Urban Legends Exploited

Did you hear the one about the soldiers on their way to Iraq who were charged hundreds of dollars to check extra bags by Make-a-Buck Airlines? Did you hear the VFW came to the rescue? 

A routine baggage check has become urban legend, but this time the victim is the big, but not-so-bad, guy. 

Some of us carry more baggage than others. Though airline policies for active duty servicemembers have been in place for some time, word that a solider was charged $100 for a third checked bag caught on like wildfire in an unpressurized baggage compartment. There was a report of a soldier who was charged $300, though one only can venture to guess what was in his steamer trunk, if the report is accurate. 

News of American Airlines’ seeming assault on lambs en route to the slaughterzone, shocked many, despite the recent airline fee-for-all. Reporting on the matter was less-than-accurate, and America came under intense criticism. 

Example? MSNBC malcontent Keith Olbermann “called the airline and its chief executive, Gerard Arpey, the ‘worst persons in the world’ for ‘nickel-and-diming the soldiers.’ ”

And so what was a simple business matter turned into a PR nightmare. American was labeled un-American (they had to love that) and hostile to the doe-eyed and bleating in uniform. 

Despite the challenges the airline industry is facing, American Airlines has long waived fees for the first and second checked bags for active duty servicemembers. An American spokesperson said only American and one other airline waived such fees even when active duty servicemembers are traveling off-duty. (Cancun anyone?) Servicemembers may obtain vouchers before a flight or they can file for reimbursement (though that is no small feat). 

Charging for the third bag and DoD’s reimbursement system appear reasonable. Asking the airlines to eat baggage charges as their own employees’ wages shrink seems not so reasonable. It is likely the airlines will find other ways to recoup that lost money, say, from slapping additional charges on the non-military air cattle. (Yeah, we want to pick up DoD’s tab on this one.) 

Unabashed optimists that we are, there is always a bright spot. The VFW made some well-placed statements recently, and reports have made the VFW appear like Skycaps in a shining armor. The Magic Eight Ball says a spike in membership for the venerable vet’s group is “most likely.” 

Contract carriers fly the young and the restless into theater. No fees are charged.

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