Back to BASICS – Bill would mandate free checked bag

In a move aimed at ensuring airlines allow passengers to check one free bag, Louisiana Senator Mary L. Landrieu has introduced a piece of proposed legislation called BASICS. In the tortured world of Washington acronyms it’s called the Basic Airline Standards to Improve Customer Satisfaction Act.

The measure would require carriers to allow one free checked bag and one free carry-on.

“Passengers have been nickeled and dimed to for far too long and something has to be done about it,” contends the Louisiana Democrat. “Airlines should be required to provide a minimum standard of service to their passengers.”

BASICS’ legislative buddy is an enforcement mechanism dubbed FAIR – the Fair Airline Industry Revenue Act. It would impose additional fees on airlines that don’t comply.

The motivation for all this is more than mere passenger pique. Earlier this year, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified before Congress that airline bag fees have upped TSA screening costs by $260 million per year. Lines move more slowly, and fliers are further inconvenienced.

FlyersRights.org founder Kate Hanni agrees something has to be done. “We think that the first bag should travel free,” she says.

Hanni contends the reason carriers started charging separately for checking bags is based on taxes. “When bags were included in the base fare they had to pay 7.5 percent tax,” she says. Now she says most airlines “unbundle” their bags, divorcing them from the base fare. She maintains the practice results in “a huge amount of pure profit”.

In an e-mailed response, Steve Lott, Air Transport Association Communications Vice President, weighs in against the proposed legislation. “Rather than having Congress limit choice and regulate what airlines can or cannot offer to passengers, regulators should focus on the efficiency of the airport checkpoint.”

Lott contends the majority of fliers aren’t affected by bag fees anyway. “Today fewer than one in four customers pay a fee,” he asserts. “Airlines have found that a fee is not the sole driver in a customers decision of whether or not to check a bag.”

It will be instructive to see how Senator Landrieu’s back to BASICS plan plays out. In the meantime, what’s your take? Do you think the government should require airlines let you check a bag for free? Let us know.

Story by Jerry Chandler

(Image: basykes)

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