7 On Your Side
Woman gets stuck at SFO for 8 days over baggage fees
In just three months, U.S. Airlines raked in $1.4 billion in fees for checked baggage and ticket changes. For many travelers those fees can be an expensive annoyance, but one caused a whole lot of trouble in the life of a Sonoma County woman.
This woman's story sounds like a movie plot. In fact, she compared her plight to the Tom Hanks movie, "The Terminal," when an unforeseen problem left her stranded in the last place she would ever expect.
Teri Weissinger thought she was flying out of San Francisco International Airport, she couldn't believe she wound up living there.
"I found a little stairway and I lay on the floor and slept there," said Weissinger.
She was stranded in a terminal for eight days and eight nights. It wasn't because of bad weather, it was because of baggage fees.
"That's ridiculous, I couldn't believe it sometimes, you know, it's just incredibly ridiculous situation to be in," said Weissinger.
Weissinger was broke and leaving California to start a new life in Idaho. She had nothing but an airline ticket and $30 in her pocket.
"$30 would get me there, so I thought," said Weissinger.
However, the last time she flew, five years ago, checking a bag was still free. Most travelers are aware of the fees, but so she was shocked when she got up to the ticket counter. U.S. Airways said she had to pay an extra $60.
"$25 for one bag, $35 or another bag," said Weissinger.
She explained she didn't have enough money and asked couldn't she pay when she got there? The airline said no. She offered to leave one bag behind. That was against security rules.
"I started making phone calls to everybody I knew," said Weissinger.
She wound up missing her flight. Now she'd have to pay the bag fees plus $150 in change fees. She couldn't fly out, but had no home to return to either.
"I thought it looks like I might have to stay there tonight," said Weissinger.
At first she didn't panic. She even treated herself to dinner that night, but the next morning her problems grew bigger. U.S. Airways told her she now had to book a new flight -- about $1,000.
"They just claimed we can't do anything, they couldn't help me," said Weissinger.
She spent days wandering the airport, but her cash quickly ran out.
"I was tired, hungry, dirty," said Weissinger.
Weissinger was treated for anxiety at the airport medical clinic. She even asked police for help, but was nearly hauled in for vagrancy.
"The last time she flew, there were no charges. I fly every few weeks and I don't know what the new charges are," said travel attorney Al Anolik.
Consumers have complained about many hidden fees, so federal rules require carriers to disclose them prominently on their websites. But Weissinger was flying in April, before the rules took effect and she says she didn't notice any bag fees when the flight was booked on Orbitz, and the fee does not appear on her itinerary.
Her ordeal finally did end however, when she found the "The Airport Church of Christ." Parishioners paid $210 in fees and Weissinger flew to Idaho.
We asked U.S. Airways about this. It said: "We have apologized to Ms. Weissinger for her experience, but unfortunately are unable to offer a refund. When you purchase a non-refundable ticket, you accept the terms and conditions. If a passenger cannot travel with their bags, they need to make other arrangements."
Orbitz tells us, "For several years, Orbitz has provided details on baggage fees on our site as a resource to our customers."
Weissinger said it was a lot of trouble over a small fee.
"Finally, I was out of there. I was just elated," said Weissinger.
Those new federal rules require fees to be listed within one click away from a homepage on an airline website. Come January, the rules will also require airlines to include government taxes and fees in their advertised fares.
san francisco international airport, 7 on your side, michael finney
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