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Updated Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 10:58 AM

Airline code-share brings sky-high luggage fee | Travel Troubleshooter

By Christopher Elliott
Tribune Media Services

Q: I traveled to Europe on a code-share flight between Delta Air Lines and KLM. Before I left the United States, I carefully checked the size and weight restrictions for my two bags on both the Delta and KLM websites, because I’m an artist and I needed to take rolls of paper with me. I made sure my bags complied.

The trip from Portland, Ore., to Copenhagen, Denmark went off without a hitch; I paid $50 to check a second bag. However, on the flight from Toulouse, France, to Portland, Ore., I had to pay 200 euros (about $267) for the second bag. When the gate agent saw my second bag, she declared it “too long,” she never measured it. Although the flight was on KLM, the airport staff worked for Air France. There was no KLM or Delta presence that I could find in that airport.

When I landed in Portland, I immediately sought a Delta agent and had the bag measured. That agent put a note in the file that the bag in question was within their size limits.

I called Delta’s customer service line the next day, but instead of issuing the promised refund, that agent told me to write a letter to their office. Since then, I’ve been bounced between Delta, KLM and Air France about my refund, ending with a denial from Air France. Can you help?

A: You shouldn’t have been charged 200 euro for your checked bag. That may have been the Air France policy, but you were flying on KLM, and as you say, its rules were different.

It’s too bad you didn’t take this trip before the new federal regulations went into effect that say the baggage rules of the first carrier apply to your entire flight. Then this would have been a slam-dunk in your favor. A quick, polite email sent to the Transportation Department would have generated a speedy refund from Delta.

But you were trapped in a code-sharing nightmare from which there seemed to be no escape. For those of you just joining us, code-sharing is the questionable practice of one airline selling seats on another airline’s flight. In your case, you bought a ticket on Delta, but the flight was operated by KLM and the airport staff in Toulouse worked for Air France, another Delta code-share partner. (To make things even more complicated, Air France and KLM are owned by the same company, but operate as separate airlines.)

You did the best you could to make sure you complied with the luggage rules, but a difference between Air France’s policy and KLM’s tripped you up. When you contacted Delta, which sold you the ticket, for help, it punted to KLM, which in turn passed the buck to Air France.

Confused yet?

I hope the new federal baggage rules will help, but I can’t be certain. What does an Air France ticket agent in Toulouse care about how the American DOT will handle a luggage complaint for a code-share partner? If you said “probably not much at all” then you must know the airline industry.

I contacted Delta, which, unsurprisingly, referred the matter to Air France. After some more back-and-forth, the airline agreed to refund the 200 euro it erroneously charged you when you left France.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance. His column runs twice a week at seattletimes.com/travel. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.


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