Two Senators Think Airlines Can Fix Security Lines By Eliminating Checked Bag Fees

Two US Senators — Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal — want airlines to drop checked bag fees for the summer to reduce TSA checkpoint lines.

Two U.S. senators say one way to reduce long airport security lines this summer is for airlines to drop their fees on checking luggage.

It’s the latest suggestion for dealing with what could be a hellish summer at the nation’s airports. Airlines are already warning passengers to arrive at least two hours early to get through security and catch their flights.

Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey and Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday they asked executives at 12 airlines to drop checked-bag fees this summer.

The senators say suspending the fees won’t eliminate lines but it’s a start.

The idea is that passengers would be willing to check bags if they didn’t have to pay to do so, and lines would be shorter at security checkpoints with fewer bags to be screened there.

I’d point out three things, however.

  1. Passengers will have to wait in line to check bags instead of waiting to have their bags screened. Without widespread US adoption of permanent electronic bag tags, you still have to show up early and wait — just in a different line.

  2. Checked bags get screened, too. So the system would be stressed along a different dimension.

  3. The government has already limited bags going through the checkpoint. Prior to 9/11 and the federalization of airport security, passengers used to be able to take two carry ons onboard and not just one carry on and a personal item. The federal government already pushed to limit bags going through the checkpoint for its own convenience giving us the carry on policies we have today.

Before 9/11 Continental Airlines installed bigger overhead bins precisely so that passengers could carry on more stuff. They viewed it as a competitive advantage. They even successfully sued United under antitrust laws to get baggage sizers removed from security at Washington Dulles, and they sued United over Denver and Delta over San Diego to remove bag sizers as well.

    Checkpoint baggage sizer

Setting government limits on how airlines can serve customers reduces differentiation between carriers in an already monkey see/monkey do industry. If you complain airlines aren’t competing enough, you wouldn’t want the government telling them they all have to be the same, you’d want the rules limiting you to one carry on lifted and then having them compete for passenger business.

Congress came up with the idea of limiting the size of carry on bags and requiring the TSA to re-install bag sizers at checkpoints back in 2009. It didn’t go anywhere. This is similar grandstanding. Unfortunately the airlines’ approach to fixing airport security screening is no better.

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. I agree with your points. I do think it would help TSA check points and also aircraft boarding time but waiting to check bags at the desk and overwhelming the bag handling staff would negate any gains.

  2. These two US Senators have a great idea, but for two things: the legacy major airlines in North America are too hooked to checked baggage fees to go along with this idea; and it doesn’t address the root of the problem, that being the way the TSA screens passengers and cabin baggage at the primary passenger screening checkpoints.

    About your list of three:

    1. The time to do self-check-in and baggage drop-off has required a small fraction of the time required to wait in the longer TSA lines I’m seeing this year at various US airports. If the TSA made a security screening line for passengers without cabin bags, that line would go much faster.

    2. Checked bags are screened but liquids and gels in the bag don’t slow down checked baggage screening lines like cabin baggage with liquids/gels/aersols do when the L/G/As don’t comply with the “3-1-1” “rule”. If there were fewer cabin bags, the passenger screening line would move much faster.

    3. The USG has not limited carry on bags to one cabin bag item + one personal item. Rather the airlines set up their own carry-on baggage policy and then filed it with the government to bind themselves to such a policy.

    3a. QR, for example, on flights out of the US was still allowing two cabin bags + one personal item a couple of years ago. 3b. Also, even US carriers allow some passengers to carry more than just two items into the cabin, as is evident for some medical accommodation purposes.

  3. If the two senators want to do this, a simple start would be changing the tax rules that advantage ancillary revenue. Wouldn’t make airlines allow free check bags but would at result in the tax code not penalizing airlines for including check bags in the fare.

  4. I’d also point out that Southwest has free checked bags, yet you see people still try to carry on 2 and 3 bags. Last week they actually announced before our flight the baggage restrictions for carry ons, but I still seen people get on the plane with too many or too large of bags.

  5. The excise tax on airline tickets being higher than the tax on ancillary services is not the reason airlines decided to grab revenue increasingly by way of ancillary/post-ticketing fees, including checked luggage fees.

    Implying that airlines increased the proportion of their revenue collected by means other than ticket fare out of a pre-meditated deliberate plan to reduce the tax amount paid to the US Government by airlines and/or passengers is like believing that JFK was shot on order of LBJ: a ridiculous conspiracy theory. Tax matters were an afterthought when airlines decided to scam customers by claiming that “unbundling” would be good for consumers.

