Boxer moves on excess-baggage fees for military personnel

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is pushing the head of the Air Transport Association of America to establish a blanket policy for all airlines dealing with the checked baggage of active duty military personnel.

The move by Boxer comes in response to widespread news reports about a video shot by two Army soldiers flying from Atlanta to Baltimore on the last leg of their return trip from Afghanistan. The soldiers described having to pay Delta Airlines more than $2,800 in checked baggage fees for their 34-person unit, because many of the soldiers had four bags, which exceeded the airline’s limit of three bags. Each soldier with an additional bag was charged $200 per bag, and for one of the soldiers in the video that bag was carrying his weapons case.

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“It is troubling that the welcome home for these soldiers after an overseas deployment consisted of confusion at the Delta ticket counter followed by a $200 charge – a fee that is truly a hardship for our military men and women and their families,” Boxer wrote in a letter sent Thursday to Nicholas Calio, the president and CEO of the Air Transport Association of America, the nation’s oldest and largest airline trade association.

“I know we all agree that after lengthy overseas deployments which require our service members to carry hundreds of pounds of equipment, the last thing they should face is excessive baggage fees and a lack of clarity in an airline’s checked bag policy.”

Almost immediately after news of situation erupted, Delta announced that it was raising the checked baggage limit for active duty military personnel to five free checked bags for those flying in First or Business Class, and four bags for those flying in Economy Class.

But Boxer said that the airline trade association should take steps to encourage every airline to adopt comparable policies to prevent similar situations from occurring.

A spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association said the trade association supports U.S. military personnel, but that the checked baggage rules and exceptions are established by the individual airlines themselves.

"Military personnel traveling on orders typically do so under the General Services Administration ticketing program, where the federal government negotiates rates and conditions for military and government transportation," said spokeswoman Victoria Day in an email.

“Working with the GSA, individual airlines have established policies creating special exceptions from certain baggage rules. But like all fare setting and service policy determinations, those decisions are made independently by the individual airlines involved, and several have already announced more accommodating changes.”

This post was updated at 2:25 p.m.