UPDATE: American Airlines Agrees To Waive Extra Bag Fees For Soldiers

Tired of taking heat for refusing to waive extra baggage fees for soldiers, American Airlines has finally caved.

“We always understood that soldiers traveling on duty were reimbursed by the military for the fees on required excess baggage. However, after recently hearing of the burden the military reimbursement process put on soldiers traveling to war zones, the choice for us to forgo payment for a third checked bag from the Department of Defense was clear,” said Tom Del Valle, American’s Senior Vice President — Airport Services in a press release.

Consumerist first picked up this story a few weeks ago from a local El Paso paper. In that article, a spokesperson for American Airlines called their policy of waiving the $15 first checked bag fee and the $25 second fee, but not the third $100 fee “very generous as you can see, and intentionally so.” Unfortunately, several troops on their way to training before being deployed to Iraq didn’t agree.

“I have flown Southwest, Continental, and when they saw me in uniform, they didn’t even ask,” Staff Sgt. Ashley Serrano told the El Paso Times. “I flew American a couple of times before, but I never had this problem.”

Military personnel are supposed to be given vouchers and reimbursement for any baggage fees they incur, but realistically, that wasn’t always happening.

American Airlines explains, “The new waiver policy for military personnel begins immediately. American Airlines will work closely with the Department of Defense on issues such as this in the future. “

American Airlines Will Waive Third Excess Bag Fee for Military Personnel (Press Release) [MarketWatch]
(Photo: crazybobcat )

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  1. humphrmi says:

    Wish they’d be more sensible when the media isn’t forcing them to. But good for them.

    Their original explanation irritated me… I can’t find the story now but it was basically “Military personnel get reimbursed for their luggage expense, so it doesn’t actually cost anything.” yeah, except for the taxpayers.

  2. BK88 says:

    I deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005. We had to fly Delta from ATL to BWI with 5 bags to check. Yep we paid a heavy price on them, totaled around $350-$400 for each person. However, our orders did say “excess baggage authorized.” So it has been happening for YEARS and the soldiers/airmen/marines/sailors have never had to pay for it (except on their government issued travel cards). This is just a case of someone crying out load for another freebie.

  3. A-Consumer-Advocate says:

    @humphrmi:

    Actually I’m afraid you have it backwards. This reversal is likely to cost the average flyer more.

    First of all, there is no reason why Military Personnel should receive special exemptions from the airlines. They are employees of the government, and the government is responsible for paying the necessary fees for them to move their equipment. Further, as it was, I believe military personnel were already allowed between 100 and 190 pounds of free luggage.

    With the old system, if the military personnel went over the limit, they paid a fee and the government reimbursed them. Now, the airline will not receive that fee at all. Therefore, their revenue goes down. Guess who makes up the difference? That’s right, civilian flyers, AKA taxpayers. Who should be paying for the extra baggage? The military, of course!

    So as you can see, this is another example of business and the mass public getting caught up in mistaken forms of “patriotism” and “supporting the troops.” In truth, there isn’t anything patriotic about letting the military avoid paying for something they should have to pay for, and shifting the costs to John Q. Taxpayer.

    I support members of the military and appreciate their work, but what has happened in this case isn’t right.

    • Anonymous says:

      Shifting the costs to John Q. Taxpayer? Who do you think pays for the Defense Budget? The military budget is paid for by taxpayers!!! The more we spend in fees, that much more is passed on to the taxpayer!

      There is also a significant time difference between paying for the baggage and getting reimbursed by the government. Sometimes, DFAS refuses to pay even if it is authorized on the orders. For lower enlisted Soldiers who don’t make a lot of money, these fees are staggering. Not every Soldier has a government travel card and are traveling on their own dime until reimbursement. This dilemma can seriously affect credit scores for Soldiers.

      -a concerned US Army officer deployed to Iraq

  4. SgtBeavis says:

    They had to be bullied into doing the right thing but at least they finally did…

    United on the other hand….

  5. veterandem says:

    My question is why are we deploying our troops using commercial airlines? We didn’t do it that way when I was in. Just saying

  6. smartwatermelon says:

    I’m sure it helped that AA and their CEO were last night’s Worst… Person… In the World!

  7. kepler11 says:

    So they’ve been convinced by all the media pressure to waive the 3rd bag fee. How soon before there’s an outraged story about a soldier having to pay for the 4th bag?

  8. HFC says:

    @SgtBeavis: They shouldn’t have let themselves be bullied. They were already doing the “right thing.” There’s no reason businesses should have to bend over backwards to appease military members. Airlines, taxi companies, car rental companies, hotels, restaurants and other travel industries shouldn’t have to change their policies because some military member cried over having to pay for something he would be compensated for.

