Senators to airlines: Drop bag fees to shorten airport lines
Two U.S. senators say one way to reduce long airport security lines this summer is for airlines to drop their fees on checking luggage.
It's the latest suggestion for dealing with what could be a hellish summer at the nation's airports. Airlines are already warning passengers to arrive at least two hours early to get through security and catch their flights.
Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey and Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday they asked executives at 12 airlines to drop checked-bag fees this summer.
The senators say suspending the fees won't eliminate lines but it's a start.
A spokeswoman for the nation's largest airlines called the senators' proposal a misguided attempt to re-regulate airlines and could make airline travel more expensive -- fares would rise to offset the loss of money from fees.
Jean Medina of Airlines for America said it would be better if the Transportation Security Administration did a better job of staffing the busiest airports and encouraged more travelers to sign up for PreCheck, a program that lets known travelers zip through security faster without removing shoes, belts, jackets and laptops. Last week her group encouraged travelers to shame the TSA by posting pictures of long lines on social media with the hashtag #IHateTheWait.
Bag fees have grown rapidly since 2008, when American Airlines became the first big carrier to charge for checking even one bag. It was a tool that the then-financially troubled industry used to deal with rising fuel prices.
Since then, fuel prices have fallen and airlines have earned record profits. The bag fees have remained; they brought in $3.8 billion last year, according to government figures.
Many passengers avoid the fees by carrying more luggage on the plane, leading to competition for limited space in the overhead bins.
Markey and Blumenthal said the TSA told them that passengers using checkpoints near airlines that charge bag fees have 27 percent more rolling carry-on bags.
Medina, the industry spokeswoman, said her group has seen no data to support the TSA's claim. She said most customers who check a bag don't pay to do so.
Airlines often waive bag fees for their best customers, those who use the airline's brand of credit card, or buy a bundle of extra features.
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