Yesterday's Washington Times had a story that frankly made our jaws drop. We had to check our calendars to make sure it wasn't April 1st.
Audrey Hudson reported that members of the U.S. military traveling on commercial jetliners were being forced to pay excess baggage fees--out of their own pockets!
It's not as if the troops are packing excess baggage because they can't decide whether to take their tennis or golf or scuba gear to their exotic vacation destination. Their bags are heavy because they're filled with combat boots, body armor, and all of the other gear needed to survive year-long deployments to some of the least hospitable climates on the planet.
The airlines argue that the soldiers can seek reimbursement from the military if they complete the proper paperwork. POGO would like to see the airline executive who thought it would be a good idea to make soldiers fill out bureaucratic forms in a combat zone.
The folks at Veterans of Foreign Wars are asking airlines to waive luggage fees for soldiers, pointing out that the required paperwork is "a lot to ask when the service member has much more important things on their minds, such as staying alive and keeping those around them alive." An Army Vet on POGO's staff adds that soldiers are unlikely to carry large sums of money when traveling to a combat zone, and thus may find it difficult or even impossible to pay fees that can reach hundreds of dollars.
As the Times piece noted, "Most major U.S. carriers waive baggage fees for up to two bags for military members traveling under orders." However, weight limits can also apply--US Airways charges no fee for up to 100 pounds of luggage, while Delta and Northwest allow two bags up to 70 pounds total for free. Considering that a soldier's gear can easily weight 150 or even 200 pounds, soldiers are bound to be required to pay for that excess weight.
In fact, the airlines should be able to waive luggage fees altogether for these soldiers without breaking the bank. Our troops are fighting for all of us--let's give them a bit of a break.
UPDATE: The Washington Times reported this morning that American Airlines will no longer charge fees for a third piece of checked baggage for active military personnel. While this is encouraging news, it is our understanding that the other airlines have not budged on their policies.