Why Can’t Airlines Just Follow Their Published Policies?

Filed Under: American, Iberia

I’m just headed back to the US after an amazing long weekend in Madrid. While I flew out there with only carry-ons, I’m returning with some checked bags. Or more accurately, with three boxes (bonus points to anyone who can guess what’s in them).


For my journey home I’m flying from Madrid to London in Iberia economy, connecting to a London to Los Angeles flight in American business class.

American allows business class passengers and Executive Platinum members to check three bags free of charge.


While my first flight was with Iberia, I know that within an alliance there’s a policy whereby you get the highest baggage allowance on the itinerary when multiple airlines are involved.

While I knew that was a policy, I figured I’d see if I could find it in writing online. After all, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s to never assume airline employees know the rules.

As luck would have it, Iberia’s website has a section which addresses exactly the situation I was in (bolding mine):

If your ticket includes an Iberia flight and a flight with another airline, the baggage allowance of the company that operates the most significant flight will apply. If Iberia is the first company, the allowance that appears on the ticket will apply. If you bought separate tickets with different airlines, the baggage allowance of the respective operator will apply to each ticket.


Perfect! The policy is in writing with both American and Iberia, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, I went to check-in at the Madrid Airport this morning in the business class line, and the agent was super friendly. But he was also super confused when I placed three boxes on the belt. He explained I could only take two bags — the standard allowance of one bag, plus an additional bag for being a oneworld Emerald member. I pushed back a bit and showed him the rules published on Iberia’s website.


His English wasn’t great, so he said he just needed to check with his supervisor, so he asked me to walk with him over to the Iberia business class ticketing desk. There he conversed with the supervisor for a couple of minutes, and they informed me “sorry, only two bags.”


I showed the supervisor Iberia’s policy in writing, which stated the baggage allowance for the most “significant” segment applies, and then showed her American’s baggage allowance.

She explained that if I were in Iberia business class from Madrid to London then I could check three bags but since I wasn’t, two bags was the maximum. She asked if I had upgraded, and when I stated I did, she asked why I didn’t also upgrade from Madrid to London, in which case this wouldn’t have been an issue.

The agent and supervisor were both extremely friendly about it, but I once again pressed them on the written policy.

At this point they called over a third person, who was apparently the ticketing supervisor’s supervisor. I once again showed her the website. The three of them talked for a while, and then they all nodded. The original agent who helped me walked back to the business class check-in desk with me, and said “since many passengers today only have hand baggage, we will make an exception this time. But next time only two bags.”

Bottom line

This is simply a good reminder that no matter how clearly the rules are published, it doesn’t mean they’ll be followed. It always pays to print out “proof” of the rules, but even then it’s not fool-proof. In this instance all three staff were genuinely friendly and were trying to help, but it seemed their system wasn’t easily allowing them to check three bags.

Admittedly airline rules aren’t all that simple, but the amount of misinformation among airline employees never ceases to amaze me.

  1. Jamon Iberico? 🙂

    Your post is a good reminder to carry paper. We use Tripit and have all sorts of information stored on our little devices, but we still print out such documents as flight and hotel reservations (and prices). It makes for a thickish folder but it’s come in handy for us more than once.

  2. When moving back to the US a couple of years ago, we were in Y class on BA TXL-LHR, and J class LHR-JFK and F class JFK-DCA. Between my wife and 2 kids and me we had 11 bags. BA check in agent in Berlin insisted we were only entitled to 5 bags (1 bag apiece and 1 extra because I was an AA EP). I protested vigorously but to no avail, even though website clearly showed we should be entitled to the 3 bags per pax + 1 extra as an EP due to the connecting premium flight. I paid around $1000 in excess baggage charges.

    To add insult to injury, we missconnected at JFK and were rerouted out of LGA in Y class on USAirways (which at the time was a separate non-Oneworld airline). We got nailed for a ton of excess baggage there too.

    I called the AA EP line and got a refund for the US Airways charges, as well as some vouchers for the involuntary downgrade. However, for BA I was out of luck as those charges were imposed and collected by BA in Berlin. AA tried to help, but with radio silence from Europe, after a couple of months I just gave up.

    I’ve done my best not to give any revenue to BA since.

