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nov 30 2011

Should Airlines Have to Allow One Free Checked Bag By Law?

A new bill would guarantee that each airline passenger could check one bag for free, and never have to pay for a carry-on.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) recently introduced legislation called the Airline Passenger BASICS Act. BASICS, in this case, means Basic Airline Standards to Improve Customer Satisfaction. The two key basics Landrieu wants provided for each airline passenger on domestic flights in the U.S. are 1) one checked bag, free of charge; and 2) one carry-on bag, free of charge.

If an airline doesn't comply with the BASICS, so to speak, and (BIG if) if the bill actually becomes law, the carrier would have to deal with the FAIR Act that Landrieu is also planning on introducing. That acronym stands for Fair Airline Industry Revenue, and any airline that continues to charge for a carry-on or a first checked bag would be subjected to increased security fees.

For obvious reasons, the airlines oppose any such bills. Steve Lott, the Airline Transportation Association's spokesperson, told the Los Angeles Times:

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.

Landrieu sees things differently. When introducing the BASICS bill, the statement she released noted:

When an airline advertises a flight, that is how much it should cost, plain and simple. Passengers should not be charged additional fees for checked or carry-on baggage, drinkable water or other reasonable requests. Air travel can be a stressful experience for many reasons, but unfair fees for basic amenities should not be one of them.

Beyond the idea that a reasonable amount of baggage should be provided with the purchase of each airline ticket, proponents of the bill point out that increased checked-baggage fees have resulted in a sharp increase in carry-on bags. The rise in passenger carry-ons, in turn, has resulted in slower screening processes at TSA checkpoints. The costs to screen all of these bags have risen too. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said that the increase in carry-ons costs the federal government an extra $260 million per year.

Does the bill have a chance of becoming law? It seems somewhat unlikely. Even if it does, that won't mean the end of airline fees. As one business traveler told the Washington Post, chances are that if the airlines aren't allowed to charge for checked bags, here's what's likely to happen:

The airlines are just going to find some other way to make it up by charging us for something else.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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