Airport luggage scales lie.
It’s not an uncommon allegation. And sometimes, it’s actually true. Ticket counter weights in Phoenix, Raleigh, N.C., and Seattle have been found to be inaccurate – errors that sometimes enrich the airline.
Baggage fees are big business. In the first three quarters of 2016, carriers collected $3.1 billion in luggage fees, an increase of roughly $300 million from the previous year. Luggage scales are generally regulated at the state level and are subject to inspections quarterly or yearly, depending on their location.
The question isn’t whether airport scales are a little off , but what to do when you’re at the airport and a ticket agent announces that your bag is too heavy.
Your airline immediately sees dollar signs. For example, American Airlines charges just $25 for a checked bag on a domestic flight, but the fee quadruples if your bag weighs more than 50 pounds and doubles again to $200 if it’s over 70 pounds. Do the airline’s costs actually multiply by that much when your bag weighs an extra pound? That’s debatable.
Passengers, on the other hand, see red. They reflexively claim that the airline has its thumb on the scale . But that’s just the start of a peculiar airport game that’s winnable if you know how to play it.
“Delta and American ask you to remove enough to get it under the allotted amount,” says Rich Ruddie, who runs an online consulting firm in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “And, of course, Southwest lets your bags fly free.”