UPDATE Nov. 4, 2011: Terri Weissinger’s ordeal took place in back in April, but a US Airways representative says the woman did not reach out to them at that time to complain (apparently, the first the airline heard about the eight-day airport saga was from recent media reports). The airline rep also notes that US Airways offered Weissinger a full refund for the flight and bag fees, but that she has so far rejected the airline’s attempts to have a conversation about this (“And that’s her prerogative,” says the rep). Meanwhile, US Airways says it is also trying to get in touch with the church group that bailed her out, in order to reimburse them as well.
EARLIER: By now you have heard the sad story of Terri Weissinger who “dreamed of leaving California and starting her life over in Idaho” and decided to fly to her dream destination with two suitcases. One can only hope she got a cheap flight because the whole trip almost immediately went sour.
It was the bag fees. She was broke and had never heard of bag fees.
Who’s to Blame: Airline or Passenger?
Problem: Weissinger, who said she only had $30 to her name, claimed she had no idea bag fees had become standard. She said she hadn’t flown in years. Here’s what her airline, US Airways, charged her:
- $25 for a first checked bag
- $35 for a second checked bag
The $60 each-way fee for two bags is standard for many airlines, but Weissinger could not afford it. She also had a standard, nonrefundable ticket, so when she missed her flight, she could pay neither the $150 change fee or the cost of a new ticket. So what did she do?
She wandered the San Francisco airport for eight days, before a church group finally bailed her out.
Questions for the Passenger:
- Even if you haven’t flown lately, bag fees have been big news. You heard none of the buzz?
- There was no one who could give you $30?
- You had no friends/family that could put you up for the night?
Questions for the Airline:
- Do you get a lot of “sob stories” like this one?
- Is there any wiggle room in your rules/regulations that lets you help such passengers?
- Should this case been bumped up to a supervisor to deal with, and if it wasn’t, why not?
How the Passenger and Airline Should have Resolved This Case:
Some suggestions on what should have or could have been done:
Bring in the big guns:The passenger or the airline should have called in a supervisor to discuss the problem. Perhaps they could have worked something out (and maybe this was tried, but our calls to US Airways have yet to be returned Editor’s note: see update above).
It might have been worth it to US Airways to pay the bag fees to avoid the horrendous publicity. On the other hand, they may know that stories like these eventually get buried by the latest Kardashian divorce news.
Contact a charity: The church group that ponied up the money for Weissinger was based at the airport. It would have been nice if the airline directed her to them (or if she had thought to ask if such help was available). Also, the Salvation Army is famous for cutting through red tape to help people in tight spots. A call to that organization might have been helpful.
[Editor's note: Journalism ethics preclude reporters from "becoming part of a story," but some media types do not always follow this rule. Why couldn't one of them slipped this woman a little cash? Once the story had played out, that is.]