    If filling out a travel voucher is such a big problem for military members (I never thought it was), then the military needs to do something to change the process.

  9. HFC says:

    @smartwatermelon: And I used to like Olbermann. He’s just another sheep.

    “Oh no! AA is treating military members like everyone else. What kind of Satan led business is this? Don’t they know that the military’s members are gods and should be put on a pedestal?”

  10. PunditGuy says:

    I’m not in the military, thank (insert deity here). These people are public servants, and deserve a little consideration from the public for the work they do.

    Businesses are under no obligation to treat members of the military differently from anyone else. It wasn’t the force of law that caused AA to change its policy — it was the impression that treating members of the military like everyone else, in this case, just looked bad. I happen to agree.

    Your airline wouldn’t have to let them carry extra baggage on board. Mine sure as hell would. You can support an airline that has more equitable tendencies with your fare dollars if you wish. I’d rather give money to people who would, in some small way, make my brother’s life a little easier when he’s not in Iraq.

  11. Gorphlog says:

    This is great news. There was no reason to charge them to begin with. I cant imagine 1 or 2 extra bags per flight requiring any extra fuel and these soldiers are required to bring the stuff that they are taking. They shouldnt be inconvenienced by having to file paperwork to get reimbursed.

  12. SmilingB says:

    @humphrmi: @humphrmi: I am in the Army Reserve, and my orders always state that all airline fees will be refunded with receipts. The military issues me a credit card that I can use for these fees. As long as I tell BOA (or who ever is the new government CC vender) that the charges are offical bussiness, I do not have to pay intrest or principal until the government pays on my travel voucher. It is a cumbersome process though as travel vouchers tend to get kicked back quite a bit for being coded wrong.

  13. Triborough says:

    I have a feeling that the DoD probably threatened the airline’s CRAF status, threatened to take their business elsewhere, or some combination of the two.

  14. digitalgimpus says:

    I still think AA should bill the military directly.

    Why should a US business give the government a discount because the governments own system is broken?

    People in the US are having trouble paying their credit card bills… that’s not worthy of the same treatment the US government gets?

    Soldiers shouldn’t pay a penny… but I’d expect the US government to still pay it’s fair share. We pay enough taxes that they should be able to reimburse an airline for baggage fees.

    It’s insane that an airline has to eat additional costs because the government can’t figure out how to pay them.

    Again, soldiers shouldn’t even need to be thinking about this crap, much less fronting the bill. They should just present ID to indicate who they are. The bill should go directly to the DoD.

    See… bureaucracy and corruption does pay. It’s saving the government money.

  15. howie_in_az says:

    Clearly the solution is to not deploy the military.

  16. RandomMutterings says:

    @digitalgimpus:

    Correct — every other defense contractor would charge DoD — why should AA be any different? The right approach is to bill DoD directly for any excess baggage fees — not to hassle the men and women who are in the armed forces or government officials on official travel.

    That said, American Airlines seems to be the only airline that recognizes troops in uniform when they are flying — usually with a PA announcement, free drinks, attentive service or other forms of courtesy and respect. I think that’s cool — our troops deserve that little extra bit of thanks during “wartime” (like now). Free baggage, however, no.

  17. RandomMutterings says:

    @howie_in_az:
    Yeah, that’s a great idea. Not.

  18. AgentTuttle says:

    I wonder if they are also treated like terrorists by the TSA, or are they allowed to bring water and other weapons?

    You could also say that: By charging fees, they are war profiteers OR by waiving the fee, they support the illegal war. It’s a lose lose. Tell ‘em to get there some other way.

  19. @A-Consumer-Advocate:

    Yep, agreed.

    It is just like the State public service commission who authorizes a rate hike by the electric company…. a few % points to the consumers and double or even triple that rate to commercial customers ’cause the commercial customers can just absorb the rate increase or choose to pass it onto their customers through higher prices. Guess what, the consumer still pays for the kindness of the public service commissioners.

  20. mikemar42 says:

    They should send our troops bags for free, or take the word American off their planes.

  21. Pylon83 says:

    @A-Consumer-Advocate:
    I couldn’t agree more. I would say that the vast majority of military members do not expect any special treatment. Then there is a small subset that thinks they are gods gift to earth because of their career choice. It bothers me when I see or hear about Military members being upset because they are being treated like normal citizens/consumers/customers. They aren’t entitled to any special treatment just because they are a member of the armed forces. Sure, a lot of people might want to do a little something extra for them, but the problem presents itself when it becomes expected.

