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Pack light and carry on: Aer Lingus teaches a lesson with baggage fees

Baggage fees can be difficult to decipher (at Aer Lingus, for one). Try packing lighter and carrying on.

I just returned from a vacation in Ireland, with a short break in Paris. I flew American Airlines on the way there and British Airways home. Neither charged for my one checked bag. But I flew Aer Lingus from Dublin to Paris and was charged 50 euros each way (about $130 total) on top of a ticket that cost $300. I was not a happy camper. I know that low-cost carriers are charging bag fees, but I didn't know Aer Lingus was. Moral of the story: You really need to check baggage charges on all airlines when you travel.

Donal McGonagle

Echo Park

 

If there were a prize for complicated baggage fees, Aer Lingus would be a contender. Even if you check its website, you'll need to invest a certain amount of time to do the math that comes with figuring out how much you'll owe.

On its website (under "Travel Information") Aer Lingus trumpets this put-on-a-happy-face language: "As baggage needs vary depending on your destination and duration of travel, we offer you even more choice and flexibility with four baggage options to choose from online."

Those options are by weight: 15 kilos (33 pounds), 20 kilos (44 pounds), 25 kilos (55 pounds) and 40 kilos (88 pounds) in two bags. The cost goes up with the kilo count.

The price then varies depending on where you're flying, when you're flying (Oct. 1-May 31 is cheaper), class of ticket and whether you pay online, through the call center or at the airport.

I'm exhausted, and I haven't even left the ground.

Assuming that flying Aer Lingus is a given, there are two other solutions: shipping ahead (more expensive than the bag fee) and carry-on.

The latter solution comes with this caveat: Airlines have become much stricter about carry-on bags, and if you choose Aer Lingus, you'll be limited to a 21 1/2-by-15 1/2-by-9 1/2-inch carry-on. (Note that some low-cost carriers charge for carry-ons, so be sure to check that too.) Your Aer Lingus "cabin baggage" may not weigh more than 22 pounds.

Wait a minute. I mean, 22 pounds? That's one suit and a pair of dress shoes. Who does that?

Apparently lots of people, judging by baggage fees collected by U.S. airlines, which aren't quite as restrictive on weight as Aer Lingus (but I wouldn't push it).

In 2011, U.S. airlines brought in $3.36 billion in bag fees. In 2012, $3.49 billion. But in 2013, that number dropped to $3.35 billion, all according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Fewer passengers? Nope. The number of air travelers reached a five-year high in 2013.

Can it be that people have seen the light?

At least three I spoke with have.

George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, said the flier must be aware of over-packing.

One of his secrets: "I wash clothes in the sink," he said. "I probably shouldn't tell people that," he added, chuckling.

(Just remember, if you're carrying on laundry detergent, it can't be more than 3 ounces, which makes powdered detergent a better choice, but not my favorite — yes, I've done it — for hand laundry.)

Hobica did cop to taking his dirty clothes to a self-laundry ("There's always a laundry near the hotel") instead of using hotel services, which can be expensive.

Then there's John DiScala, founder of JohnnyJet.com, the all-encompassing travel website. DiScala said he makes about 100 trips a year and checks bags only two or three times. It not only saves money, he said, but also saves time.

He's a big proponent of wearing your heaviest clothing and shoes on the plane. (He recently visited Asia and arrived wearing jeans and carrying a sweat shirt, which he uses on the often-cold aircraft.)

He takes credit for transforming his wife, Natalie, into a light packer. Their first weekend trip together, he said, she brought a trunk. No more. "I've created a monster," he said — a monster who tries to keep him from checking a bag.

Natalie DiScala, the editor of Oh! Travelissima (www.ohtravelissima.com, whose website says it's about "the beauty of travel"), said her husband was exaggerating, although she does acknowledge she may have packed a few too many pairs of shoes.

You have to "make some tough editing decisions," she said, maybe taking "one pair of high heels if you even need them, not multiple pairs." And she's a big proponent of foldable flats.

She likes to roll her clothing into cylindrical shapes — "the tighter the better"— and stays with one color scheme.

"Having that more relaxed attitude [about what she's carrying] allows me to enjoy travels more and stress less" and focus on where you are.

Destinations, she notes, don't care how you dress, and a lighter suitcase and an attitude to match can mean dollars in your pocket and delight in your travels.

 

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