Delta Should Have Stood Firm: No Obligation to Provide Fourth Checked Bag Free to Military

Plane Reality says take it easy on Delta over the recent kerfuffle that the airline has been charging for fourth checked bags for soldiers returning from combat. He thinks they ought to get that fourth bag free, but c’mon, Delta is really patriotic!

Delta already provides the military with more free checked bags and ‘regular’ customers. There was a YouTube viral video about a soldier who had to pay to check his grenade launcher. The outrage, though, seems misplaced. The military is causing him to carry weaponry, Delta is already extending a courtesy with three free checked bags, and it strikes me that the government is the one that’s unreasonable here in not covering the transportation cost for military equipment. Not Delta. If the government wants Delta to carry rocket launchers, the government should pay Delta to do so>.

But misplaced outrage turned into a social media firestorm, and Delta will now allow four free checked bags in coach and five in premium cabins of up to 70 pounds each for soldiers traveling on orders.

Watching an interview on the news this morning, the soldier who shot the video still seemed unsatisfied, he says that military should board first, too, in order for the airline to show their patriotism. Frankly I agree with Matthew, who critiqued United’s recent decision to have soliders board first.

I don’t mind boarding soldiers before the bulk of the coach cabin, if you want to ensure they get overhead space that’s fine, but singling them out for ‘first priority’ strikes me as a cynical ploy to appeal to patriotism with the rest of United’s customers really the marketing focus of the decision rather than an expression of feeling on the part of the company.

Last week I noted United’s revised-revised boarding policy, which has uniformed military boarding with Global Services and before first class, which I thought seemed odd. A United PR rep tweeted that “[M]ilitary should absolutely board first and yes, ahead of First Class. They earned it.” But I guess they didn’t earn it more than United’s most commercially important passengers, Global Services members…

Update: As noted in the comments, government policy is to reimburse the checked bag fees incurred in situations like this.  So while it may be unreasonable to have soldiers checking grenade launchers, or expected them to front the cash for the fees to do so, the soldiers were never even expected to ultimately be out of pocket.  That seems to make the complaint that Delta was charging the fees even more untenable.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. In the article I read the author clarified, late in the story, that the government WOULD have paid for the fourth bag, via reimbursement. As I understand it there was never any concern the soldiers would be out $200 each, just that they were asked to front the money and “suffer” being asked in the first place.

    I consider myself more patriotic than most, and yes the soldier who shot the video doesn’t represent the average serviceman returning home, but in my opinion when you explicitly ask for status symbols as a reward for supposed service you’ve signaled you may not be as altruistic as you appear.

  2. I’m sick that the airlines kowtow to to the demands of many of my nationalist countrymen. It probably makes business sense when you consider the values of most Americans, however… When did joining the military instantly make you a hero, to be put on a pedestal above all other citizens, no matter their individual contributions?

  3. I just find it incredible that some has to check in a grenade launcher. Shouldn’t our $1 trillion dollar military have enough money to move our equipment around the world without having it checked in on a commercial flight with the potential to lose it somewhere in between. Also to the commenter above last I checked Delta is a private enterprise and it is supported by it’s customer a lot of them who have to be not American, why should they be treated as second class citizen or matter fact US residents who happen to be civilians. Last I checked the Men and woman in military are given are compensated for their effort. These word still ring very today ‘patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’.

  4. Kudos to soldiers for their sacrifice and service. But the same should then be extended to teachers. And firefighters. Etc. Etc.

  5. As a Soldier with 31 years of service, let me chime in. It’s great if the airlines want to upgrade a young Soldier on R&R from the combat zone, or even if they are transiting back from the same area, but many people don’t understand the distinction between Soldier travelers. For example, an Army Soldier with no patch on either arm is new and probably headed to training; a Soldier with no patch under the American flag probably has not been in a combat zone yet (he/she could be halfway through a tour and on R&R w/o the patch, though – it pays to ask); and so forth. In other words, feel free to ask someone in uniform where they are going. Regular travel in the US in uniform is authorized and encouraged; however, that does not make us special. I watched an American rep upgrade a 19 year old in uniform to 1st Class in Dallas – that Soldier had just returned from six months in AF (was going home for two weeks) and was deserving of such a perk if it was available. On the other hand, I’ve seen many people buy drinks and so forth for Soldiers who are just going from one post to the other, etc. A handshake or “thanks for your service” is sufficient in my mind. As for the baggage thing, well, probably the service should not have loaded them down with so much stuff to begin with. Four bags is ridiculous; I made it to and from Iraq twice with only two.

