Airlines Should Refund Bag Fees If Your Bags Don’t Arrive With You

Uh oh. It looks like the DOT has found something else they don’t like about airlines with which they want to get involved. This time, it’s the refunding of bag fees when bag aren’t delivered. Guess what? I agree with the idea.

First I’d like to say that I hate when the feds get involved with anything, because they usually screw it up. It sounds like definition of the words “timely manner” might be in play right now, and you know this will never be implemented properly. Of course, had the airlines been more proactive in this area, they wouldn’t have had to deal with this. I realize that when Secretary Ray LaHood gets his focus on something the airlines do, he seems to enjoy rushing it through without actually measuring consequences. So, let me give some suggestions on what might make sense here.

The key is determining what exactly you’re paying for when it comes to bag fees. I believe that you’re paying the airline to deliver your bags to your destination on the same flight you’re scheduled to take when you check those bags. If you show up on that flight and your bags don’t, you should have the fee refunded. I’m not so sure it should be a full refund, but we’ll talk about this later.

Of course, bag fees aren’t new, but they’ve never impacted as many people as they do today. Bag fees have existed for ages when you think about excess and overweight bags. I would say the excess bag fees should also be refunded if the bag doesn’t arrive because you’re ultimately paying for that specific piece to go with you. Overweight bag fees, however, should not. In that case, you’re paying for the extra care and liability involved in handling such heavy bags.

The focus, of course, is on whether or not the standard bag fees should be refunded. I think they should. Others, including the airlines, will disagree. Are you paying for the bag to be delivered on your flight or just delivered at all? After all, the airline still has to do all the work to carry the bag, even if it arrives late. That’s where the amount of the refund comes into play.

As I said, I think you’re paying for your bag to travel with you, but that doesn’t mean the airlines couldn’t create a different structure if they wanted. What if the airlines said (numbers are just for demonstration purposes) that you could pay $30 to check your bag on your exact flight or you could save $15 for the airline to deliver it within 24 hours. In other words, in exchange for giving you a discount, airlines could pull your bags off your flight because it’s already full or it’s running late and put it on a later flight instead. They would trade revenue for operational flexibility. In that case, if you paid $30 and your bag doesn’t arrive on your flight but comes soon after, you’d get $15 back. If it didn’t arrive within 24 hours, you’d get it all back.

Some airlines have already tried to address this issue, and they deserve credit. The one that’s received the most attention is that Alaska gives you a $20 voucher if your bag doesn’t arrive at the carousel within 20 minutes. It’s not a refund, but it goes a long way to at least recognizing that the airline has a responsibility. I also just learned that Delta has a $25 to $50 voucher if your bags are delayed by more than 12 hours. That surprised me (in a good way).

Only one airline, however, has really stepped up to the plate. Frontier has now put the most concrete policy out there. If your bag doesn’t arrive on your flight, you get a refund of the fees. If those fees had been waived because you bought a higher-priced ticket or you’re an elite member, you’ll still get a voucher for what the amount would have been. Great job, Frontier. It’s all part of that airline’s recent customer-friendly changes. I’m planning to write about that later this week.

What do you think? Should the fee be refunded? (I suppose I’m most curious to hear from those who think it shouldn’t.)

[Original photos via Flickr users rynosoft and Unlisted Sightings/CC 2.0]


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