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Official Travelers Can Claim Reimbursement for Excess Baggage Fees

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 2008 – Servicemembers traveling for official business, including deployments, will continue to receive full reimbursement for reasonable, authorized excess baggage fees, defense officials said.

A recently updated fact sheet from the Department of Defense Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Committee explains department policy regarding excess baggage in light of new charges many airlines have imposed for checked baggage.

As airlines struggle to offset increased fuel and operating costs, many have started charging additional fees for services such as baggage shipment, the fact sheet explains. Commercial airline practices vary widely regarding fees for shipped baggage. Some charge for each bag, others for a second or third bag, and others for any bag over a specified weight limit.

Many airlines waive some or all excessive baggage fees for military members traveling on official orders, said Dave Castelveter, vice president of communications for the Air Transport Association.

But for those who don’t, the fees are reimbursable if authorized on the travel order, according to the DoD fact sheet.

Servicemembers’ commands will reimburse any fees charged for the first checked bag. However, the command may opt to limit how much it will pay for additional luggage in light of the length of the travel and mission requirements, the fact sheet explains.

To claim reimbursement, the traveler must submit the receipt and claim the charge on a travel voucher.

The excess baggage fee issue gained widespread attention after news reports that a commercial airline had charged a soldier deploying to Iraq $100 to cover the cost of a third piece of luggage. The incident prompted Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander George J. Lisicki to fire off a letter to the Air Transport Association asking for a break. Lisicki asked the ATA to negotiate an agreement with its member airlines to exempt servicemembers traveling on official orders from paying fees on a third piece of luggage.

“I completely understand the financial constraints the airline industry is in, but I also know the military traveler is an extremely small fraction of the total passengers carried,” he wrote. “Those who wear the uniform today are a special class of citizen who enables everyone else to enjoy every liberty our great country holds dear. They deserve special treatment because they have earned it.”

Lisicki emphasized that he wasn’t asking the airlines to give military travelers first-class lounge privileges or other executive perks. “What I am requesting is for your member airlines to begin allowing all military personnel traveling on orders to check a third bag without being charged,” he said. “This should not be a difficult decision to reach, but it is one that needs to be made.”

James C. May, Air Transport Association president and chief executive officer, explained in his response to Lisicki that military members on official duty travel at rates negotiated between General Services Administration and individual airlines. May said he expects those contractual arrangements -- reached before spiraling fuel prices forced the airlines to begin charging fees for excess baggage and other services -- to be renegotiated in the future.

Until then, many individual airlines have established policies creating special exceptions from certain baggage limitations for Defense Department travelers on official orders, he told Lisicki.

May said he would forward Lisicki’s letter to ATA’s member airlines, which by law must make all fare-setting and service-policy determinations independently. These policies include excess-baggage fees. Meanwhile, May emphasized the commercial airline industry’s “long and proud history of supporting our nation’s military men and women.”

“They 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,” he wrote.

May said the airlines also support the Fisher House Foundation and various other programs that support the military.

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Related Sites:
GSA Baggage Allowance Fact Sheet
Excessive Accompanied Baggage Questions and Answers

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