Airline fees and our military

By now I’m sure most everyone has heard how American Airlines is charging our military men and women baggage fees (overweight and extra bag).  The airlines are justifying this practice by claiming that the military reimburses the members.

Let me explain to you why this is wrong…

The concept of a military member, whether it is during a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) or Temporary Duty Assignment (TDA or TDY), being reimbursed for travel expenses by the military isn’t new.  A member, during their travels, that incur expenses need only submit a reimbursement form along with receipts to be reimbursed.  This process, however, does not take into account the problems associated by deploying into a war zone.  When a military member deploys to Afghanistan or Iraq, they know that, for the most part, need cash.  While a higher ranking member may have the financial resources to cover this charge, many of the lower ranking members do not, especially if they are young, married and have children.

A military member who is traveling will be paid for such travel and can take an advance on their travel.  While I don’t know the exact numbers, let’s say that the military will allow the member flying commercial from the United States to Kuwait City will allow the member $800.00.  The member can then take an advance on that $800.00 before they even leave for their journey.  A young military member with a family who leaves prior to a payday may not have the money in their account to cover any expenses, thus, they are forced to take the advance.  This is quite an ordinary situation.  

The young military member arrives at the airport with $600.00 in their pocket to cover their expenses.  When they arrive at the airport with their bags, they find out that they are now being charged for their extra baggage.

American, which recently charged two soldiers from Texas $100 and $300 for their extra duffel bags, said it gives the military a break on the cost for excess luggage and that the soldiers who incur the fees are reimbursed.

As with the above, the young member finds out they have to pay $300.00 because they have extra baggage.  The member is forced to pay this fee which leaves him/her with only $300.00 in cash.  This money has to sustain the member, not only during their travels, but, until they get paid again and they arrive at a base where they have access to an ATM, can use credit/debit cards or have access to a check cashing facility.  Any number of things can occur during this trip that will sap the members on-hand funds.

What is worse for the military member is that once he/she leaves the United States, international rates of exchange kick in.  With a weakened dollar, once the member reaches Germany or Kuwait City, these funds can be halved or even cut by 1/3, depending on the exchange rate.  In Germany the exchange rate is now $1.49 American to 1 Euro and for Kuwait it is $3.74 American to 1 Kuwaiti Dinar.  As you can see, the members cash reserves can quickly deteriorate, starting with their initial outlay at the airport.

The military member will fly to Kuwait City, Kuwait, and then be taken to Ali Al-Saleem, the staging area for members entering Iraq.  Once there, the member could wait up to week or more for a flight to their ultimate destination inside of Iraq.  What makes this worse is if the member isn’t traveling as part of a unit and has to go on a “space available” basis for a flight.  The member may be forced to transit through 2 different bases inside of Iraq before arriving at their ultimate destination at a remote Forward Operating Base (FOB).  One thing to also keep in mind is that while a “chow hall”, or “dining facility” as it is now called, will be available to the member, any of the fast food chains require cash.  

Once the member gets to their final destination, they can file their reimbursement form minus the initial advance.  However, being in a war zone and at times, in a remote location, this paperwork can take a while to be processed and hit their actual pay check.

The VFW has it exactly right; any military member deploying to Afghanistan or Iraq in support of the “war” should be exempt from baggage fees.

(blogged by he who was formerly known on Daily Kos as The Motley Patriot)


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    • Edger on August 14, 2008 at 15:33

    And good to “see” you again… it’s been awhile.

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