Last updated: 02:32 PM ET, Thu May 12 2016

Senators Offer A Unique Argument Against Baggage Fees

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | May 12, 2016

Senators Offer A Unique Argument Against Baggage Fees

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Two U.S. senators have penned a letter to the 12 largest airlines in the country to ask them to waive baggage fees this summer. 

This is not a unique request. Such fees have always been unpopular. However, the argument posed by the two Senate Democrats, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, has not been used before. 

Airlines can help ease checkpoint gridlock

Markey and Blumenthal suggest that airlines waive baggage fees, at least temporarily, so that people do not have to take carry-on luggage through the crowded security checkpoints. Whether or not this argument is ultimately seen as valid by airlines, it is certainly timely. Wait times at airport screening checkpoints are at an all-time high, and the busy summer travel season has not even started yet. 

The letter, which was published Tuesday on Markey’s Senate page, includes data that backs up the request. Markey says that the TSA claims that the number of carry-ons has risen by 27 percent because people want to avoid checked baggage fees.  

READ MORE: Senator Makes Another Attempt to Limit Airline Fees

A complex issue

The senators admit that this is a complex issue, but they say that waiving fees is a way that airlines can take matters into their own hands and lessen wait times at security checkpoints without waiting for the TSA to improve. “We call on airlines to take a smart, common sense step to help thwart this growing problem: stop charging checked bag fees during the coming summer months, the busiest travel season of the year. Without charges for checking their bags, passengers are far less likely to carry them on, which snarls screening checkpoints and slows the inspection process.”

A positive spin on the anti-fee argument

This is one of the first times that anyone has argued that something positive could come out of airlines dropping their baggage fees. The threat that people won’t fly because of the baggage fees never carried much weight. Now that fares are down and the economy is strong, more people are buying tickets and more people are paying to check their bags. 

Even while making their suggestion to drop fees, Markey and Blumenthal admit that the checked baggage charges are not the only reason for checkpoint delays. They also point an accusing finger at the TSA for “inadequate numbers of TSA personnel, suboptimal use of expedited procedures like Pre-Check, and intensified inspection after TSA screening check point lapses.” 

Would airlines ever consider doing this?

Things would probably have to get pretty bad before carriers would seriously consider dropping baggage fees, even if the move was only temporary. As they lower fares to compete with each other, airlines are under increasing pressure from shareholders to show that they are still making profits. A lot of these profits come from extra fees. An announcement of any sort of fee wavier could put airline stocks into a tailspin. 

READ MORE: Airlines May Soon Have to Refund Checked Bag Fees

No guarantees that dropping fees would actually help

The biggest hole in Blumenthal and Markey’s argument is that there is no concrete guarantee that dropping the fees would speed up the screening process. The TSA has not inspired a lot of confidence lately. Baggage fees or not, agents at understaffed checkpoints could still find themselves overwhelmed by the increase in the number of fliers this summer. 

So, although Markey and Blumenthal have succeeded in spinning the anti-fee argument so that it offers a positive to airlines, it is very unlikely that any major carrier in America will act on this idea. 

The letter was sent to American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Allegiant, JetBlue, Alaska Air, Hawaiian Airlines, Virgin America, Sun Country, and Island Air Hawaii. It was not sent to Southwest Airlines, which is the only major carrier that currently does not charge to check bags on domestic flights.

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