  3. Chris – did you try to file a complaint with your credit card bank? I’ve found Chase to be remarkably good about things like this. You can do the whole thing online, including uploading supporting documentation, and Chase has always decided in my favor. I’m not sure about other banks, but I suspect it’s similar.

  4. If you put items in the custody of Iberia, and they arrived where and when you expected, you should regard anything else as a bonus. I’m sure their reluctance with letting you check three bags is that the likelihood of all three making it where they were supposed to is so extremely low they didn’t want to be exposed. At least with two, they had a puncher’s chance.

  5. Good idea. Totally going to use this. I’m thinking it might have been a bit easier if you’d had the time to print that same section of the website in the local language rather than English…

  6. This doesn’t seem clear to me at all. The “most significant” flight could mean anything. It doesn’t necessarily mean the longest flight or the intercontinental flight. It could mean the first flight, or the flight in the highest cabin, or something else.

    In fact the next line of the policy says “If Iberia is the first company, the allowance that appears on the ticket will apply.” Again, not clear, but I would interpret that to mean that if the first leg of your trip is on Iberia, then whatever is the baggage allowance of the company that issued your ticket would apply. If this was a ticket issued by AA, then AA’s policy would apply; if it was issued by Iberia, then Iberia’s would apply.

  7. Merely a dry observation – it is funny to me how you want this airline to follow their published guidelines, but were perfectly happy to have US Air not follow their guidelines when booking award tickets.

    In the long run, you’ve managed to get way more out of the airlines by not following the guidelines, so it seems silly to complain about this situation.

  8. I always thought that the baggage policy of the check-in carrier applies (i.e., if I am checking in with IB, their baggage policy applies, etc.). Seems like I could be wrong?

  9. Interesting report, and while I’m sure you planned your trip to get to LA as best as you could, it would have been nice to see a TR featuring a new airline like Iberia in long distance premium.

    And while the TR on Emirates First are nice, it would be nice to see you bite the bullet and fly them long haul in business class too, just to compare them to Qatar and Etihad in business…

  10. It seems to be the same with the issue of oneWorld separate tickets.
    AY rep tweeted me that AY will treat two separate tickets (AY + oneWorld) as one. I definitely will keep that as a proof if something goes wrong. Have gotten contradictory info from different persons…

  11. Here’s a thought: we’re always reading and posting about our communications with Oneworld members but nobody’s communicating with Oneworld themselves. They are an entity and they make promises. Has anyone ever held them to account?

    In this instance, it’s Oneworld that has made a promise about the conduct of its members.

  12. I must say I agree with Phil above. I read Iberia’s T&C’s to mean that as they were the “first” flight their rules would apply. Overall the situation is unclear – but I wouldn’t rely on other Oneworld members just joining in with AA’s more generous policy. But then to be fair that’s the point of this article!

  13. Box: My first idea was wine – but then you had had quite a lot of trouble at the customs in US.

  14. Ben, I don’t mean to stereotype but I’ve noticed that the Spanish, (though the Spanish are nice and friendly) could give a lesser s*** and are kind of lazy AF.

    I was in Barcelona recently and bought a shirt from Zara but noticed that they forgot to remove the security tag. I returned to the store the next day to get it removed, before I had to leave for the airport, an hour before opening. The supervisor was extremely reluctant to help me and I had to beg her for her help. It was basically pulling teeth. I also did not like how she made excuses like the cash register wouldn’t work until opening nor would the door (she opened the door eventually). Long story short, she removed the tag after some time of begging.

    I’m sorry to hear that you had to experience such reluctant service. But from experience in general, customer service in Spain is not the best.

  15. Good luck flying Iberia. I could not expect them to know their own rules. You are probably bringing wine since you are not allowed to bring jamon.

  16. Very fragile…
    Something bottled.
    Or a lamp or something like that.
    Or maybe you smuggled your parents and Ford?

  17. Are both flights on the same PNR, or separate PNR? If they are separate PNR, then that might have caused the confusion, since the agent would have to manually waive the third bag.

  18. @snic – good idea for next time but I didn’t. It’s 2 years ago at this point, so just money lost. So aggravating!

  19. This would have gone very differently in Japan. I’m not sure how it would have ended, but it would have been different.