  22. chgoeditor says:

    I’m confused.

    If I travel on business, my business reimburses me for business-related travel expenses. But when soldiers travel on business, they shouldn’t have to pay for their additional travel expenses because AA is expected to “do the right thing.” By that logic, shouldn’t Halliburton et al just provide their government contracting services for free–be patriot! do the right thing!–instead of automatically billing the government 125% of all costs they incur in while helping the country fight the war.

    If Dick Cheney previously served as CEO American Airlines, we’d be paying AA double for every extra bag and Halliburton would be guilted into providing their services for free. Instead, we’re paying Halliburton billions of dollars a year (with no patriotic discount or arm twisting) and nickel-and-diming AA over baggage costs. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense.

  23. Rider says:

    Welcome to the PC world where you can not even charge the damn government for services rendered. Insane.

  24. marsneedsrabbits says:

    UPDATE: American Airlines Agrees To Waive Extra Bag Fees For Soldiers

    Hmmmm…

    Something tells me that United has already figured out how to make up for the “lost” revenue stream:

    See two stories down: United Sells Family’s Tickets To Someone Else, Ruins Once-In-A-Lifetime Vacation, Then Won’t Admit It To Insurance.

  25. EarlNowak says:

    I wonder if they announced this before, or after, Southwest posted this on their blog, stating their official policy- no excess or oversize baggage fee for military personnel. Ever.

  26. bobpence says:

    Too bad the reimbursement is a burden, at least to the younger soldiers. I thought they handed out credit cards to everyone for these sort of expenses. (And yes, that could get an E2 with his eye on a flat-screen into trouble.) Heck, maybe some sort of voucher arrangement, since presumably Uncle Sam is paying for the ticket.

    The time value of money — and here I mean liquidity/cash flow more than missed interest — is often discounted by businesses and government w/r/t us mere mortals, whether dealing with refunds or rebates or reimbursements.

  27. Snowblind says:

    @veterandem:

    That is how I was moved around from base to base in non-combat zoned (pretty much everywhere). 1988 to 1991

    Flew commercial flights, much cheaper and comfortable than military charters.

  28. supesguy says:

    At least the government (tax payers) pay for the extra cost of the checked bags. Most people who move for work don’t get paid for the move. There are shittier jobs than being in the military. Boo hoo.

  29. The_IT_Crone says:

    @veterandem: They flew each individual soldier overseas on their own personal airplane when you were in? Wow, things HAVE changed.

  30. Smitty Werbenjagermanjensen says:

    @HFC @A-Consumer-Advocate

    Keep this in mind the next time an airline files for bankruptcy and expects a government bailout.

    If the airlines can’t come up with a business model that works, they should not expect to be treated any differently than any other business in financial trouble.

    They should close up shop, and make way for other airlines that can run a business.

  31. acknight says:

    In a sense (with the bailouts of a few years ago), the Government is just cashing in a small bit of their debt. The eaten costs of the extra luggage for the military pales in the face of the amount of money the government has poured into airlines like AA.

  32. 420greg says:

    @:

    If the Military is paying the extra baggage fee, then we the tax payers are paying it since the military’s budget comes from our tax dollars. It is cheaper for the tax payer for AA to waive the fee. That way we don’t have to pay 4 more people to process the reimbursement paper work.

  33. RandomHookup says:

    This started with a National Guard unit. It’s understandable that the troops wouldn’t necessarily have government issued credit cards, but this is something their command should have stepped forward to take care of. Heck, put the baggage on the commander’s card and let him/her get reimbursed.

  34. djanes1 says:

    @A-Consumer-Advocate:

    I’m inclined to believe the soldiers when they say that getting reimbursements from the government is difficult. I have no problem if this revenue loss is passed on to me in the form of higher tickets rather than taxes — IMO flights are too cheap as it is. I routinely fly round trip direct from NYC to New Orleans and pay about $250, which is probably the same cost it was 10 years ago. Service is worse and the flights are full, but it hasn’t seemed like the airlines have sacrificed safety so far in their money crunch. I don’t really mind paying a dollar extra on my ticket or whatever if it saves a soldier some asinine paperwork and having their money gone for a few months.

    I agree with previous posters that direct billing is a better compromise, but then the paperwork burden may simply get shifted to the check-in people. And that may cost more than a few extra bags on the plane.

  35. digitalgimpus says:

    @420greg: Your still paying even if AA waves the fees. AA is just putting the burdon on other customers.

