Plan Proposed To Make US Airlines Refund Fees For Late Baggage

* Article updated 19:52 UTC with additional information from the DOT *

The US Department Of Transportation (DOT) is set to propose a reworked refund system when it comes to delayed airline baggage. The planned changes would see airlines become liable to refund passengers’ baggage fees in the event that their checked luggage is delayed. The threshold will be 12 hours domestically, or 25 hours internationally.

American United Tail
Baggage fees generate billions of dollars of revenue for US carriers. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Proposed refunds for delayed bags

According to reports in US media outlets, including CBS and The Hill, the DOT has plans to propose new legislation concerning refunded baggage fees for American carriers. If approved, the new regulations would see airlines be made liable to refund passengers’ baggage fees if their checked baggage arrives late at their destination airport.

For domestic flights, carriers would reportedly have to pay out such refunds if the delay is over 12 hours. There is set to be somewhat more leeway given to international flights. Indeed, the planned cutoff time for such sectors is set to be a 25-hour delay.

As it stands, airlines must only refund baggage fees if they report a passenger’s checked luggage as having been lost. However, they are also obliged to compensate passengers with ‘reasonable incidental expenses’ in the event of delayed checked baggage.

San Francisco Baggage
Passengers with delayed bags could be refunded as early as next summer. Photo: Kenneth Lu via Flickr

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When might the policy come into effect?

This is not the only new regulation that the DOT is hoping to put through. According to CBS, fees may also be the subject of refunds if airlines are unable to provide promised extras such as onboard WiFi access. On this matter, a DOT spokesperson told Simple Flying “if a passenger pays for something that doesn’t work, they should get their money back quickly.”

CBS adds that, according to a DOT official, the department will issue its proposal in the coming days. It hopes that it will then be able to implement the new regulations by next summer. This will be welcome news for passengers, who issued more than 100,000 complaints to the DOT regarding airline service last year, despite lower passenger numbers.

Plan Proposed To Make US Airlines Refund Fees For Late Baggage
Passengers on American Airlines have paid $2 billion in baggage fees over the last two years. This puts it ahead of both Delta and United. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Among the complaining passengers were many with gripes about refunds. Simple Flying reached out to the DOT for further information, with a spokesperson confirming:

These rulemakings will save families money and ensure they get their money back when they pay for a service they didn’t end up receiving. (…) The President and USDOT believe that if a passenger pays to check a bag, they should get that fee back if the bag doesn’t arrive on time.”

A strong revenue generator

For many airlines, fees for checked luggage are a handy way of generating extra cash. Of course, for larger carriers, this little extra can add up to be worth billions over the course of a year. CBS reports that carriers received around $5.76 billion in such fees in 2019. Even with demand much lower last year, baggage fees still generated $2.84 billion of revenue.

Southwest differs from many carriers in that it does not charge passengers for the first two checked bags. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Across these two years, American Airlines alone accounted for $2 billion, with Delta and United each taking home around $1.5 billion. Surprisingly for a low-cost carrier, Southwest doesn’t charge passengers for the first two checked bags. Its website states:

Southwest will accept the first two checked bags for free, provided that the bags do not exceed 50 lbs and 62 inches (L+W+H). Overweight items from 51 to 100 pounds and oversized items in excess of 62 inches but not more than 80 inches will be accepted for a charge of $75.00 per item one-way.”

What do you make of these proposals? Do existing baggage fees prevent you from taking as much luggage as you’d like when traveling by air? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.