By Travel columnist
updated 2/24/2006 7:15:42 PM ET 2006-02-25T00:15:42

Brent Gaubatz's big bin gets to Atlanta without a hitch. But on the return flight, AirTran bags Gaubatz with a $65 oversize luggage fee -- for the same piece of luggage. Are the agents using different measuring tapes in Atlanta? Or is AirTran selectively enforcing its luggage policies? And will Gaubatz ever see his $65 again?

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Q: I recently flew from Orlando to Atlanta on AirTran with two checked bags. One of the items was a large bin, but the ticket agents allowed me to check it without so much as a raised eyebrow.

On my return flight, I wasn’t so fortunate. This time, an agent told me the bin was “oversize” and that I had to pay a $65 fee.

Before flying, I checked the AirTran site for luggage size restrictions, and I measured the bin. It was within the carrier’s size limits. At the gate, the AirTran associates measured it three times — and each time they came up with a different number.

This doesn’t make sense. Why would AirTran allow me to fly one way with a bag but not let me return with it? I’ve tried talking to customer service, and aside from being a little rude, they won’t budge an inch.

If I had been told in Orlando that the bin was too big, I could have made other arrangements. But once I got to Atlanta, it was too late. I think AirTran owes me $65. Can you help me get my money back?

— Brent Gaubatz, Orlando

A: If your bag wasn’t oversize, then AirTran shouldn’t have charged you $65. That’s a pretty open-and-shut case, if you ask me.

Then again, when it comes to luggage, nothing is ever an open-and-shut case.

Passengers, as a matter of course, try to take all their earthly belongings on the plane with them. Sometimes, that literally includes the kitchen sink. Yes, I’ve spoken with flight attendants who swear they’ve seen it (also microwave ovens, TVs, computers — the list goes on and on).

I think you could have easily avoided this confrontation. Rather than packing an enormous bin, why not split your luggage between two large bags? How much more effort would that have taken?

If you needed to take the bin, you should have anticipated the trouble. Printing out the luggage restrictions from AirTran’s Web site, chapter and verse, would have been helpful. You could also have brought your own measuring tape so that you could independently verify the dimensions of your bin.

AirTran shouldn’t have measured your bin three times, and when it came up with different dimensions, you should have appealed the decision to a manager. Why? Because once an airline takes your money, it is slow to return it. I’m not sure a refund from AirTran would be forthcoming.

I contacted the airline on your behalf, and it took another look at your record. Within a few hours, an airline representative had called you to offer a full refund of your baggage fee.

I think AirTran ultimately did the right thing. And what’s more, it usually does — I can count on one hand the number of AirTran complaints I’ve received since starting this column. So I think your experience was the exception rather than the rule.

Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler's ombudsman and a nationally syndicated columnist who specializes in solving your travel problems. Got a trip that needs fixing? Send him a note or visit his Web site. Your question may be published in a future story. Want to sound off about a story? Try visiting Elliott's forum.

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