    The DoD isn’t going to reduce the travel budget because of this reduced expense. The extra money will just line a politicans pockets.

    So in reality, your now paying twice.

    The DoD has the budget for this stuff. It’s insane that they make the process of paying out so complicated nobody can do it.

    The DoD should just pay for it, rather than try to make it so difficult that soldiers just end up paying for it.

  36. HFC says:

    @Smitty Werbenjagermanjensen: You’re god damned right! Why the hell should we (the tax payers) bailout companies who can’t run a proper business model?

    Let the bloated airlines shut down or split up into smaller regional airlines. If they can’t hack it because they are trying to squeeze every penny out of their customers and the customers stop using their services, a new company will open with a new business model that will work for them and their customers.

  37. picardia says:

    ITA that the airlines could/should bill the military directly. Honestly, I’m surprised such a system isn’t already in place. But better they should waive the fee than charge the soldiers.

  38. VA_White says:

    When my husband deploys, he doesn’t file a travel voucher until he gets back. If the airlines charge him baggage fees, we have to float that money until he gets back and files his travel voucher.

    It isn’t usually financially burdensome for us but I know it is for many military families. They can’t afford to float a loan for hundreds of dollars to the government for months at a time.

  39. bobpence says:

    @VA_White: Thanks for that clarification. And I imagine even if he has a DOD-issued credit card for travel, you and not the government are expected to pay until the expense report / travel voucher gets done.

    So yeah, for an enlistee serving his or her first tour, who maybe was already surprised by the cost of putting his stuff in storage (and who hopefully told the storage place he was being deployed, so they don’t auction his stuff if he misses a payment!), floating Uncle Sam a loan would be a burden.

  40. tmed says:

    This problem is the government’s responsibility to fix, not the industry’s. If the reimbursement is difficult, then the complaint should go to the military, no to the industry that is treating them like every other customer.

    I would love to have the industry work with the DoD to enable it to bill the government for the reimbursement. they can probably handle the delay more than some military families.

  41. Rider says:

    @VA_White:
    Your issue is with the government and not the airlines. Really there should be no reimbursement this should all be worked way ahead of time. This is kind of thing there should be 100 year contracts for. The fact that this is handled case by case is silly.

  42. wery67564 says:

    wow, Misconstrued ftw!

    Being a millitary member this is fricking awesome, but the reimbursement for airline baggage fees isn’t really that specific. They aactually reimburse for ALL travel expenses enroute in a PCS deployment. This is nothing new, bbut what happens is you would buy a ticket, the gov would pay for it, you go to pay the extra baggage fee, and aren’t reimbursed because it is considered an unapproved “upgrade” kinda like first class. Most airlines don’t charge baggage fees because of the contracts they give millitary for discounted tickets. So really its asaving taxpayer money in the long run…

  43. Quilt says:

    @: That’s actually a really good point. That’s just the way it goes.

  44. VA_White says:

    @Rider: Working it out ahead of time is not always possible but I do get your point.

    The reality is that military folks travel in so many ways that trying to figure out what it’s going to cost ahead of time is not practical. You can travel alone, with a group, on a charter, with your whole family, or you can be traveling last-minute with an emergency situation, in relation to a specific mission, on your way to or from training, or as part of a regular PCS move.

    The most efficient and least costly way for the government to oversee travel expenses is through reimbursement for actual expenses, much like the corporate world does it. I don’t have an answer for how to fix the system as a whole. I wish I did – they pay bonuses for suggestions that save the government significant dollars!

    Considering that military travelers are paying close to full fare for most travel, (government discount is off a full-fare fully refundable ticket) it does look like collecting baggage fees from them on top of that is a little gouge-y.

  45. Rider says:

    @VA_White:

    It’s actually really easy, people just like to make things complicated. Airline has a contract with the military, airline bills the military, end of story.

  46. incognit000 says:

    Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll find some other way to piss off our armed forces. Because that’s a really smart thing to do, upset someone who’s been trained (at taxpayer expense, no less) to kill other people and to not stop fighting back until they’re dead.

  47. VA_White says:

    @Rider: You’ve obviously never tried to get the military to pay a bill! At some point, the ass-ache factor outweighs the reward. :)

  48. Rider says:

    @VA_White:

    Again your ass ache is with the military not the airlines.

  49. tmed says:

    @wery67564:

    Then the problem is still to talk to your bosses and make sure they are reimbursing for the full value being charged.

  50. SayAhh says:

    Great: even more military costs incurred by this illegal war/occupation charged to the taxpayers.