  20. Ben,

    As bad as that was imagine if you were connecting via Aeroflot to Delta… two charter members of the world’s unholiest Airline Alliance– SkyReam.

    Seriously, I run into this all the time between SAS and UAL… for all the $$ they throw at these marketing alliances, you’d think they would train on the unified rules for these connections that are supposed to be so easy-and-seamless.

  21. Chocolate.
    Lucky, what type of German person who lives in the US NOT bring back German chocolates for are your friends and family! (Yes I know you were in Madrid)

  22. If it’s jsmon, it won’t be let into the U.S. (If you are filling out the customs forms correctly).

    True of any meat product (not in a can).

  23. Since your travel is to/from the USA, and/or the ticket was purchased in the USA, thankfully the airlines are subject to the DOT’s requirement that the baggage allowance that applies to your journey be disclosed in your ticket, a requirement made law in 14 CFR 399.85 https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/399.85.

    If you had your ticket with you, it would have been a no brainer to refer to it.

    Do keep in mind that if you had a ticket for MAD-LON and a separate one LON-xxx, then those are two separate journeys, and each ticket would have its own baggage allowance printed on it.

    Please take a look at the ticket; if the allowance on ticket doesn’t match what’s on the website, then you MUST file a complaint with the DOT so the airlines put some resources in stopping this deception. As you know, complaining to the airline does nothing, but an enforcement order will be read by all airlines and all will take actions as a result of it. You can see a list of former shenanigans that we’re no longer subjected to as a result of DOT orders at https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/baggage-optional-fees

    Incidentally, IATA has recently made the “BAG” data item on the ticket mandatory, so 100% of IATA tickets will show the bag allowance, even those that are not subject to DOT rules.

  24. Lucky,

    re-read what you quoted from Iberia’s page.

    “If Iberia is the first company, the allowance that appears on the ticket will apply…’

    My guess is that this is why they only allowed two…

  25. @Anonymous “If you had your ticket with you, it would have been a no brainer to refer to it..Please take a look at the ticket”

    You can’t look at a ticket. A ticket is just an entry in a database on a computer system the public doesn’t have access to. A ticket isn’t some physical object that you can carry around.

    Perhaps you have been smoking the wacky tobacco or something when you wrote, “if you had your ticket with you.” How could a database entry be “with you?”

  26. Does this now mean, the Iberia Front Counter reps may make this a big issue and tell corporate office, so that they can change the terms and policies, so that extra baggage won’t be covered in this situation? or do you think this policy will stay in the long run?

  27. Interesting but isn’t the policy contradictory?

    “If your ticket includes an Iberia flight and a flight with another airline, the baggage allowance of the company that operates the most significant flight will apply. If Iberia is the first company, the allowance that appears on the ticket will apply.”

    Premise: If Iberia and another airline, Then “the highest allowance”.
    Premise: If Iberia is the first leg of the trip, Then “Iberia’s allowance, which may not be the highest”.

    The text should be changed from “If Iberia is the company…” to “However, if Iberia is the first company…”

  28. Confusion here seems to be regarding ‘most significant carrier’, which to the Iberia ground agents seemed to mean the MAD-LHR sector. Perhaps next time you should print out the IATA definition of ‘most significant carrier’ too 😉

  29. ‘If Iberia is the first company, the allowance that appears on the ticket will apply.’

    That’s the next line

    Does that mean that as Iberia is the first airline you’re using for this journey, the allowance on your ticket will Apple

  30. Cannot be meat (not allowed).

    So my 3 guesses: leather goods, wine, or olive oil (or a combination of the 3).

  31. What’s the Spanish language version of the policy? I wonder if “most significant” is a mistranslation.

  32. At least you were able to have the conversation with them. The year before last I tried to check in with my extra piece at AA in MIA and the checkin agent REFUSED to even look at the documentation I supplied. She then threatened to not allow me on the flight unless I paid an excess charge. Guess who I don’t fly tatl anymore?

  33. Hi, I bought a ticket for Europe in business for this summer. I bought with AA but my first two flight are with Iberia, and this is my problem. When I bought the tickets they told me that I can bring 3 luggage up to 32 kg, but Iberia said 3 up to 23kg. I called AA and they confirmed The 32kg allowance and so is on my reservation but Iberia said no. What do you suggest that I can do? Any advice? Thank you.

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