American Airlines is charging troops for their extra baggage, a practice that forces soldiers heading for a war zone in Iraq to try to get reimbursement from the military. One of the country's largest veterans groups is asking the aviation industry to drop the practice immediately.
American, which recently charged two soldiers from Texas $100 and $300 for their extra duffel bags, said it gives the military a break on the cost for excess luggage and that the soldiers who incur the fees are reimbursed.
"Because the soldiers don't pay a dime, our waiver of the fees amounts to a discount to the military, not a discount to soldiers," said Tim Wagner, spokesman for American Airlines. "Soldiers should not have to pay a penny of it."
Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) spokesman Joseph Davis said service members destined for Iraq should not have to spend the money out of pocket and should not have to worry about filing expense forms in a war zone.
"That's a lot to ask when the service member has much more important things on their minds, such as staying alive and keeping those around them alive," he said.
The VFW is asking the Air Transport Association (ATA) to urge member airlines to exempt military personnel traveling on official orders from all excess-baggage fees. "This should not be a very difficult decision to make," Mr. Davis said.
Several airlines have instituted cost-cutting measures and have eliminated or are charging for amenities including meals, beverages and additional luggage.
In a letter to the ATA on Friday, VFW President George J. Lisicki said troops understand the financial constraints the airline industry faces but that the military traveler represents a minute fraction of the total passengers carried every year.
An ATA spokesman said the association will respond directly to the veterans association.
In a written statement to The Washington Times, James C. May, president and chief executive officer of the ATA, said it is individual airlines that must determine fare rates.
"While ATA cannot by law even suggest uniform pricing policies to our members, we will bring this matter to their attention for their independent consideration," Mr. May said.
"Air Transport Association member airlines have always been committed to supporting our nation's military," he said.
"Airlines routinely offer special fares for military personnel and families, attempt when possible to accommodate unplanned schedule changes and generally seek to do what they can to show their appreciation," Mr. May said.
Most major U.S. carriers waive baggage fees for up to two bags for military members traveling under orders, Mr. Lisicki said. However, a $100 fee for checking a third bag appears to be the industry norm, except for first-class passengers or elite frequent fliers.
US Airways allows military personnel with identification free luggage up to 100 pounds, and Delta allows two bags up to 70 pounds in the cargo hold, as does Northwest.
When soldiers receive their travel orders, they should make sure that excess baggage is authorized and that soldiers can be reimbursed for additional fees that airlines impose, said Army spokesman Paul Boyce.
"We can help them with additional expenses for travel, but soldiers have to submit a receipt and it has to be looked at by our finance people," Mr. Boyce said.
"We appreciate the VFW's help in assisting soldiers. It would certainly make it easier for soldiers, but there are other ways to help them recoup their money for Army travel," Mr. Boyce said.