DEAR TRAVEL TROUBLE SHOOTER: I recently booked tickets through the Aer Lingus website. When I did, the site only listed that a carry-on was included with the fare, rather than both a carry-on and one checked bag before the final purchase.
I was confused, and I unknowingly added three extra checked bags, which were unnecessary. I overpaid Aer Lingus $449 because it included an additional checked bag for each passenger on my itinerary.
I called Aer Lingus twice on the same date of the ticket purchase and filed an online request that it return the luggage fee. I kept receiving messages that the fee was non-refundable.
I believed Aer Lingus’ online booking was very confusing and deceptive, so I also filed a complaint with the US Department of Transportation (DOT). I received no further information from the DOT other than acknowledgment of my complaint.
I want my $449 back. Can you help me get it?
— Krista O’Brien, New Haven, Connecticut
ANSWER: Aer Lingus should have been clear about what was included in your fare. Most longer international flights include a checked bag, so maybe it’s assumed everyone knew — but everyone did not know.
Your case raises several important issues. First, there’s the issue of an airline intentionally making its booking interface confusing in a way that benefits it. This is most common with seat assignments. If you have an airline ticket, you have a seat. The airline will try to sell you a seat assignment, meaning you get to choose where you sit. But sometimes it leaves you with the impression that you don’t have a seat at all. That’s a deceptive booking interface.
Did Aer Lingus have a deceptive interface? I couldn’t check because doing so would require that I buy a ticket, which I don’t need. But I believe you when you say you’re confused. I don’t know if the confusion was intentional. It might have been, and maybe that’s something for the DOT to investigate.
The second issue is the refundability of fees. Already, the DOT says your airfare must be refundable if you cancel within 24 hours, unless it’s a week or less than a week before your trip. So, why not apply the same rule to fees?
And, finally, there’s the fee itself. Every plane ticket should include a seat, a checked bag and, on longer flights, something to eat and drink. And if you think the latter is a luxury, you should have been on a budget airline flight from Madrid, Spain to Buenos Aires, Argentina where they tried to sell us breakfast and drinks at the end of a 13-hour flight. I’m surprised there wasn’t a riot on board.
Remember, if you can’t make progress with the lower-level contacts at an airline like Aer Lingus, you can always take your complaint to the top. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the customer service executives of Aer Lingus on my consumer advocacy site.
I contacted Aer Lingus on your behalf. A representative respondent to me. “We have reviewed Ms. O’Brien’s case,” she told me. “Our terms and conditions for baggage fees are non-refundable. However, as a gesture of goodwill, we have refunded her luggage fees.”
I’m not sure I would call that a gesture of goodwill, more like the right thing to do.
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a non-profit organization that helps consumers solve their problems. Email him at [email protected] or get help by contacting him at elliottadvocacy.org/help/.
(c) 2023 Christopher Elliott
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