Over the past few years, the domestic airlines industry in the US has seen a steady decline. Faced with the recession, they have been devising ever new ways of squeezing money out of unsuspecting customers. There are a few exceptions (such as Southwest), but by far, flying is usually not a very pleasant experience for me.
Little did I know that European “budget” airlines are, in fact, even worse than their American counterparts. I recently had the misfortune of traveling on one such airline — easyJet. There was nothing easy about the experience, and if it is up to me, I will never ever travel on easyJet again.
First, let me provide some context. We were planning to do a break journey in Europe on our way to India. In the past, we have always carried two checked bags and one hand bag per person for India trips, for obvious reasons (such a long journey, may be once in a year — you just end up carrying a lot of stuff. Even more importantly, you end up bringing back a lot of things!). Unfortunately, just a few days before we were scheduled to fly, American Airlines decided to start charging a $50 fee for the second checked bag on flights to Europe/India. This actually was not that big of a problem, since we had one flight on easyJet and they already had similar restrictions in place.
Actually, I find easyJet’s baggage policy extremely strange. Here are some salient features (emphasis mine):
- Every item of standard checked (‘hold’) baggage will incur a fee.
- Payment of the fee provides you with an aggregate allowance of 20kg across all pieces of hold baggage which may only be increased by payment of excess weight charges.
- Where checked-in hold baggage exceeds 20kgs in weight (subject to the above rule), each passenger will pay an excess baggage charge per kg.
Finally the fateful day arrived for our easyJet flight. At the check in counter, the gate agent weighed our “hold” bags (1 per person). Since we had been deliberately careful about packing, they were both less than 20kg each so did not pose a problem.
Next came the hand luggage. Now, in prior communication with easyJet, I had been told that easyJet did not impose any weight restrictions on the hand bags, as long as they fit in the overhead bins. To quote the website (emphasis mine):
Save where the limits set locally are more restrictive, passengers are permitted one standard piece of hand baggage to a volume limit of 55x40x20cm (including wheels and pockets) (“Standard Hand Baggage”). It must fit without force into the gauges provided at check-in or departure gates. No weight restriction applies within reasonable limits — i.e. a passenger must be able to place the piece of luggage safely in the overhead storage bins without assistance.
I have traveled extensively with the hand bags that we had and never ever had any problems with any airlines. I’m convinced that our gate agent was determined to give us grief, by the rude manner in which she dealt with us, her hostile attitude and body language. In any case, she asked us to show that our hand bags “fit without force” into the bin. Unfortunately our hand bags were shaped more like bags and less like suitcases (which is what the bin was designed for), so they did not fit comfortably, but they did fit.
I tried to explain the agent that we never had problems with the bags before, that they were empty on the top so looked bigger than they actually were. Furthermore, we were in transit to an international destination, and had no issues in the first leg of our flight (on American Airlines). But the gate agent was simply not ready to listen — it was almost as if she had made up her mind to spoil our morning.
Arguing with her was frustrating since it was not really a dialogue. I might as well have been talking to a wall. She would not listen to reason, or show any compassion. Worried that we might miss our flight, in a moment of panic, I decided to just pay whatever fee was required, and get on with it. Big mistake. As it turns out, easyJet not only charges for the number of checked bags, but after 20kg, there is a per-kg excess baggage charge, which needless to add, is exhorbitant. Long story short, we ended up paying a ridiculous fee for our hand luggage.
To add insult to injury, while waiting in the gate area for boarding to begin, I counted at least two dozen passengers whose hand bags were at least as big as ours, if not bigger. There were bags in all shapes and sizes, and several which could not have fit into the bins no matter what. I spoke again to the ground staff and they deferred saying that we had to discuss it with the airlines. It turns out discussing anything with easyJet is not easy either — they don’t have offices at most airports they serve, finding a phone number on their website was a challenge, the online customer support was basically just boiler plate responses.
It was an extremely frustrating and disappointing experience. I was extremely angry at that time and had thought I’d take this up with easyJet as soon as I got back. But just thinking of the time and energy it would take just to get to speak to some human at easyJet who would actually try to listen and understand our situation is disheartening. At least, I’ve learnt my lesson.