Logic lost on luggage rules

CHIANG RAI, 30 May 2018: Seamless connections suggest the absence of speed bumps; just a pleasant experience changing gauge at an airport without a worry in the world.

The popular term suggests an entire airline community is synchronised perfectly to transfer you painlessly to your final destination.

It rarely works that way. Airlines love to talk us through it, but the reality for passengers is often quite the opposite. You are more likely to encounter rough edges, bumps and even a pothole or two and one big hassle focuses on baggage.

When we check out seamless connectivity baggage wise, we discover that it is not all what it is cracked up to be, even if the promises are delivered by sophisticated airline alliances.

Seamless connections between flights should work if the connections are within the same airline group. They share the same owners so creating a seamless connection should be simple. The hassles seem to occur when there is mix of international and domestic flights. Apparently, nobody has the faintest idea which baggage allowance applies – domestic or international?

I live in Chiang Rai, which means if I am travelling beyond Bangkok I travel on check-through tickets to minimise the hassle of security, immigration and check-in queues at Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports.

I can pass through immigration and security at Chiang Rai airport in five minutes flat and the transit security or immigration check at Suvarnabhumi is rarely crowded. Check-through flights for anyone living in the north, northeast or southern Thailand are usually hassle-free, but not always seamless.

Airlines that should know better forget that baggage allowances differ. If you want seamless check-through connections then at least make sure passengers enjoy the same baggage allowance for the entire trip.

I was ticketed on Thai Airways International to Singapore with the international flight on the brand new A350, but the Chiang Rai-Bangkok sector is served by its fully owned subsidiary Thai Smile that flies A320s.  There is a big difference in economy class leg room on these two aircraft.

But it was the 10 kg difference in baggage allowance between domestic Thai Smile and the THAI regional flight that ultimately sabotaged my seamless connectivity.

To be on the safe side I booked and paid for the Thai Smile sector at the Thai International office in Chiang Rai and counter staff gave a ‘smooth as silk’ assurance that Thai Smile would match the 30 kg TG’s baggage allowance valid for the Bangkok-Singapore sector.

It worked fine on the outbound trip. We loaded up with coffee beans, Thai rice, and about every spice known or grown in Chiang Rai to deliver to family in Singapore and topped the luggage scale at 58 kg for the two of us. Smooth as silk door-to-door, except for a backache heaving the luggage into the boot of the taxi.

It didn’t work so smoothly on the return trip from Changi airport. The check-in staff (outsourced company) insisted that the lower Thai Smile baggage allowance applied even for the international sector on THAI. The scale clocked 44 kilograms for the two of us, just 4kg over the Thai Smile limit.

Apparently, check-through passengers forfeit 10 kg of their 30 kg luggage allowance on their international flight just because they are connecting with a Thai Smile flight to a secondary city in Thailand that stipulates a 20 kg limit.

That was the Changi airport’s interpretation. Do you think anyone cared that the ticket clearly stated THAI provided a 30 kg allowance per passenger?

There appears to be a lack lucidity over luggage allowances. Passengers are paying over the odds to fly with the Thai Airways group and one of the reasons is the inclusive features. Passengers deserve better. In this case the Thai Smile domestic fare was double the fare charged by a low-cost airline even when a baggage surcharge was included.

Obviously, the ground handling company contracted by THAI at Changi Airport is exceptionally keen to achieve its targets for excess baggage revenue even when it borders on absurdity.

The lack of common sense must play havoc with tourists who travel from Europe on TG. They roll up with 30 kg of luggage for their grand Asian holiday only to be told that they have to cut it back to 20 kg because they are connecting with a Thai Smile domestic flight in Bangkok. Or is this state of affairs a quark of the ground handling company in Changi airport?

It’s a potential pain-point for the passenger and also for ground handling agents assigned to THAI flights, who may not have been properly briefed on check-through travel to Thai domestic cities.

Back in Bangkok, Thai Smile ground staff affirmed that travellers connecting from a THAI international flight to a domestic Thai Smile flight are entitled to a 30 kg baggage allowance for the entire end-to-end journey as long as they are check-through transit passengers.

So poor marks for seamless travel that relies on promises that are invalidated because outsource staff are not singing from the same chorus sheet. Can’t blame them entirely for that. I didn’t spot a single THAI staff in the check-in area, or at the gate, so the outsourced were definitely alone to sing from any old hymn sheet.