It's Time to Prohibit Airlines from Charging for Carry-On Baggage

Commentary by U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin

U.S. Senator Benjamin L. CardinThe summer travel season has started and many air travelers are planning ahead for what they may encounter. Unfortunately, over the years air travelers have become all too familiar with the additional fees that are often tacked on for traveling. From the cost of food to headphones to blankets, the number of amenities that often require an additional charge—unfortunately—has become common place and is growing. In fact, one carrier recently announced it will charge $45 for carry-on baggage.

Not so fast. While airlines have counted on air travelers adapting to changes in policy regarding fees and restrictions, they need to be reminded that passengers have certain rights and those rights need to be protected. Carry-on baggage often contains essential items that travelers need to have access to such as medications, laptop computers, food, baby formula, the list goes on. For many passengers, carry-on baggage contains items that can assure their health and safety while traveling.

For that reason, I have introduced legislation that would prohibit airlines from levying carry-on baggage fees. While I am pleased that five carriers recently announced that they will not charge for carry-on baggage, I want to ensure that air travelers are protected in the future. My bill – Free of Fees for Carry-On Act, S. 3195 – would preserve airlines’ right to determine what is classified as carry-on baggage and the right to enforce carry-on baggage rules on weight, size and number. It does not prevent airlines from imposing restrictions on what they determine, individually, to be carry-on baggage. However, it ensures that passengers are well informed about cabin restrictions so that passengers know in advance whether their baggage will qualify as a carry on.

In the name of transparency, S. 3195 also would require that airlines provide fee information regarding meals and baggage, including fees for specialty baggage that goes in the hold such as skis, bikes, firearms, golf clubs, and surfboards. As a cyclist and skier, I understand the frustration of arriving for a flight only to encounter an unexpected fee for such items. Air travelers should not have to find out about additional fees when they arrive to check-in for their flights and have little choice but to pay the charge.

I am sympathetic to the plight of the airline industry. Air carriers have been hard hit by the recession and they are often subject to the unpredictability of high-fuel costs, but it’s important that the industry understand that it is in their own interest to do a better job of disclosing additional fee information. Passengers have become accustomed to traveling light and carry-on baggage has become a way of life. Let’s not make air travel more difficult and costly than is necessary. Full disclosure of all fees and not charging for carry-on baggage will help soothe an often frustrated traveling public.

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