This edition of the Reader Mailbag is focused on airline baggage allowances for travelers with disabilities.
About once a week, I’ll dip into the mailbag to answer questions about accessible travel from readers just like you. If you have a question you’d like answered, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today’s question was submitted by Colin from London, England. He asked:
I’m rapidly approaching my 70th birthday and I’m a carer for my wife who has Ataxia and uses a manual wheelchair. This means that when we travel I can only manage one suitcase on wheels which I move with one hand and I manoeuvre the wheelchair with the other.
In my recent experience with TAP Portuguese Airlines the suitcase allowance was 23kg for each [passenger] i.e. a total of 46kg – but our one suitcase weighed in at 30kg.
Now everywhere we have travelled we always end up with an overweight suitcase and the check in clerk always sees and understands the situation, marks the bag as ‘Heavy’ and waves us through. This happened at the TAP desk at London Heathrow on our way out to Portugal, but not on the way back.
On checking in at Lisbon airport we were told either to reduce the weight in our suitcase or pay Excess Baggage of 45 Euros. Despite my protestations we had to pay. Do airlines have a policy on this or is TAP’s uncompromising attitude typical?
No airline policy is set in stone and staff are always given some degree in leeway in enforcing rules. This is true with baggage allowances and fees, even on low-cost-pay-for-everything carriers like Norwegian Air and Spirit Airlines.
Airlines don’t include lessons in human compassion in their employee training and it seems you encountered a TAP check-in agent who was lacking in that department.
Baggage allowances are generally not additive, because there is additional risk involved for airlines transporting larger and heavier bags. That’s why travelers must use their best judgment in packing and, when exceeding the maximum weight, they should make sure the overage is as small as possible.
More often than not, when calmly explaining your situation, airline staff will waive the charges and accept your luggage. In situations like the one you experienced in Lisbon, there is unfortunately no disabled passenger right or airline policy to fall back on, and you’ll have to pay.
In planning for your future travels, there are a few potential solutions worth considering.
First, have you considered packing a second (collapsible) bag inside your suitcase? If necessary, you could pull it out at the check-in counter and transfer some of your belongings into it. You’ll then check two bags under the weight limit, then re-pack into a single bag upon arrival to your destination. Here’s a highly-rated folding duffle bag from Amazon.
Second, there are some wheeled suitcases that are now made with straps for attaching a second, third or even fourth bag. Alternatively, you can buy a strapping kit (Amazon product link) to do this with bags you already have. It will make rolling an extra bag along with your wife’s wheelchair much simpler.
Regarding the €45 you paid in Lisbon, it can’t hurt to contact TAP’s customer relations department to ask for a refund. Hopefully someone in that department has a bit of compassion.