U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Fred Hilliker complains about baggage fees as he returns home from Afghanistan. (Image Courtesy: YouTube)
ATLANTA -- After a national outcry on baggage charges for military personnel, AirTran has one-upped Delta Air Lines, and other airlines, by changing their policy for military travelers.
Late Thursday, AirTran announced that all baggage for military personnel travelling on orders would be handled for free, changing their policy.
Delta Air Lines changed its baggage policy a day after 11Alive News broke the story about a unit of U.S. Army soldiers who said Delta charged them over $2,800 in luggage fees on a flight from Baltimore to Atlanta, on their way back from deployment in Afghanistan.
After 11Alive's story aired Tuesday, hundreds of viewers responded on 11Alive.com, our Facebook page, Twitter and Delta's social media sites. Many people said that given the service and sacrifice of men and women in the military, it just didn't make sense to hit them with exorbitant baggage fees for bags they were bringing back from a war zone. Our story and your outrage helped prompt Delta to change their policy on Wednesday.
Effective immediately, U.S. military flying on Delta on orders in economy class will be allowed to check up to four bags for free. Servicemen and women traveling in business or first class will be allowed up to five free checked bags. Dependents traveling with active military on orders will get the same treatment -- four free bags in coach, and five free bags in first class and business class.
United and Continental airlines on Wednesday also agreed to four free bags for military traveling on orders. American Airlines have increased the limit to five free bags.
Additionally, active duty military traveling for personal reasons may now check up to two bags for free on Delta.
Do you know of a business that doesn't give folks in the military fair treatment? And on the other hand, what are some businesses that go out of their way to take care of military folks?
Tell us about those companies at Facebook.com/11Alive!
On Thursday, US Airways announced they would be changing their baggage policy as well, matching Delta's terms of four bags for military passengers in coach traveling on orders, and five bags for those in first class.
While on board Delta Air Lines flight 1625 Tuesday morning, a pair of soldiers, Staff Sergeants Fred Hilliker and Robert O'Hair shot a video complaining about baggage charges for their unit. In the video, the soldiers contend that they were permitted by their orders to check as many as four bags, free of charge, on their return trip from Afghanistan.
When the soldiers arrived at the airport in Baltimore, a Delta representative told them that they were only authorized to check three bags for free.
"We found out we had too many bags," O'Hair said.
It turns out, the soldiers may have been misinformed about the contract between Delta and the U.S. government as it relates to traveling active duty military personnel.
In a Delta blog post Tuesday, Social Media Manager Rachel R. said:
Delta respects and admires the men and women who fight every day for our country. On a personal level, we as a company have very strong ties to the armed forces, with countless employees, family, friends and loved ones serving actively or on reserve, and many more who are retired from military service. I myself am the proud wife of an Army reservist here in Georgia. We at Delta understand what it takes to travel as an active duty member of the military, which is why we worked hard to ensure our policies allow active duty U.S. Military Personnel traveling with us additional flexibility.
Currently, Active Duty U.S. Military Personnel traveling on orders may check up to 4 bags in First/Business class and 3 bags in Coach for free both domestically and internationally. Additionally, to help with the travel process, we allow each bag to weight an extra 20 pounds over the standard allowance. You can read more on this policy on delta.com.
In the case of today's situation, we would like to publicly apologize to those service men and women for any miscommunication regarding our current policies as well as any inconvenience we may have caused. We are currently looking further into the situation, and will be reaching out to each of them personally to address their concerns and work to correct any issues they have faced.
In the video O'Hair said soldiers were charged $200 for each "fourth bag." For the 34 soldiers in the unit, the total charges came to over $2,800, the soldiers in the video said.
"We actually ended paying out of pocket, our own money, to allow that fourth bag to be taken on the plane," O'Hair said.
O'Hair said his "fourth bag" was a weapons case. The kit included his M4 rifle, a grenade launcher and a 9mm pistol - "the tools that I use to protect myself and Afghan citizens while I was deployed," O'Hair said.
Neither Hilliker or O'Hair named their unit in the video, but they did say that they were ultimately bound for Fort Polk, Louisiana.
The video was "removed by the user" sometime Wednesday afternoon.