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.

Changes galore in fees and service charges on Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air

Heads up, Alaska Airlines or Horizon Air customers.  A bunch of changes to the airlines’ fees and services were announced today.  The news is good and bad…

Here’s a rundown:

Effective for travel on or after June 16 for tickets purchased beginning May 1.

Checked bags and baggage service guarantee

It will cost you $20 for each of your first three checked bags. This is a $5 increase for the first checked bag, a $5 decrease for the second, and a $30 decrease for the third.

There’s also a change to the carriers baggage service guarantee.  Yes – there’s a service guarantee!

Instead of promising you they’ll get your bags to your within 25 minutes the airlines now promise to get bags to you within 20 minutes.  And if the bags don’t show up in 20 minutes they’ll either give you 2,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles or $20 off a future flight.

Unaccompanied minors

Alaska and Horizon are also lowering the fees for unaccompanied minors ages 5 to 12.

The new fees are $25 per child for direct flights and $50 per child for connecting flights.

This is a reduction from the current $75 fee, which applied to several children traveling together.

[Note: As of tomorrow, April 23, 2010, Southwest Airlines is raising its fares on unaccompanied minors; see news about this and other airlines’ unaccompanied minor fees in my msnbc.com column “Are Airlines Cashing in on your kids?”]

Same-day confirmed travel

If you want to change your flight within six hours of departure, it will cost $25 to confirm a seat.

Outside of that six-hour window, you must pay the difference in fare plus any applicable change fee. Until now, for a flight on the same calendar day it seems you could pay this $25 same-day confirmed fee or stand by for free.

Instant ticketing and refund policy

Effective May 12, you will no longer be able to hold reservations for 24 hours without payment when booking directly with the airlines, but you’ll get one free change or a full refund within 24 hours of purchase on all tickets.

For more details see the Alaska Airlines website.

Pay for carry-on bags? We’ll see about that.

We all knew this was coming – someday – right?

Spirit Airlines announced that, come August 1st, you’ll need to pay a fee (up to $45 if you wait until the last minute) to stow a bag, a box, or that container holding our uncle’s cremains in the overhead bin.

The alternatives?  Check your bags (there’s a fee for that as well) or tote less.  Or, as many of the 45,000 people who voted so far in the msnbc.com on-line survey vow to do, fly a different airline.  “Enough is enough,” wrote one voter. “They must think we’re idiots,” said another.

For their part, Spirit Airlines claims that by unbundling this fee, passengers might save money.

Given the fact that Spirit adds fees for just about everything else, the potential to save money by traveling with no luggage is highly disputed.  But the airline also suggests that charging for carry-ons will reduce boarding hassles.  Spirit Airlines COO Ken McKenzie claims the new charge “will reduce the number of carry-on bags, which will improve in-flight safety and efficiency by speeding up the boarding and deplaning process, all of which ultimately improve the overall customer experience.”

We’ll see about that.  And, of course, we probably only have to wait until about, oh, August 2nd, to find out if other airlines will follow Spirit’s lead.  It’s a good bet.  We were all shocked when airlines started charging for checked bags and snacks but now, as my mother used to say about things far worse than that, it’s all just part of the game.

To add your vote to the msnbc.com carry-on bag survey, to read my column on the topic, and to see all sorts of videos and other reporting on this topic, see Unbundled baggage fees reach the overhead bin.

Tidbits for travelers: Free Wi-Fi, Olympic travel tips, and in-flight body-mass tax

We want Wi-Fi

Slowly but surely airports large and small are getting with the program and making free wireless Internet access available in the terminals.

The latest major airport to join the party: Boston Logan International Airport (BOS).


Packing tips from Olympic athletes

Curious about what some Olympic athletes do when they’re traveling – or getting ready to travel? Them you may in interested in the video clips the folks at VISA (a 2010 Olympics sponsor) have posted of athletes talking about what they pack, how they prep for a trip, how skier Ryan St. Onge just had to have an airport burrito, and what Olympic Hockey player Angela Ruggiero packs in her carry-on.

Just as interesting, is the fact that the credit card company is giving away a trip to the Olympics – for life. To enter, you just need to charge something on a VISA card.

Seat tax on Air France for Seatmates of Size

And, just a day after announcing that it was introducing “the lightest and most comfortable short-haul seat in the world,” on some of its planes, Air France announced that passengers who cannot fit into a single seat (on any Air France flight) will have to pay for a second seat – at 75% of the cost of the first seat.

The new policy applies to tickets purchased beginning February 1st for flights April 1st and beyond.

Think the new rules may apply to you? Here’s the policy for Passengers with High Body Mass.

What do you think? Should seatmates of size be asked to pay for more than one seat?

Next time you go to the airport take zero baggage & zero cars

Here are two interesting ideas for travelers. One is still on the drawing board; the other is already in operation.

Ever wish you could head to the airport with just a toothbrush and the clothes on your back?


Sounds sort of freeing, doesn’t it?

Well, according to this article that might be the wave of the future.

A Canadian woman has announced plans to offer a service that will rent clothes (new or used) to travelers in Toronto and Australia (to start with) so they can avoid having to check luggage when they fly.

Catharine MacIntosh said “the move, as well as being more energy-efficient, would save time wasted waiting in queues with bags and the worry about your bag being lost or stolen.”

As appealing as that sounds, it’s hard to imagine how this can pencil out. Still, the Zero Baggage concept is intriguing.

OK, so maybe you don’t want to leave your clothes at home. But how about your car?

In a twist on Park & Fly programs, the Aloft Portland Airport at Cascade Station has created a Bike &Fly program.


Anyone who bikes out the airport (yes, they do that there) or takes their bike out to the airport on the light rail and stays the night at the hotel can leave their bike parked at the hotel free for up to 14 days.

Of course, that would work best if you were taking zero baggage.