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Chuck Schumer takes aim at American Airlines, United Airlines’ overhead bin fees

Sen. Charles E. Schumer calls for an expansion

Sen. Charles E. Schumer calls for an expansion of the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights during a news conference at his Manhattan office on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Sen. Charles Schumer has threatened legislation if airlines don’t ease up on their attempts to “monetize every atom of the airline,” the Senate minority leader said Sunday.

Schumer has been put off by what he described as the latest affront to air travel: overhead bin fees. American Airlines recently announced that it would join United Airlines in instituting such a policy and Schumer feared of the ripple effect the move will have on other carriers.

“You don’t have to read the tea leaves to see that, when it comes new airlines fees, the future is turbulent,” Schumer said. “They continue a relentless march to monetize every atom of the airline, nickel and diming travelers with fee after fee to maximize their profits.

“What’s next? Are we going to pay per peanut?” added Schumer, before brandishing a backpack to illustrate his point. The press conference followed the senator’s appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” where he criticized republicans’ attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

United announced late last year that it would adopt an overhead bin fee as part of the company’s change in pricing model. Under the new “Basic Economy” fare, travelers will be allowed to store a carry-on that fits below the seat, but will be charged extra if they want to lay claim to overhead real estate on their flights. More expensive Economy tickets still provide bin storage without additional charges.

The company has argued that, in creating a “new tier” of ticket, it has made airfare more affordable for flyers willing to travel lightly. Several weeks later, American Airlines unveiled a similar new policy with the same framing.

“American Airlines now has something to offer every customer, from those who want simple, low-price travel to those who want an ultra-premium experience via First Class,” said American Airlines President Robert Isom in statement announcing the news. “Importantly, this new fare product also gives American the ability to compete more effectively with the growing number of ultra low-cost carriers.”

Schumer on Sunday called for the companies to “hit the eject” on bin fees. If cajoling doesn’t work, Schumer said he’d work to ban the charges through the Federal Aviation Administration.

“I’m announcing that in the upcoming FAA bill, which regulates the airlines, I’m going to lead a push to expand the airline passenger bill of rights…to add provisions so they don’t allow these extra fees for the overhead and for some other things—because enough is enough,” Schumer said.

“Jet fuel prices are low; competition is narrow because there are so few airlines,” continued Schumer. “Profits are way up and they’re gouging the consumer.”


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