California Woman, Unable to Pay Bag Fees, Stuck in Airport for Eight Days

Terri Weissinger's $30 shortfall turned into eight days of misery in the San Francisco airport.

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George Rose / Getty Images

When Terri Weissinger dreamed of leaving California and starting her life over in Idaho, she apparently had no idea that U.S. Airways would stop her before she even boarded a plane.

But that’s just what happened at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) when Weissinger, who says she’s flat broke, showed up at the airline’s ticket counter with just $30 to her name, expecting to be able to check in two bags free of charge. Huh? Where did she get an idea like that? Well, it turns out that she had not flown in five years.

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When the ticket agent told her that she was short $30, Weissinger asked if they could make an exception, considering she apparently had been living under a rock. Fine, she hadn’t flown in years, but does she watch or read the news or … talk to people? Airline ancillary fees for baggage, food and nearly anything else you can imagine has been a hot-button issue all across the country. Surely, since 2006, she has come across someone complaining about it. To her credit, KGO-TV San Francisco reports that Weissinger booked her flight on Orbitz before a new federal law mandated that ticket brokers disclose hidden fees.

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Weissinger was not allowed to board, even when she offered to leave one bag behind (because I guess she hasn’t heard about security issues recently, either). When she called around to see if she could scrounge up the money from friends or family, she still came up short. By then, she had missed her flight and was told she’d have to pay a $150 change fee to get another flight out to Idaho.

With no one to turn to, she decided to sleep at the airport that night — and unfortunately for her, for the next seven nights, too. When she awoke on the second day, U.S. Airways told her that she’d have to buy a whole new ticket for $1,000.

It’s unclear what kind of situation Weissinger had left behind in the Bay Area. A few questions come to mind: she knew not one person who would spot her $30? Or even let her stay with them until she could figure out how to get another flight? Did she really need to sleep in and roam SFO for eight days like Tom Hanks in a big-budget, low-entertainment movie?

Weissinger’s story does have a happy ending, though. Parishioners at a chapel called The Airport Church of Christ chipped in to get her the money she needed to pay U.S. Airways $150 for the change fee and $60 for the bags. The airline didn’t make an exception about letting her check baggage for free — because, really, do you know many people try that trick every day? — but they did allow her to fly to Idaho without paying the exorbitant $1,000 for a new ticket.

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