CLEVELAND — At a time when the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating what it calls significant mistakes involving the weight of checked bags, Channel 3 News found that 15 percent of the luggage scales tested at Cleveland Hopkins Airport were inaccurate.
Producer Chris Cantergiani and videographer Mike Leonard rigged a bag to weigh exactly 39 pounds. Most airlines have a 50 pound limit. But some set the limit at 40 pounds.
Chris and Mike tested 97 luggage scales at Hopkins, some multiple times. The two found that 15 of the 97 were off the mark. That's more than 15 percent.
Channel 3 requested inspection records from the City of Cleveland's Bureau of Weights and Measures, which is responsible for inspecting the scales. It's a job the city does only once a year.
Channel 3 asked to see the records six times starting in December. Eight weeks later, the city produced five dozen pages of inspections which show that scales were inaccurate about 10 percent of the time in the past three years.
"I think the scales are rigged in favor of the airlines," said Sara Johnson, who was interviewed after landing at Hopkins.
But Channel 3 found seven percent of the scales were actually lighter than their actual weight.
One scale read minus 8 pounds without anything on the scale. Another read 17 with our bag on it, but Delta Airlines said it appears that was the digital readout for kilograms, not pounds. Channel 3 found scales that weighed in favor of the airlines by two to three pounds. One scale said our 39-pound bag weighed 42.5 pounds.
"I want to have drinks on vacation, not pay extra for bags," said Amy Krueger.
A customer complained that a scale at Spirit Airlines did not match the displayed weight at American Airlines outside scale. The consumer said there was a five pound difference.
A passenger named Chris told Channel 3 that the same bag he took to Las Vegas weighed five pounds more than it did in Cleveland.
"Either Cleveland's scale or the Vegas scale was wrong," he said.
Channel 3 reached out to the airlines whose scales were off the mark. They responded quickly saying they inspected the scales and had them re-calibrated.
Most passengers we talked to complained that baggage fees are sky-high. Passengers can be penalized hundreds of dollars for overweight bags, depending on the weight and airline.
The airlines collected $4.5 billion in bag fees in 2017 alone. Virtually every airline bolstered profits with price hikes of up to 25 percent in bag fees.
"I think it's offensive. It's plain greed," said passenger Ben Fagin.