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Let’s get angry (Image : Tina Tiller)
Let’s get angry (Image : Tina Tiller)

OPINIONSocietyNovember 27, 2020

It’s time to get angry about excess baggage fees 

Let’s get angry (Image : Tina Tiller)
Let’s get angry (Image : Tina Tiller)

After hearing how much Jetstar charges if you try to travel with a heavy carry-on bag, Stewart Sowman-Lund gets good and mad on behalf of those who have been forced to fork out.

There’s nothing more satisfying than beating the system at its own game. Not paying for parking and not getting a ticket, not getting ID’d when you’re under 18, piling on heaps of clothes when you go through airport security. 

What’s not satisfying is when you’re caught. Which brings me to Jetstar, the airline equivalent of an unlikeable second cousin: you typically see them once a year, usually over the holiday period, but only because you’re forced to. They’re probably late. They don’t give you a Cookie Time cookie either. That one’s probably more airline specific, but I stand by my analogy.

Anyway, this isn’t 800 words of Jetstar critique, although I probably have it in me. It’s about a very specific bone that I have to pick with everyone’s second favourite domestic airline: excess baggage charges.

It started with a message from The Spinoff’s food editor Alice Neville who travelled on Jetstar, presumably by mistake, down to Beervana in Wellington last weekend.

“I made it but got stung $65 for hand luggage being over 7kg aaaaaaah Jetstar,” she wrote, upon boarding her flight.


Aaaaaaah Jetstar.

Anyone who knows me personally will know how threatened I am by basically any fine or fee. I’m someone who will fight any parking infringement as though my life depends on it. Got snapped driving in a bus lane? I’ll offer you my very best pro bono efforts to get you out of it. Speeding ticket? Sure, I’ll give it a crack. 

I spend an inordinate amount of time seething on behalf of other people about costs. My sleep paralysis demon takes the form of a parking warden. 

So when I heard Alice’s harrowing tale of Jetstar injustice, I felt personally affronted. I’d heard whispers of people being charged for heavy carry-on, but never thought it would be a reality. And it’s not an isolated incident: several Spinoff employees have reported being similarly targeted in recent weeks, as has one of my friends. Anecdotal evidence would suggest these harsh punishments are currently being given out on the reg by Jetstar in Auckland, with employees weighing every piece of hand luggage one by one.

What makes this $65 fee such an attack on basic human rights is that it is revenue gathering in its most blatant form. There is no apparent justification for its existence, other than to make Jetstar a buck. It seems as if it’s there simply to punish you for forgetting to weigh your luggage before going to the airport; a penalty for your own lack of forethought when packing for a trip.

It also breaks the social contract upheld by practically all other airlines that if you have a carry-on bag and a laptop bag, they don’t get weighed together. Obviously, if you’ve packed your bag with rocks, bricks, and bars of pure gold and lead you probably deserve to pay a little bit more. But getting pinged for deciding to pack an extra pair of sneakers feels downright offensive.

Jetstar may tell you that because your bag weighs 7.1kg it needs to be taken down to the luggage hold. But there is no world in which $65 worth of labour is required to carry a bag down a flight of stairs. And if a 7.1kg bag is too heavy to bring into the cabin, why is it not also too heavy to be placed in the luggage hold? Alternatively – which is even worse – they’ll slap you with the fine but still let you take your bag onboard with you because, you know, why the hell not. It’s the monetary equivalent of taking candy from a baby, then eating the candy.

It also punishes women for being less likely to have pockets, requiring them to carry around their personal belongings in a handbag. I don’t see men getting asked to weigh their bulky coats. 

With Christmas fast approaching, I ask Jetstar to look deep within its corporate soul and think about how much cheer it could give back to the people by wiping this unnecessarily punitive cost. 

Just think of what can be bought with $65. You could get your mum a ticket to see Marlon Williams live at the Leigh Sawmill. Gift your aunt and uncle two copies of The Spinoff Book, with $9 leftover for a work secret santa. You could fill up my 2007 Honda Fit with 91 octane (after using the AirPoints discount, of course).

A world of possibilities opens with $65.

A Jetstar spokesperson told me the allowance rules for carry on are “very clear to customers on the website, pre-departure emails and communications”. They’re probably correct. Somehow, it doesn’t make me any less angry.

“Aaaaaaah Jetstar” indeed. 

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