Two U.S. senators have asked airlines to stop charging baggage fees this summer in an effort to reduce long security lines.
"We call on airlines to take a smart, common sense step to help thwart this growing problem: stop charging checked bag fees during the coming summer months, the busiest travel season of the year," U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Edward J. Markey wrote to executives at 12 major airlines.
Citing the Transportation Security Administration, the senators said baggage fees add 27 percent more carry-on bags to flights, resulting in longer lines and wait times. They say suspending the fees won't eliminate lines, but it's a start.
"Without charges for checking their bags, passengers will be far less likely to carry them on, which snarls screening checkpoints and slows the inspection process," the senators wrote.
The senators argue that airlines started charging checked bag fees in 2007 when fuel prices peaked. Since then, however, fuel prices have plummeted, while bag fees have spiked. They brought in $3.8 billion last year, according to government figures.
The letter went out to executives at American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Allegiant, JetBlue, Alaska Air, Hawaiian Airlines, Virgin America, Sun Country and Island Air Hawaii.
A spokeswoman for the nation's largest airlines called the senators' proposal a misguided attempt to re-regulate airlines and warned it could make airline travel more expensive — fares would rise to offset the loss of income from fees.
Jean Medina of Airlines for America said the issue would be better handled if the TSA bulked up staffing at the busiest airports and encouraged more travelers to sign up for PreCheck, a program that lets known travelers zip through security faster without removing shoes, belts, jackets and laptops.
Last week her group encouraged travelers to post pictures of long lines on social media with the hashtag #IHateTheWait.
She said her group has seen no data to support the TSA's claim that bag fees result in more carry-ons and longer lines. TSA declined to comment.
TSA is under growing pressure to fix the long lines. Some airports use private contractors instead of TSA for screening. Officials for the big New York City-area airports and Seattle have indicated they are considering such a move.