SAN FRANCISCO -- No matter how many 10-minute massage parlors and Wolfgang Puck vending machines they install to entertain weary travelers, getting stranded in an airport for even a few hours is rarely a pleasant experience.
For Terri Weissinger, who was trapped in San Francisco International Airport for over a week, it was nothing short of a nightmare.
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With only $30 to her name, the Sonoma native was virtually broke and looking to start afresh in Idaho. She booked a ticket from San Francisco to the Gem State on the travel website Orbitz but, because she purchased her ticket before a new federal law went into effect requiring ticket brokers to disclose all hidden fees, Weissinger was unaware of the extra $60 U.S. Airways would charge at the airport to check her two bags.
Weissinger offered to pay the fee once she got to her destination or leave one of her bags behind; however, U.S. Airways personnel refused, citing airline policy for denying her former request and airport security regulations for denying the latter.
While attempting to resolve her situation, Weissinger missed her plane—thereby racking up another $150 in fees.
Weissinger ended up spending eight stressful days living in the terminal and sleeping in an out-of-the-way stairwell. She was treated for anxiety at the airport medical clinic. When she attempted to plead with airport authorities for help, she was threatened with arrest on vagrancy charges.
"[It's] ridiculous," said Weissinger to ABC 7. "I couldn't believe it sometimes, you know, it's just incredibly ridiculous situation to be in."
Out of options, Weissinger saw a listing for the nearby Airport Church of Christ in a phone book and placed a call. Moved by her situation, the church quickly raised the necessary $210 to get Weissinger out of her predicament and on her way.
When ABC 7 asked U.S. Airways about Weissinger's situation, the airline responded: "We have apologized to Ms. Weissinger for her experience, but unfortunately are unable to offer a refund. When you purchase a non-refundable ticket, you accept the terms and conditions. If a passenger cannot travel with their bags, they need to make other arrangements."
Airline fees have spiraled in recent years as sites like Orbitz and Travelocity have allowed customers to instantly compare ticket prices between competing airlines. The easy access to this information has pushed airlines to offer cheaper ticket prices up front, ensuring their results appear closer to the top of any given search. As a result, they are relying more heavily on additional fees popping up later in the ticketing process to make up a larger portion of their revenue.
Airlines have blamed increased fuel costs as the reason behind increasing both the number and severity of these additional fees. The Los Angeles Times reports:
The country's largest airlines collected $1.5 billion in fees from checked luggage and reservation change charges in April, May and June, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
In the last few days, several airlines have released new earnings reports that show higher fuel costs have cut into what otherwise would have been healthy profits.
The luggage shipping service Luggage Forward has provided this helpful chart for how much each airline charges for checked luggage. U.S. Airways charges $25 for the first bag, $35 for the second and $125 for the third.
According to an investigation by USA Today, the highest single baggage fee ($450 per bag) is charged by American Airlines for checking an overweight checked bag on certain international flights.
Some other lesser known fees charged by various airlines include ones for blankets and pillows, carry-on luggage, making reservations by phone and traveling as an unaccompanied minor.