    Just my two cents.

  6. I served proudly during the Vietnam era. Doesn’t that entitle me as a medallion member to get first dibs? Especially since Vienam war/conflict veterans were never welcomed home or appreciated. As mentioned above some of our armed forces are not coming back from any conflict. I definitely appreciate all the Americans now serving–however they joined on their own accord and fulfilling their commitment. Seems like the old vets who never got credit are now taking a back seat. Peace to all.

  7. Even though we’ve had family in the military, I completely agree with you that Delta (or any airline) should NOT have to waive extra bag fees for military.

    If the US government wants their soldiers to check-in equipment on commercial airlines, the government should adequately compensate the airline for it.

    In the regular world, if you consume a good or service, you have to pay for it. This shouldn’t be hard to understand!

  8. As I mentioned on another board I saw a person with a clearly surplus army jacket and lots of shopping bags get priority boarding on a UA flight while other pax complained. But it is unrealistic and unfair to expect GAs to sort something like that out.

  9. The biggest point here for me isn’t the 4th bag or the boarding priority. It’s the GRENADE LAUNCHER! [shouting].

    Most of us won’t check a camera, for good and obvious reasons. If it becomes common knowledge that military arms are in checked baggage then two things will happen. (1) gear will fall into the wrong hands and (2) all military bags will be rifled through and anything of value (military or street) will be lost.

    Stupid and dangerous on the part of the military, the airline and the service member.

  10. The Govt issued orders were at fault here, which the Govt obviously saw when they said they’d reimburse the money. Delta’s policy was in line with other major carriers and was known beforehand. Now that Delta has budged on this will the Govt force all military travel to Delta, just to get another free bag onboard?

  11. Sice,

    The Washington Post has reported that the travel orders issued to these men did indicate that ALL of their bag costs were reimbursable from the US Government. The Post also said that such claims are typically paid in about 30 days.

    So there was NO fault with the USG Travel Orders.

    Back to the original post, the claim was made:
    “the government is the one that’s unreasonable here in not covering the transportation cost for military equipment.”
    That original claim is also incorrect. The USG did agree to reimburse their employees for the full transportation cost of the equipment.

    The emotion of both the original (incorrect) post above and several replies does surprise me, however. Next time, it would be helpful if folks worked harder to get the underlying facts straight before making statements that ultimately aren’t true.


    (And, no, I’m not in the military.)

  12. I am in the Army and 4 checked bags up to 70 pounds each are reimbursable for deployments and this is included on the deployment orders for submission of one’s travel voucher. If Delta chooses to increase to 4 bags, (it used to be 10), that is their business, but they should not have done so solely due to this one soldier.

  13. “Kudos to soldiers for their sacrifice and service. But the same should then be extended to teachers. And firefighters. Etc. Etc.”

    Lot of us shovel, you know what, 8 hours a day, every day. Why in the world should teachers and firefighters and ‘all’ soldiers be given such preferential treatment? If all the city/state/federal/military employees are to be honored, why not also add Postal workers, TSA workers and “Weiners” to the list? With the deserving ‘parents with children’ on top the list, we will have no one but the ‘road warriors’ left at the end. Incredible!

  14. Well your attitude and that of other “Conservative” Wall Street Journal frequent travelers is truly shocking. Given your econometric view of the world one can logically assume that you view the low paid dangerous work of our military men and women worth less than some United 1K who earned his “status” from bump awards, complaints and other scams recommended here. You are advocating that our soldiers with just a couple of weeks off to spend with their families from a rotation are to fill out forms and do paperwork to get reimbursed? Wow, u really value their personal and work time cheaply and I guess by implication their lives. But of course it makes perfect since, why pay the taxes to support a war, fight for your own country or even pay fair wages to the soldiers if you can outsource it to the poor and desperate. Understand, given current tax policy and lack of a draft all Americans, including purportedly American corporations have a duty to help fight these wars. Perhaps you should move to another country if you view your fellow citizens so poorly or agree to pay more in taxes to subsidize these adventures that have huge legacy costs as well.

  15. I agree with all the comments here (apart from one). Delta was already offering a perfectly good level of support with the ‘3 checked bags’ policy. Now that they have increased to 4 should be expect another stink to be raised when the soldier in question turns up next time with 5?

