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Will Suspending Bag Fees Lead to Shorter Security Lines?

Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) have a novel proposal to alleviate the expected congestion at airport security checkpoints this summer. In a letter sent this week to executives at 12 U.S. airlines, the senators called on the carriers to “suspend bag fees for the summer”:

We write in the wake of reports of staggeringly-long lines expected this summer at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening checkpoints in airports across the country. We call on airlines to take a smart, common sense step to help thwart this growing problem: stop charging checked bag fees during the coming summer months, the busiest travel season of the year. Without charges for checking their bags, passengers will be far less likely to carry them on, which snarls screening checkpoints and slows the inspection process.

The senators contend that checked-bag fees result in flyers carrying on 27 percent more bags, which in turn results in longer security lines, and wait times, as TSA officers check the bags. Fewer fees, they argue, would mean fewer bags to process, and shorter waits to get through security checkpoints.

No one questions the severity of the looming problem. Wait times have already surged at some chronically congested airports, causing flight delays and missed flights. And it doesn’t appear likely that the TSA will receive the funding necessary to train and deploy the new agents needed to manage the volume of travelers in time for the summer travel crush.

So, is the senators’ suggestion a sensible one? In a word, probably not.

To begin with, there’s no evidence that the bag fees cause a 27 percent increase in carry-ons, much less that reducing the fees would reduce bag traffic by that amount. And even if there were fewer bags to be security-checked, the reduction in wait times would likely be minimal.

And of course, the bags diverted from the security checkpoints and checked in would still have to be processed, potentially creating bottlenecks elsewhere in the system.

Lastly, as a practical matter, the airlines are hardly likely to forego a fee that was responsible for $3.8 billion in revenue in 2015.

Real problems need real solutions. We have the former but still await the latter.

Reader Reality Check

Does the senators’ fix appear to you to be a sound one?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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