A California congressman has introduced a resolution calling for airlines to waive baggage fees for all U.S. troops deployed for service -- and those commercial airlines that refuse to do so could have their contracts reevaluated.
Republican Rep. Jeff Denham said he was troubled by reports that some military personnel returning from Afghanistan had been charged significant baggage fees.
“I was outraged,” he told Fox News Radio. “To get a bill as you’re bringing back your guns and grenade launchers was unthinkable.”
Denham’s resolution was the result of action taken by Delta Airlines earlier this month. A group of soldiers was charged a combined $2,800 in checked baggage fees.
Delta offered a public apology to the soldiers and revised its policy offering troops up to four free checked bags. Denham’s resolution has bi-partisan support from 37 co-sponsors. It calls for all airlines to provide military personnel with “priority boarding, waivers of all baggage fees and priority seat preference when available.”
“Our service men and women risk their lives every day to protect our country and this resolution is one more step to ensure that America honors its commitment to our service members,” the congressman said. He said he wants to send a “very strong message that all airlines should pay attention.”
But the resolution has drawn the ire of an airline industry trade group.
Steve Lott, of the Washington, D.C.-based Air Transport Association, said the group is committed to supporting the nation’s military, but takes issue with Denham’s resolution. “The airline industry has a long history of supporting the military,” he said.
“(But) we certainly oppose the government or Congress trying to regulate or dictate what services airlines can and cannot provide and what they can charge for those services.” Lott said a number of airlines already waive baggage fees and make special accommodations not only for military personnel, but also for their families. “The customer and market forces should decide what services the government provides, not a congressman,” he said.
“Does the government tell hotels what services they should provide or whether they should charge for Wi-Fi or parking,” asked Lott.
Denham said there could be consequences should the airlines decline to follow the non-binding resolution.
“Many of these airlines have contracts with the Dept. of Defense,” he said. “I think it’ll send a very clear message that this is the will of Congress, and if you don’t comply then we’ll take the next step.”
And that next step? “We’ll have to reevaluate our contracts,” he said. “We certainly want to work with airlines and businesses that treat our service members with the honor they deserve.”
But the ATA said forcing airlines to waive fees is not fair.
“The military issue aside, we oppose government trying to regulate or dictate what services airlines can or cannot provide and what they can charge,” Lott told Fox News Radio. “You don’t see that in any other industry.”