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Case studies - Complaint against excess baggage fees

Getting stung with a charge for excess baggage is something that would irritate many of us – especially when you’ve taken the trouble to pack carefully to avoid an excess baggage charge.

That’s the situation Dr Richard Jakeman and his wife faced when flying with Qantas to Sydney in 2010.

Arriving at Heathrow Airport, the couple discovered that the flight check-in was operated by British Airways.

They wanted to check in three bags between them, but were told that the check-in baggage allowance was limited to just one piece of baggage each. Confident that Qantas’ terms and conditions had no limit on the number of bags, just the weight, Richard complained to the BA check-in staff.

However, British Airways was adamant there was a limit so Richard had no option but to pay a £40 surcharge. No excess baggage charge was made on the return flight.

When the couple returned home, Richard checked Qantas’ terms and conditions again and they clearly indicated the weight allowance. However, no mention was made of the number of cases that could be checked in. Richard complained to Qantas.

Several emails later with no satisfactory response from the airline, Richard telephoned Which? Legal for advice on what steps he could take to get his money back.

Which? Legal advice

We explained that, although he could issue proceedings in the small claims court, he first needed to send a formal pre-action letter, giving the company a time limit within which to respond.

Qantas failed to respond within the time given and we therefore advised Richard on how to issue a claim in the small claims court.

Richard issued proceedings against Qantas.


The airline subsequently wrote to the court stating that it had misunderstood the issue and agreed that the luggage was in fact within their weight allowance. It reimbursed Richard the excess baggage charge and his court costs of £25.

Legal points

The Civil Procedure Rules set out what parties to a potential claim should do before proceedings are issued – this is known as the Pre-Action Conduct.

The Court expects all parties to have complied with those Rules and any relevant pre-action protocols, which set out the steps that must be taken in certain types of proceedings.

There is no specific protocol such as this in most consumer cases, but the rules still give guidance on pre-action procedure, the Civil Procedure rules actions you must take before proceedings, and set out what must be in a claimant’s letter before making a formal claim.

Which? Legal can help you take the necessary steps to resolve your issue and make sure you have complied with pre-action protocol if you need to take the matter further.