Senators to Airline Industry -- Enough with the Fees!

I just returned to Washington from a trip, and like many of you, I'm sure, I was shocked to learn I would have to pay an extra $27 for my luggage. And still others must have been surprised when one airline took aim at your carry-on bag.

And it seems senators are now fed up with these mounting fees within the airline industry, too. 

"The way it's going, airlines are going to want you to travel with a toothbrush and a comb. The way it's going, the seat recline will be coin-operated," said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ.

"Well, if you're a woman without pockets, you can't even bring that comb and toothbrush," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, shot back, calling the latest hike in fees "skyway robbery."

So, here comes the legislation.

In answer to one airline in particular, Spirit, imposing a whopping $45 fee on carry-on bags (at the gate; it's $30 at the check-in counter), an industry first, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, is leading the charge to try and get the airlines to back off.

A bill the senator introduced Wednesday, along with Menendez, Shaheen, Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, Ben Cardin, D-MD, and Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, seeks to effectively ban the fees by imposing an excise tax on the fees collected by the airline.  The tax would, the senators hope, act as a deterrent. 

The Treasury Department, which is involved because tax matters are at issue, determined earlier this year that carry-on bags are not essential, and therefore, like the food, blankets, and pillows you now have to pay for, the airlines could  charge a fee without having to pay a tax on that fee.

The Block Airlines' Gratuitous Fees Act, or BAG Fees Act, says that "fees charged for baggage carried into the cabin of an aircraft are subject to the excise tax imposed on transportation of persons by air."

Schumer said he also asked Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to get involved and make changes without Congress. Schumer said Geithner told him he would look into it.

Meanwhile, Menendez said he and other senators are also going to introduce a bill that helps consumers, many closely watching their checkbooks in these tough economic times, figure out on the Web just how much an airline ticket is really going to cost.

"Families feel they're being nickeled and dimed by the airlines," Menendez charged, so his bill will mandate that quotes online give full, detailed costs of all charges.

Spirit Airlines, to note, does offer some seriously cheap airline tickets, and if you belong to one of their frequent flyer clubs, the carry-on fee is as low as $20. 

Still, the senators said history shows that once one airline imposes a fee, the others quickly follow suit.  "It leaves the question, what are they going to charge for next?" asked Klobuchar.   "How about that baby strapped to a woman's back?" Lautenberg suggested.