Secretary Kelly indicated high airline bag fees may undermine the TSA’s efforts to detect dangerous devices in luggage


Washington (May 31, 2017) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today sent a letter querying Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly about airline bag fees and their impact on Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening. Last Sunday in an interview on “Fox News Sunday”, Secretary Kelly said, “[P]eople trying to avoid the $25 or $50 or whatever it is to check a bag are stuffing your carry-on bags…the more you stuff in there, the less the TSA professionals are looking at what’s in those bags. They can’t tell what’s in the bags anymore.”


In response, Senators Markey and Blumenthal sent a letter today to Secretary Kelly requesting further information on the potential impact airline bag fees may have on TSA’s ability to detect dangerous items, including firearms, explosives, and knives, as travelers pass through airport screening.


“With major airlines like American, United, and Delta charging upwards of $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for the second bag, and other airlines charging as much as $50 per bag, it appears that passengers are cramming their belongings into carry-on items to avoid paying exorbitant fees,” write the Senators to Secretary Kelly. “While this is understandable, it could mean that TSA professionals have more difficulty identifying dangerous content. Now that the busy summer travel season has arrived, with airlines expecting a record 234 million passengers and bag fees proliferating, we fear that the strain on the TSA could reach dangerous levels.” 


A copy of the Senators’ letter can be found HERE.


In the letter, the Senators ask Secretary Kelly to respond to questions that include:

  • Are passengers incentivized to cram belongings into carry-on luggage in order to avoid checked baggage fees charged by airlines? 
  • Do densely packed carry-ons impede the ability of TSA personnel to thoroughly and efficiently screen the contents of the bags? 
  • Please describe the capabilities TSA has to detect security threats in checked baggage compared to its capabilities to detect such threats in carry-on baggage. Is the TSA better able to identify security threats in checked baggage compared to carry-on baggage?
  • In the last five years, has there been any instance in which TSA personnel were unable to identify a prohibited item because a carry-on bag was too densely packed. If yes, please list every instance in the last five years, and please identify the prohibited item.


Earlier this month, Senators Markey and Blumenthal introduced the Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous (FAIR) Fees Act, legislation that prohibits airlines from imposing fees, including cancellation, change, and bag fees that are not reasonable and proportional to the costs of the services provided.