Today’s outrage: a solider back from a 21-month tour of duty in Afghanistan was forced to pay $200 to transport his kevlar armor on a 2hr United Airlines domestic flight.
United was right to charge him $200 for exceeding his weight limit.
United Airlines, like other U.S. airlines, has a generous checked baggage policy for members of the military. Present your military ID and even if you’re on a family vacation you get three free checked bags of up to 70lbs each. If you’re traveling on orders, as 1st Lt John Rader was, you are allowed up to five complimentary checked bags at 70lbs each. That is a whopping 350lbs!
The only catch is you can only put 70lbs in each bag. This is because people have to lift the bags! From personal experience I can tell you that lifting a 70lb onto and off of a conveyor belt is no easy feat even if you’re healthy and strong.
Laziness is Not United Airlines’ Concern
But here’s what happened: Rader wanted to fit everything into one bag. His bag ended up weighing somewhere between 71 and 100lbs, which incurs a $200 fee. When an agent refused to waive it, he paid but took to social media to protest.
I was told point blank that I’d have to pay $200 for the overage or find another bag to siphon stuff off with. Well, I didn’t have another bag so I was caught in a bind, do I go home without my stuff?
That’s right, if you don’t want to pay. In the military, I learned “a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” I’m sure the young officer has also heard this before.
What’s galling to me is that he expected an exception to be made, signaling he KNEW his bag was too heavy and not according to policy.
In the past airlines have been very flexible to soldiers whether its upgrading us in our seating arrangements helping us with numerous bags we travel with often. This is the first time and an isolated case in my history where it’s actually occurred. It became upsetting when all you want to do is get home and you have a $200 charge thrown on top.
In the military, we also learn about following rules.
Empathy ≠ Exception
There was no empathy to the situation. I’m not looking for sympathy, but some form of empathy in the situation. There was none of that. It was just cold. I had to either pay or leave the bag.
United has already refunded him the money, but it should not have. It again encourages people to take protest to social media and minimizes when real damage occurs, like the Dao incident.
At least United was careful not to apologize:
We are disappointed anytime a customer has an experience that doesn’t meet their expectations, and our customer care team is reaching out to this customer to issue a refund for his oversized bag as a gesture of goodwill.
Yes, it is a goodwill gesture and nothing else. If I were the United agent and the bag were a couple pounds over, I would have an exception. But something 10-20lbs overweight because you are too lazy to bring a second bag? Sorry, I’m not sympathetic.
There are two parts to this story I do not understand: if Rader was traveling on official orders home from Afghanistan, why was he originating in El Paso, TX (and flying to Austin via Houston)? Was this a stopover on the way home? Second, the U.S. government pays for baggage. Was he also too lazy just to submit a receipt for reimbursement?
Maybe it is because I am coming down with a horrible cold, but I find myself remarkably unsympathetic to Rader this afternoon.
(H/T View from the Wing)