Thanksgiving travelers: Senator wants one checked bag to fly free
On one of the busiest travel days of the year, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is pitching legislation that would allow airline passengers to check a bag for free.
"Passengers have been nickeled and dimed for far too long and something has to be done about it," she said.
The fees have been blamed for slowing down airport security checkpoints as more passengers carry bags onto planes.
Landrieu, at a recent Senate aviation security hearing, declared sarcastically, "If we don't do something, the airlines are going to sell a ticket to a flyer and you're not going to get a seat. You're going to stand on the airplane and then have to pay extra for the cushion. And I have about had it."
In a statement Tuesday announcing introduction of the measure Airline Passenger BASICS, or Basic Airline Standards to Improve Customer Satisfaction Act, Landrieu said that bag check fees have increased federal screening costs by $260 million a year.
The bill has drawn opposition from the Air Transport Assn.
"Obviously we don’t think it’s appropriate for the government to regulate what services a private industry should offer to customers and at what price,'' said Steve Lott, a spokesman for the industry group. "Airlines have found that a fee is not the sole driver in a customer’s decision of whether to check a bag, and today fewer than 1 in 4 customers pay a fee."
The number of checked bags has decreased 26% since 2009, according to Tranporation Safety Administration. The number of carry-on bags increased by 59 million in fiscal 2010 and another 28 million in 2011. The TSA projects it will increase by an additional 29 million in fiscal 2012 and 28 million in 2013, if current trends continue.
A recent survey by the U.S. Travel Assn., the nation's largest travel trade group, said that a top frustration among travelers is passengers who take too many carry-on bags through security.
Airlines collected nearly $3.4 billion in 2010 from checked baggage fees, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
The bill has been sent to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee for a hearing.
---Richard SImon in Washington
Photo: Fees for checked luggage prompt passengers to carry on their bags. Credit: Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune