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Senators to airlines: Free the checked baggage

Two senators have urged airlines to drop fees for checked bags to lighten the strain as airport security lines grow long this summer.

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    People wait in long lines in the North terminal at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Monday, in Atlanta. Two senators have asked airlines to stop charging additional fees for checked bags to streamline the process of checking into the airport.
    Mike Stewart/AP
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Airport lines have grown so long the US Senate is weighing in on bags.

Two senators have written to ask 12 major US airlines to lift the fees on checked baggage as a means of speeding up security.

"As you know, airports across the country already lament lengthy security lines that snake through terminals," the senators wrote. "Travel officials, including TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, have expressed fears of a meltdown this summer as travel increases."

Airports are expected to be crowded this summer. The drop in fuel prices alongside economic recovery have been enticing travelers made frugal by hard times to book flights. Thanksgiving travel hit its highest levels since the economic downturn, and every holiday since has seen packed airports, the Monitor has previously reported. 

At the same time, the United States is heightening airport security following the Brussels airport terrorist attack in March. Couple this with a decline in the number of working Transportation Security Authority (TSA) officials, and airport officials might do well to reserve more space for security lines.

Airlines have asked passengers to double the amount of time they allocate for pre-boarding checks this summer, but Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey (D) and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) have another suggestion. 

"One simple solution – even if it is not a panacea – is well within your companies’ control: suspend bag fees for the summer," the senators wrote.

The senators say bag fees have increased the number of carry-on bags by 27 percent, a figure that not only inspires competition for the on-flight overhead bin space, but also adds complexity to the security line. Baggage fees produced $3.8 billion for airlines last year.

As oil prices have plummeted in the last year, many airlines have reinstated such niceties as in-air snacks, focusing on customer service during their first major break since the double-punch of 9/11 and the Great Recession. Some have wondered whether airlines might also drop the slate of fees that airlines added in 2008, as the ten largest US airlines doubled their profit margins between 2014 and 2015 as a result of baggage fees and declining fuel costs, according to Consumer Affairs. 

"Many airlines started charging these fees in 2007, as fuel prices peaked, demanding $20 for the first bag and even more for the second," the senators wrote to airlines. "These practices have proliferated since then, even with fuel prices plummeting, and are now standard operating procedure at nearly every airline."

Airlines for America spokeswoman Jean Medina told the Associated Press that responsibility for a solution should fall to TSA, which is understaffed. She urges travelers to sign up for PreCheck, which allows them to move through security without taking off clothing such as shoes, belts, and jackets. 

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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