- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 14, 2008

American Airlines announced Thursday that it will eliminate fees for a third piece of checked luggage for active military personnel on their way to the war in Iraq or anywhere in the U.S.

American and other airlines waived fees for first and second pieces of checked luggage for military members. Veterans of Foreign Wars, one of the country’s largest veterans groups, has asked the aviation industry to eliminate all baggage fees for military personnel heading to Iraq.

“We always understood that soldiers traveling on duty were reimbursed by the military for the fees on required excess baggage,” said Tom R. Del Valle, senior vice president of American Airlines airport services.

“However, after recently hearing of the burden the military reimbursement process put on soldiers traveling to war zones, the choice for us to forgo payment for a third checked bag from the Department of Defense was clear,” Mr. Del Valle said.

The Washington Times reported Tuesday that American was charging troops for extra baggage and recently had charged two soldiers from Texas $100 and $300 for their extra duffel bags.

American said it gives the military a break on the cost for excess luggage and that troops 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,” American spokesman Tim Wagner told The Times on Monday. “Soldiers should not have to pay a penny of it.”

George J. Lisicki, the national commander of the VFW, said his group understands the airline industry’s financial constraints but that $100 upfront luggage fees would dent the wallets of young enlisted troops.

“Those who wear the uniform are a special class of citizen and they deserve special treatment because they have earned it,” Mr. Lisicki said. “American Airlines proved today that they also agree our troops deserve special treatment, and I hope the other major carriers will follow their lead.”

American said it supports the troops and participates in nearly 30 veterans initiatives, including free charter flights, reduced fares and special boarding procedures for active-duty personnel.

“We appreciate and marvel at the bravery and sacrifice our military personnel exhibit daily,” Mr. Del Valle said. “Anything we can do to support them and honor them is a top priority for American Airlines.”

The airline said the waiver begins immediately.

Meanwhile, Sens. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, and Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, sent letters Wednesday to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates asking that the Pentagon establish a new reimbursement process to alleviate any additional burden on troops who are packing for longer tours of duty.

“The soldiers have enough on their minds; they should not have to worry about filling out forms and worrying about reimbursement for the costs of carrying their equipment,” said Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Added Mr. Coleman: “There is no reason that soldiers reporting for duty should have to pay out of their pocket for the cost of transporting the equipment they are required to bring.

“Given the outrage over recent reports of soldiers being burdened like this, it is my hope the department will promptly respond to my request,” Mr. Coleman said.

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