Viral video forces Delta to change bag fees for soldiers

It’s already been pulled from YouTube, but a video-gone-viral posted by some soldiers returning from Afghanistan has forced Delta Air Lines to change its checked bag policy and allow active duty soldiers traveling under orders to check four bags for free when flying coach.

Delta changed its policy after being widely criticized for charging the soldiers $2,800 in extra bag fees.

Here’s more of the story that I worked on for msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin blog:

The soldiers’ military orders authorize them to travel with up to four bags. But at the check-in counter at the Baltimore airport on Tuesday, they discovered that while Delta allows active duty military personnel traveling on orders to check up to four bags for free if they are traveling in first/business class, the limit is only three bags for soldiers traveling in coach.

Several of the 34 soldiers who had an extra bag were forced to pay $200 of their own money in fees in order to make their connecting flight to Atlanta. They then posted a video of their experience on YouTube, which was viewed more than 200,000 times before it was removed from the site. One soldier said his fourth bag was a weapons case containing “the tools that I used to protect myself and Afghan citizens while I was deployed.”

The Defense Department usually reimburses such costs, which the soldiers may not have known, the Associated Press reports.

Former Congressman and Iraq War veteran Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., called Delta’s fee “outrageous.” “Here you have these heroes who have fought for our country overseas … to come home to the $200 charge per soldier? It’s outrageous.”

It’s not unusual for returning soldiers to check weapons on a commercial flight if the weapons have been certified as unloaded, Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Washington office, told the Associated Press.

“A $200 bill for extra baggage by a government-contracted airline is the worst welcome home any soldier could receive,” Davis said. “We know this is a business issue and that the troops will be reimbursed if they are authorized additional baggage in their orders, but the shock of even being charged is enough to make most servicemen and women simply shake their heads and wonder who or what it is they are protecting.”

In response, Delta Air Lines also apologized to the soldiers.

“First and foremost, we want you to know we’re continuing to work with the soldiers individually to make this situation right for each of them,” a company spokeswoman posted on the airline’s blog. “We regret that this experience caused these soldiers to feel anything but welcome on their return home. We honor their service and are grateful for the sacrifices of our military service members and their families.”

Several other airlines have followed Delta’s lead and also changed their checked bag policies for active duty military.

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