Proposed Baggage Legislation Faces Blowback

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Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., appears to be taking some heat from online commenters after introducing legislation that would prohibit airlines from charging a fee for a passenger's first checked bag. The proposed legislation is called the Airline Passenger BASICS, or Basic Airline Standards to Improve Customer Satisfaction Act. Among other things, it would require airlines to tell passengers -- prior to their arrival at the airport -- about potential fees and any restrictions on weight size and number of bags. It would also prohibit fees for carry-on bags below a certain size. DOT statistics show that baggage fees account for about $7.7 billion in net earnings for airlines. Subtracting that figure would have amounted to a multibillion loss for airlines through most of the past three years. While there are some practical arguments for the legislation, some people have responded negatively.

Detractors of the proposed legislation argue that airlines have the right to charge for anything they'd like and consumers have the right to make their decisions based on that. They also argue that airlines will simply increase fares if they are prohibited from increasing fees, a practice that punishes those who pack lightly. According to Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, checked bag fees are driving more passengers to carry their luggage into the cabin. That, argues the secretary, promotes a first-come first-served competition for overhead space. According to the Washington Post, "too much carry-on luggage toted by other passengers recently emerged as the No.1 complaint of air travelers." According to Landrieu, bag check fees have also increased federal screening costs by more than one quarter billion per year. Statistics collected by the TSA show an increase of 59 million carry-on bags in 2010 -- a trend the agency predicts will continue.