    I also agree that it is wrong to single out uniform-wearing military for special treatment as already noted – and there are plenty of other who risk their lives on a regular basis to save Americans, e.g. firefighters – and other worthy professions.

    This is obviously a very emotional topic for some (how could it not be) so there will always be a group that is up in arms over things like this, but in reality I don’t think we will ever be able to do enough to satisfy them.

  16. “Perhaps you should move to another country if you…….”
    New people, same old thinking – If you don’t agree with me you should leave the country, because I and my daddy own it.

  17. Totally agree that Delta’s move is a pathetic attempt to kill a pending PR disaster. All because a soldier misrepresents his conditions of service. The question is whether that misrepresentation was deliberate, in which case he should be disciplined.

    On the matter of DL’s (and now other airlines’) new policy, presumably the US military is paying high enough fares to cover it, or else those fares will be going up. If an airline really wants to show appreciation, why not give a free drink and some food? That would come off the bottom line and actually be a token of appreciation to the individual rather than a gift to the taxpayer.

  18. After viewing (a mirror of) the original in-flight rant by the soldiers, I have to say that I’m disappointed in their behavior.

    Consider my response in the context of over 20 years of continuous military service, with both the Army and Air Force, enlisted and commissioned, over 9 years of active duty- the majority of which was served OCONUS, and a reservist currently, qualified for world-wide service.

    I, along with countless others, believe in humble service. One can have pride and still be subdued in executing a sacred mission. Posting a b!tching session on YouTube is below the professionalism standards that I remember from the PLDC curriculum and NCODP.

    Last I checked, the NCO creed began with, “No one is more professional than I.” Was this really professional?

  19. Time is money, Delta gets the benefit and so why is the solider forced to incur the real and opportunity costs for processing a reimbursement when it’s Delta that gets the financial benefit? The solider is incurring travel costs as a result of his employment, defending the nation that enables the “corporate person” of Delta to exist. We all know Delta’s “responsibly” lies with its shareholders or executives compensation committees not to its pass or even the nation’s military or any other government workers like teachers/firefighters/etc. The VAST majority of comm-enters here need to examine their apparent low opinions of military folks and the value of their time. Its one thing to ask people to serve and risk their lives for what is really piddling pay, its another to allow them to be thrust into rebate/reimbursement (Delta?) scams that should be, and easily could be, administered by Delta or in last resort DOD. The central point of this post is a devalued opinion on the “worth” of a grunt’s time and by implication life. Regardless of your views on the war/military, if you think that the artificial corporate entity of Delta is a “victim” then you may need to evaluate your opinion on the value of human life of those real persons who serve societies basic needs, whether its a solider needing to ship equipment, firefighter needing to do the same, or a teacher transporting teaching supplies.

  20. @pretty:
    rules are made to be followed. These soldiers didn’t read carefully the terms which they supposed to do. They then make a big deal about it. How can Delta be punished by that? It’s the same as getting an auto loan without knowing your interest rate.

    Is the contract which the soldiers sign when they enlist has a term that they will receive better treatment? No, it didn’t. They volunteer to sign the contract. They know what they are getting into. The contract didn’t say they will receive priority boarding, extra luggage, etc. It’s simply the gesture from the airlines to provide those benefits. It’s not guaranteed. there’s nothing certain in life except tax and death.

    How do you know my time is less valuable than their time? How do you know my grandpa’s time who has stage 3 lung cancer is less valuable than theirs? You don’t. You assume everyone’s time is less valuable than theirs.

    The whole problem is some soldiers made a big deal about the consequence they received for not doing their homework. Everyday, thousands of soldiers travel without any hassle because they DO THEIR HOMEWORK. I greatly appreciate what they have done for the country, however it doesn’t mean they can get away with anything because of their job/career.

  21. In some small way it feels good that Delta had to eat that 4th bag. They’ve stuck it to the general public so hard with these outrageous bag fees, that when something like this happens, I feel quite happy about it.

  22. I don’t think many of you folks get it. Who do you think ultimately ends up paying for the baggages fees if charged and reimbursed by the gov’t? You(the taxpayers) do.

  23. Alright, very rarely, if ever, have I pulled this card. But are you narrow minded liberals seriously going to find time to nag and gripe on a blog about fucking extra baggage being covered on flights that NO CIVILIANS will ever be on? Good grief do some research before you come on a slander our soldiers. Frankly, it’s pathetic in my eyes to see this garbage.

