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I-Team: Possible Luggage Fee Overcharging At Logan

By Joe Shortsleeve, Chief Correspondent for WBZ-TV I-Team
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Many of the scales used to weigh luggage at Logan Airport don’t give accurate readings.

A luggage scale at Logan Airport being tested by Boston’s Inspectional Services Department.

WBZ-TV's Joe Shortsleeve Joe Shortsleeve
Joe Shortsleeve is chief correspondent for WBZ-TV News weekdays a...
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BOSTON (CBS) – Fees, fees, and more fees.  That’s the story when it comes flying these days.  The I-Team found travelers might be paying more for their luggage than they should.

After reviewing inspection records over the past two years and accompanying city inspectors on a spot check of the scales at Logan Airport, the I-Team found many of the scales used to weigh luggage don’t give accurate readings.

Once any piece of luggage is over the weight limit today, the fees can add up very fast.

Kendra McGann now travels with a smaller bag after her experience last year.  “My bag was 60 pounds and they wanted to charge me $90,” she exclaimed.

WBZ-TV’s Joe Shortsleeve reports.

It’s now a common sight to see travelers checking in and desperately discarding items to keep their suitcases under 50 pounds.  That tends to be the magic number because once you exceed that threshold the fees add up quickly.

One international traveler at Logan said, “We are in fact very worried about the fees.  And I think we tried to pack so we wouldn’t get any fees.”

George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com said, “It used to be that the airlines weren’t that fastidious about overweight luggage, but they needed more money and now they are.”

The airline industry took in $2.5 billion in all baggage fees thru the first nine months of last year. That’s an increase of 23% from the same period in 2009.

That makes an accurate scale more important ever.  Just a few ounces over, and you could pay big bucks.

Boston’s Inspectional Services Department makes an annual surprise check to make sure the scales at Logan are accurate.  As we went thru Terminal E with their inspectors, they found 9 of the 23 scales operated by the Massport failed and condemned them.

One operated by Southwest also failed to meet appropriate standards.

Inspector Brian Oliver slapped one condemned sticker after another on these faulty machines, at one point saying, “There’s no confidence this scale is accurate.”

Some of the scales were off by as much as two pounds.  Others didn’t zero out, meaning they were indicating the presence of some weight despite the fact nothing was on the scale.

Massport spokesperson Phil Orlandella, however, told us they check the scales on a daily basis to make sure they are zeroing out.

When asked how more that 30% of the scales could fail if they are examined each day, Orlandella replied, “That’s a good question.  I don’t know the answer to that.  It could be that somebody missed something, or something happened mechanically.”

Inspection reports from the past two years indicate Massport had also been citied for having inaccurate scales due to stickiness or the fact they were broken.

Bob McGrath, the Assistant Commissioner for Weights and Measures for Inspectional Services, told us he isn’t buying the explanation these scales are well taken care of.  He added, “These scales take a lot of abuse and that means they should have regular maintenance, and it shouldn’t be ‘wait for the inspector to show up’ to indentify the problem in order to get it fixed.”

Faulty scales aren’t just a problem at Logan Airport.  Other airports have been failing these tests as well, which means you could be overcharged twice.  Once when you leave, and once on your way home.

And the results can vary.  In Los Angeles, a recent report found 94% of the scales passed inspection, while just 73% did in Ontario.

Hobica said, “The airlines are making a lot of money with overweight bags.”

He showed us a chart found on his site which lists the fees and penalties for each airline.  For example, a bag which weights more that 70 pounds can cost an additional $120 at one airline.

Hobica actually travels with his own personal scale to make sure he’s not overcharged because of a faulty scale.

Although the total amount of money customers could be overcharged is hard to estimate, Hobica said it could be tens of thousands of dollars from each airport.

He added that it’s not uncommon these days to actually pay more for your luggage than your actual ticket.

Massport officials told the I-Team tests conducted in other parts of the airport delivered better results than what we witnessed with the ISD.

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