Two U.S. soldiers returning home from deployment in Afghanistan said Delta Air Lines charged their unit hundreds of dollars in extra baggage fees – money that many of the soldiers did not have.
Staff Sgts. Fred Hilliker and Robert O’Hair filmed a video onboard Flight 1625 and posted it on YouTube.
They criticized Delta for the additional charges, complaining that the 34 soldiers were charged as much as $2,800 in baggage fees.
“We were frustrated with the situation,” O’Hair told Fox News Radio. “Honestly, we were just trying to get home.” O’Hair said the trouble started Tuesday during an 18-hour layover in Baltimore.
His unit was heading back to Fort Polk, La., after a deployment in Afghanistan. O’Hair said their military orders stated that each soldier was allowed to check up to four bags free of charge. But the Delta agent told the soldiers they would have to pay for the fourth bag.
“My extra bag was my weapons case,” he said. “I had my assault rifle, a grenade launcher and a 9-mm. pistol.”
According to Delta’s website, military personnel flying in coach on travel orders are allowed to only check three bags free of charge.
But O’Hair said that’s not what their military orders stated. He said the baggage fee posed an immediate financial hardship for the soldiers and many of them expressed immediate “irritation, frustration and shock.”
“A lot of the guys didn’t bring credit cards because, heck, how much do we need credit cards in Afghanistan,” he asked. “It was an unexpected price and the fact they were going against what our military orders stated.”
After the video was posted on YouTube, Delta issued a statement on its company blog apologizing to the soldiers and noting, “How deeply Delta respects and admires the men and women who fight every day for our country.”
“We would like to publicly apologize to those servicemen and women for any miscommunication regarding our current policies, as well as any inconvenience we may have caused,” the online statement read. “We are currently looking further into the situation, and will be reaching out to each of them personally to address their concerns and work to correct any issues they have faced.” Delta did not say if they would reimburse the soldiers.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars told Fox News Radio that Delta’s fee was the “worst welcome home any soldier could receive.”
“We know this is a business issue and that the troops will be reimbursed if they are authorized additional baggage in their orders,” said VFW spokesman Joe Davis. “But the shock of even being charged is enough to make most servicemen and women to simply shake their heads and wonder who or what it is they are protecting.”
Since many of the troops did not have cash to pay the fee, O’Hair said their Lt. Colonel ended up paying hundreds of dollars for the ones who couldn’t afford the price.
And while the soldiers are expected to be reimbursed by the military, O’Hair said it could take weeks for them to get that money – putting a financial hardship on some military families.
“Luckily I was able to pay it and I can wait for my reimbursement,” he said. “But what about a Private coming back home? A lot of these Privates are living paycheck to paycheck. They have kids to support and they need that $200.”
O’Hair said he posted the video out of frustration for what happened. He wants Delta to “change the policy and honor what the (military) orders say.”
The baggage fees "seem to be unusual," Col. Thomas Collins, a spokesman for the Army, told Fox News Radio.
“Historically, the airlines have been gracious in waiving baggage fees for our troops deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “We hope Delta does what’s right here and waives the fees for deploying troops.”
Collins said there are options if the fees are not waived.
“If Delta won’t waive the fee, the soldiers can submit paperwork through their chain of command and the government will reimburse them,” he said.
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is "God Less America”.