    A soldier is NOT going to bring a damn grenade launcher on conventional orders. We do have a large amount of baggage at times, but in my military career NEVER have I exceeded my given weight of TWO <45 lb bags with ONE carry on.

    Nobody said we were fucking hero's on here, not even anyone at Delta. SO get over the whole "i'm a civilian with a lame ass job (or not) and I don't get more free bags, waaahh wahhhh)".

    Soldiers coming home from afghanistan are boarded on civilian airlines WITHOUT civilians on board. These flights are reserved for military-only personnel returning.

    So cry rivers in silence people and get over it. My frustration is mostly geared towards these extremely ignorant comments.


  24. Lastly, forgive me for the poor grammar, I can’t find it in my heart to give a shit right meow.

  25. I didn’t know military members made so much money that they can cover a 300 dollar baggage fee? I was active duty to serve my country for 6 years, then I’ve decided to go guard to continue to protect this country. The reason I’ve decided not to be active duty is solely because they didn’t pay me hardly anything. Joining I barely made 700 dollars every 2 weeks ending up with more once I ended my active duty. But there is no way that I could save money prior to a deployment then pay my bills with paying addition fees to fly. I will never fly delta because they are unpatriotic, I don’t care if I’m transitioning bases or flying overseas…. If you support you’re freedom you should support your troops. No matter if you agree or disagree with the conflict at hand, because soldiers have no choice what we do. If I ever have to fly delta again after the emberrasment of me taking leave and getting bumped off a flight and argueing with the attendant saying I had to plane this trip 9 months prior to see my grandfather who died 2 months later. I missed out of a day, it might not mean much to those who have time to leave work and see their parents or grandparents, but when I haven’t seen him for one and half years because of deployments and transitions.. It meant the world. I will only fly united airlines. Period. Delta raises rates in my home town to a hub city by 300 dollars vs me driving 45 minutes to fly united from a smaller city.

  26. Hi. So I travel a fair amount. I was a United Airlines Milage plus holder for 21 years. Primarily because I lived in Denver for 15 of those. Delta is arms and legs ahead of United. Having flown every airline in America including many that have gone out of business, I can say with an extreme amount of confidence that every airline is ahead of united. I just wanted to get that out of the way. All in all over 30 years I have been on hundreds of flights both domestic and international.

    I now live in San Antonio. What many coin as Military City USA. I’m not here to debate that point either, but to recognize that many airlines acknowledge our troops by allowing them to board early. Many have gear and finding overhead space given the new fee structures adopted by the airlines, i like this policy.

    Southwest, American, US Airways follow this policy. So today i boarding a Delta flight out of San Antonio. There are several Military folks also waiting to board the flight. The announcement t commence, people with small children the handicapped, etc, then First Class, then Zone 1. 2 etc.

    I go ask the people running the counter if Delta has or mimics the policy other airlines follow and I am told “no we do not, we might sometimes, but no. Ok so perhaps it’s a bad day.

    My connection is in Atlanta and I’m headed to Richmond. I have over an hour in Atlanta, so I walk around and listen as several flight boarding announcements are made. Zero, nada, not a single “we would now ask that any active military board that are in uniform board. I stopped counting at 100 the numbers of uniformed military I saw sitting at Delta gates.

    I asked again as I boarded my flight to virginia as I saw a 1 star general and a private waiting to board our flight. The answer was we’d not follow that policy as it slows down our boarding process. Really. How exactly?

    What I am saying is that I’m not a frequent Delta flyer, but I do fly a lot and I’ve never not seen SW or American not make that offer.

    I don’t know what choice the military has in who they fly, but if you do, I recommend SW or American and as much as I detest United, I would even recommend them for this reason.

    I don’t care about your politics, but these men and women proudly serve us with little compensation and it would seem a very small gesture to give them this courtesy.

    I search the Delta site and there is no reference to this service being offered, however I did find other sites that state they do, but this traveler can tell you from observing over 20 departures today and from two Delta employees they do not.

    Talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words. I’m sure many do not care, but to me it’s an insult to these men and women and I will make a concerted effort to avoid booking them and yes that unfortunately may mean I will have to fly United from time to time

    Thank you to all that serve. BTW -I never served.

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