Two United States senators are trying to shame major airlines into dropping their baggage fees this summer.
In an open letter sent to 12 airlines on Wednesday, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., wrote that dropping the fees would reduce wait times in security due to passengers who are taking carry-on luggage.
"(The Transportation Security Administration) has informed us that checkpoints serving carriers that charge baggage fees see 27 percent more roller bags than checkpoints serving carriers that do not charge such fees," the senators wrote.
Airlines began charging customers for luggage in 2008 when American Airlines first introduced a fee. Today, major carriers charge anywhere from $15 to $50 for one checked bag.
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"I never check a bag unless I absolutely have to. It's too expensive. I don't want to pay for it," said traveler Ashley Forrest.
The TSA has already warned customers of exceedingly long lines expected at airports around the country this summer, in part due to staffing and budget issues. Agency spokeswoman Carrie Harmon wrote in a statement that they expect to make improvements to the wait with "more canine use, overtime, and accelerated hiring."
However, Blumenthal and Markey argue the airlines should be doing more themselves by "putting passengers before profit."
"We were staying here for three weeks. I think I may have to pay a bit going back. So, fingers crossed. I'm a little bit nervous," said Geoff Wicks, who was returning to the United Kingdom on Wednesday from North Texas.
At a Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport ticket counter, Wicks' suitcase weighed in about six pounds over the limit. His wife's was six pounds under limit, so they escaped a fee.
But others may not be so lucky.
In response to the letter, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade organization representing principle airlines, said the attention should be on TSA, not baggage fees.
"We believe a better focus would be to urge TSA officials to ensure adequate staffing and equipment is being sent to the airports where they are most needed, and encouraging a more robust effort to register travelers for TSA PreCheck, which would reduce overall security wait time," wrote A4A spokeswoman Jean Medina.
TSA has been trying to promote options, such as PreCheck, to alleviate the wait, but many aren’t interested in another added cost.
"If there was a solution like doing away with checked bag fees is something that is worth exploring further,: said passenger Logan Weiland.
The full statement from Medina can be found here:
"We have seen NO data to suggest charging customers to check a bag equates to a 27 percent increase in the number of carry-on items. The majority of customers who check a bag do not pay to do so. Further, the model of charging customers for services they use and value, like checking a bag, date back to 2008; this is not a new phenomenon. A recent study by Ipsos Public Affairs found that two-thirds of passengers said they prefer a la carte pricing for tickets over bundled pricing – paying only for what they want when it means their total ticket cost will be lower.
"This is a misguided attempt at reregulating an industry that has been deregulated – to the benefit of the consumer – since 1978, and would have the unintended consequence of making air travel more expensive. We believe a better focus would be to urge TSA officials to ensure adequate staffing and equipment is being sent to the airports where they are most needed, and encouraging a more robust effort to register travelers for TSA PreCheck, which would reduce overall security wait time.
"As you would have seen from our release last week, A4A has encouraged passengers to enroll in expedited screening programs like TSA PreCheck and CBP’s Global Entry. We also encouraged passengers to arrive early at the airport, allowing two hours for domestic flights and three hours for international flights. And lastly, when they experience long wait times, to use our mobile-optimized website (Ihatethewait.com) to help crowdsource long wait times by sharing pics on social media with the #ihatethewait hashtag.
"Further, our members are also encouraging enrollment in expedited screening by in some cases covering the cost of the programs for elite travelers or enabling them to use frequent flier points to pay to enroll. Our members are also in some cases, using their own staff members at TSA checkpoints (in non security roles) to help move the lines and inform passengers what they need to do to be ready to pass through security."
And the letter from U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., follows:
"We write in the wake of reports of staggeringly-long lines expected this summer at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening checkpoints in airports across the country. We call on airlines to take a smart, common sense step to help thwart this growing problem: stop charging checked bag fees during the coming summer months, the busiest travel season of the year. Without charges for checking their bags, passengers will be far less likely to carry them on, which snarls screening checkpoints and slows the inspection process.
"As you know, airports across the country already lament lengthy security lines that snake through terminals. Passengers report waiting for so long in these lines that they miss flights, despite arriving at the airport hours in advance. Travel officials, including TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, have expressed fears of a meltdown this summer as travel increases.
"There are several causes for the recent delays: Turnover and inadequate numbers of TSA personnel, suboptimal use of expedited procedures like Pre-Check, and intensified inspection after TSA screening check point lapses. We are working closely with our Senate colleagues to address these issues, including increasing resources for TSA and requiring reforms to TSA’s staff allocation efforts. We were pleased to see that last week TSA announced the reallocation of some funds to strengthen short-term staffing. Yet implementing systemic reforms and truly solving the screening problems will not happen overnight, and some actions – like significantly increasing TSA’s long-term budget – may not take effect until next fiscal year.
"You can take some action right away. One simple solution – even if it is not a panacea – is well within your companies’ control: suspend bag fees for the summer. Administrator Neffenger has publicly stated that there is “an increase in checkpoint screening of baggage due to fees charged for checked bags.” TSA has informed us that checkpoints serving carriers that charge baggage fees see 27 percent more roller bags than checkpoints serving carriers that do not charge such fees. Many airlines started charging these fees in 2007, as fuel prices peaked, demanding $20 for the first bag and even more for the second. These practices have proliferated since then, even with fuel prices plummeting, and are now standard operating procedure at nearly every airline. A recent investigation by the minority staff of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee found that three airlines increased checked baggage fees by 67 percent between 2009 and 2014.In turn, many customers seek to avoid the fee and instead have adapted by carrying their luggage onto the aircraft – often stuffing their bags to the brim. But before it’s stuffed into an airplane’s overhead bin, all of this luggage must still clear security, creating a baggage backup that significantly slows screening – and often boarding.
"Airlines should help solve these issues, putting passengers before profits, beginning with checked baggage fees. Screening congestion is solvable – and this step will help. Please do not stand idly as travelers stand in endless lines."
Correction: A previous version of this article stated Jean Media was a spokeswoman for American Airlines.