Markey, Blumenthal to Airlines: Stop Charging Bag Fees This Summer

Baggage fees mean 27 percent more carry-on bags — and longer lines, and wait times — compared to checkpoints without fees

 

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today sent a letter to executives at 12 major U.S. airlines urging the companies to stop charging bag fees during the summer, speeding inspections and unsnarling lines. Baggage fees mean 27 percent more carry-on bags — and longer lines, and wait times — compared to checkpoints without fees.

 

“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,”  the senators wrote. “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.”

 

The full text of today’s letters is available below. The letter went to executives at American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Allegiant, JetBlue, Alaska Air, Hawaiian Airlines, Virgin America, Sun Country, and Island Air Hawaii.

 

Dear Carrier:

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.[1] Travel officials, including TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, have expressed fears of a meltdown this summer as travel increases.[2]

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.”[3] 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. 

 

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