United to Austin-area national guardsman returning from Afghanistan: Pay up for bag

A national guardsman on his way home to Kyle, Texas, after a 21-month deployment in Afghanistan said United Airlines made him pay $200 to check a bag because it was too heavy to qualify for the airline’s free military baggage policy.

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A United Airlines plane takes off from San Francisco International Airport.

“I was told point blank that I’d have to pay $200 for the overage or find another bag to siphon stuff off with,” First Lieutenant John Rader, who was preparing to board a flight in El Paso Monday night when the incident happened, told FOX 7 Austin. “Well, I didn’t have another bag, so I was caught in a bind.”

United’s policy states that U.S. military and their dependents traveling on official business receive waived service charges for up to five checked bags at 70 pounds each. Because Rader’s bag, which contained items including a Kevlar vest, helmets and boots, was over 70 pounds, he said he was given no choice but to pay the fee.

“In the past, airlines have been very flexible to soldiers, whether its upgrading us in our seating arrangements, helping us with numerous bags we travel with often. This is the first time and an isolated case in my history where it’s actually occurred. It became upsetting when all you want to do is get home and you have a $200 charge thrown on top,” Rader told FOX 7.

Military baggage policies differ depending on the airline. Southwest offers active duty military an exemption from its two-bag limit and free baggage up to 100 pounds, while Delta allows two free bags up to 50 pounds for active duty military traveling on personal business.

Maddie King, a spokeswoman for United, said the airline is reaching out to Rader to issue a refund for his over-sized bag “as a gesture of goodwill.”

We offer members of our U.S. military a variety of benefits to thank them for their service,” King told the Statesman via email. “One of these benefits is allowing them to check five bags and increasing the weight limitations for these to 70 pounds. We are disappointed any time a customer has an experience that doesn’t meet their expectations.”

It hasn’t been a great year for the airline. In March, United received widespread criticism for barring two teens from their flight because they were wearing leggings. And in April, video footage of a man being forcibly removed from a flight made national headlines.

Read more about Rader’s experience here.


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