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Inaccurate Luggage Scales Could Cost You Big Money

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(credit: Eric Cabanis/AFP/Getty Images)

(credit: Eric Cabanis/AFP/Getty Images)

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David Goldstein

By David Goldstein

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — If you are flying this holiday season, how do you know the luggage scale at the airport is accurate? Before you get hit with big fees, take a look at what we found.

Sue Gibbs’ friends and family went through LAX on vacation to Hawaii. They did not want to get hit with added charges that they did not deserve for overweight luggage.

“They charge you so much once you get here and if you’re one pound over, you’re a goner,” Gibbs said.

But a video that we obtained of a scale at LAX showed a 50-pound weight coming in at 53 pounds and 100-pound weight at 109. A faulty scale like that could cost you big bucks, no matter which airline or airport.

Jessica Windsor and her 8-month-old son Levi checked in their duffle bags at Ontario Airport on their way home to Wyoming after visiting grandma in Murrieta.

“To do a service to the public, I think it would be nice to know the scales were right on and weighing in correctly,” Windsor said.

Before you head off for holidays, toting that overstuffed suitcase, we obtained dozens of pages of inspection reports of airport luggage scales at LAX, John Wayne, Bob Hope and Ontario Airports. Many passed inspection, but it only takes one for you to get hit with big fees.

We found reports of scales labeled abnormal performance; complaints by passengers of incorrect weights that were found to be valid; and some marked RT (red tagged) taken out of service.

All of the counties inspect the scales once a year — it is mandated by law. At LAX there are more than 400 scales and each one has to be certified.

Using weights, Leland Anderson checks the scales for the county.

“Twenty five in the middle, perfect.” Anderson said confirming a test.

The test involves big weights, like 250 pounds, to the smallest increments.

“We’re going to add one tenth of a pound — goes right to 50,” Anderson said referring to a scale during an inspection.

If they pass they get a county seal, but some flunk the weigh in.

“Scales are not perfect. They’re electrical devices subjected to wear and tear, abuse, several people standing on them at once, pushing it around all day,” Anderson said.

He took a video of a Delta scale at LAX last February. It registered 6 pounds with nothing on it and 53 pounds with a 50-pound weight. That might not sound like much, but 3 pounds over the 50 pound limit on delta would cost you $90 in overweight baggage charges.

So here is what you need to know before flying. According to the reports, 94 percent of the scales at LAX passed routine inspection; 98 percent at John Wayne airport; 100 percent at Bob Hope; but only 73 percent passed inspection at Ontario Airport.

Some flunked for accuracy, others mechanical problems and a few even came in underweight in favor of passengers. All were eventually corrected.

Here are the numbers broken down by the major airlines at all four airports, according to the reports we obtained.

  • American Airlines: 37 passed, none failed
  • Southwest Airlines: 33 passed, none failed
  • US Airways: 24 passed, one failed
  • United: 66 passed, two failed
  • Delta: 40 passed, 12 failed
  • View All The Numbers

A recent study of baggage fees by the Bureau of Transportation shows Delta has taken in the most money this year — nearly a half billion dollars — and far more than American, which came in second and US Airways, which is third. That includes all money collected for baggage nationwide.

So how do you know if your suitcase is really overweight? They recommend weighing your bag on another scale at the airport before checking in. It should show the exact same amount.

“We would not be paying the extra. No.”

Good advice so your vacation doesn’t get weighed down with heavy fees that you don’t deserve.

“I’d rather spend it on a Mai Tai.”

» Baggage Scale Violations Per Routine Inspection
» Overweight Baggage Penalties By Airline
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