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Legislating airline baggage fees

A suitcase passes along a conveyor belt at Terminal five's automated baggage handling system at Heathrow on August 27, 2010 in London, England.

Which part of the air travel experience causes you the most rage? Being nickel-and-dimed for everything from checking a bag to watching a 6-year-old sitcom? How about the glacial pace of security screening lines? My personal low-light is the dog fight for overhead storage space for my carry-ons, a sort of luggage Tetris played in front of 100 eye-rolling fellow travelers.

Since their system-wide implementation a few years ago, baggage fees have played a major role in the decomposition of the flying experience. Not only do they add to the already high cost of travel, but, as passengers master the art of fitting everything into multiple shoulder-slung bags, taxpayers are picking up a $260 million annual bill for additional TSA screening of carry-ons according to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. How’s that for a hidden fee?

But help is on its way in the form of the BASICS (Basic Airline Standards to Improve Customer Satisfaction) Act, the brainchild of U.S. Senators Mary Landrieu and Benjamin Cardin. According to a statement released today from the office of Louisiana’s Landrieu, the proposed legislation “would require airlines to allow passengers one checked and one carry-on bag for free.”

Though TSA claims the number of checked bags has declined by nearly 20 percent in recent years, Landrieu states that checked-in luggage is a source of billions in revenue annually for the airlines. For an industry that claims only about 1 percent of its revenue as profit, you can bet your first-class upgrade those fees will magically reappear somewhere else in the flying experience.

$18 Diet Coke anyone?

 A recent U.S. Travel Association survey reports travelers were “most frustrated” with the following:

  • 72.4 percent chose “people who bring too many carry-on bags through the security checkpoint”
  • 68 percent chose “the wait time to clear the TSA checkpoint”
  • 62.3 percent chose “having to remove shoes, belts and jackets at the TSA checkpoint”
  • 42.5 percent chose “TSA employees who are not friendly”

About the author

Joel Patterson is the Associate Producer of Marketplace Money.
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