  6. “If you complain airlines aren’t competing enough, you wouldn’t want the government telling them they all have to be the same”

    People aren’t complaining about lack of competition! Literally no one except 20th Century Chicago School Cranks and Reddit Libertarians think competition is *intrinsically* desirable.

    People are complaining that the service is poor.

    In the US, the lack of competition and poor service are often *assumed* to be synonymous. One, apparently, necessarily implies the other. This is a big leap, it’s right here in this blog post, and you’re completely failing to question it.

    In other countries the value of occasional government intervention in the market (especially at the shared infrastructure level!) is recognized. These, completely coincidentally of course, are the ones with modern transit hubs and airlines, rather than crumbling third world airports and hostile, expensive, and universally loathed carriers.

    (And as GUWonder points out, the 3 specific points you make are cherry-picked, wrong, or exaggerated.)

  7. Even before the airlines started charging for checked bags, most people chose to carry on luggage since it beat waiting 15-45 minutes at your destination for you bag to show up (or worse, not show up!) so not sure this proposal will accomplish much.

    Additionally, pretty sure the airlines will put up a pretty big fight since baggage fees generate so much revenue & profit

  8. Rene is right, already happens on Southwest and still people want to carry on their bags. My recent flight on Southwest also was asking for people to check their bags because their was not going to be enough bin space.

    It’s more about not wanting to spend time at the airport than paying fees. How many people need to check in bags when travelling domestic anyway?

  9. Security should be based on honor system. Cross my heart and hope to die, I am not caring a bomb !!!???! Wait !

  10. Easy fix: a $30 screening fee to the TSA for your second carry-on item.

    Why should taxpayers subsidize the additional screening for liquids/gels/aersols and ensuring compliance with the “3-1-1” rule on ordinary baggage? Have passengers pay for the privilege of excessive carry-ons.

  11. Nor will people check the stuff that causes the lanes to move slowly. The laptops. The baggie of liquids. The cell phone in the pocket. The six bracelets that “I didn’t think I had to take off.” The taking off of shoes. Etc.

    It’s not slapping the roll-a-board filled with clothes down on the belt that slows the lines. It’s the removal of stuff and unpacking for screening. Just look at how much faster the pre-check lanes move, despite lines there too. Checking won’t solve that – because there are things people just aren’t going to check.

  12. Rene & Bob are 100% right.

    Southwest bags are free, but people still carry on as much as possible. For other airlines, elites get free bags, yet I still see most of them bringing on as much as possible. Plus, if you somehow start forcing more people to check bags, you then lengthen the check in lines and wait times for at baggage carousels. The solution to all of this is to staff properly, but not doing so is the American way.

    What always slows the lines down is when people think that travel days are the perfect time to wear a giant belt buckle or a Mr. T-level of jewelry. Do something about these idiots & maybe you’ll see shorter lines.

  13. The issue isn’t how many bags they screen but rather how inefficient the entire process is. The line slows to a standstill because there is not enough space for bins and bags to be prepared for screening or repacked afterwards. It is pure silliness to remove shoes and wastes more time.

    Really though the solution is simple. TSA needs more staff. You can’t have good security theater with out hiring enough actors.

  14. Eliminating the requirement to take off shoes would speed the security line on both sides…before and after security screening.

  15. The an$wer is very simple, start charging MORE for carry ons then for checked bags and you’ll see change. Its such a pain in the ass to see everyone bring the biggest carry on bag they can get away with (not that many of the gate agents ever size check them) and take forever loading and unloading flights.

    Not only would that speed up the security lines but it would speed up loading and unloading of planes.

  16. This is a cop out by tax & spend elsewhere progressive DemocRAT congressmen. . .
    Look at you airline ticket and see the FEES you already pay the Government to be screened!!!
    Here is a real world example. . . Airfare 237.21USD
    U.S. Transportation Tax: 17.79
    U.S. Flight Segment Tax: 4.00
    September 11th Security Fee: 5.60
    U.S. Passenger Facility Charge: 4.50
    Per Person Total: 269.10USD

    Government incl Airport Administration charge almost $32 on a $237 fare!!!. . .Over 10%
    If it was related to driving, we would call this Highway robbery!!!

    And with workforce participation rate at lowest level since the 70s, this is all politics and theft.

    No difference with how VA treat our Vets for healthcare. . .and soon ours.

  17. Checked baggage fees is not the problem since there are airline that do not charge for checked baggage. It’s the carousel and waiting for your bags do drop off. Some do not want to wait when they can go directly to the exit and catch a cab before you get your bags from the carousel.

  18. This may help a bit, but many people carry bags on because se it takes too long to get their baggage from baggage claim. If you could speed up that process people would be more likely to use it. Checking a bag in doesnt take much time compared to tsa lines.

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