter Eisner recently reported on the signature series Cuba After Fidel. He describes encountering young Cubans leaving behind loved ones and heading to the U.S., knowing full well that they may never return to their homeland due to U.S. travel restrictions.
One day in Havana, I had to go down to the state tourism office to change my travel arrangements back to the States. As most people don’t realize, there are a number of charter flights daily between Cuba and the United States carrying Cuban-Americans, journalists, members of non-profit organizations, students and educators who, among others, are in some cases exempt from U.S. prohibition from traveling to Cuba.
At the tourist office, I started chatting with a young Cuban woman who told me she was flying to Miami that Friday and was to be married to her Cuban-American boyfriend and remain there.
Three days later at the airport, by chance, I bumped into the woman, who I hardly recognized — she’d spruced up for the 45-minute flight to Miami. She was weepy, having just said goodbye to her parents and friends, not knowing when she would see them again.
It was the first time she’d ever left Cuba, the third time she’d ever been on an airplane — she’d once taken a domestic flight from Havana to Santiago de Cuba to the east. A number of other people on the plane were similar: Young, single women who had obtained visas to go to the United States.
A flight attendant asked for a show of hands: “How many people on the plane are leaving Cuba definitivamente?” (a dramatic word in Spanish which could be translated as “permanently” or “for good”). The young women raised their hands.
It is hard to describe the emotions running through the plane, a lifetime of feelings compressed into a short jet hop across the Florida Strait. When the plane took off, there was applause, and the Cuban woman I’d met was crying as she craned her neck to see the Havana shoreline disappear under the clouds.
Only 30 minutes later, the attendants were announcing the final descent into Miami. There was no single emotion, just bits of emotion tossed together. At wheels down, the flight attendant came on the air again, using that same word. “For those of you who have left Cuba definitivamente, bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos!”
Welcome to the United States.
For me, that bittersweet moment summed up the contradictions of the situation. These were young people leaving everything they knew and loved behind, cheered by the possibilities that the United States seemed to offer, frightened by the unknown. One could only wish them well, hoping that politics and ideology on both sides give a chance to the people who have been suffering all along.
– Peter Eisner
Photo courtesy of Flickr user yosemitewu56 under a Creative Commons license.