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ARLINGTON, Va. — A leading veterans group understands that you may need an extra bag when you go to Iraq or Afghanistan.

"When you go downrange for 12 months, you’re packing a lot of stuff," said Joe Davis, a spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars.

That’s why the VFW is calling on airlines to allow servicemembers traveling on orders to check a third piece of luggage without paying a $100 fee.

VFW President George Lisicki made the request in a letter Friday to the head of the Air Transport Association of America.

"Those who wear the uniform today are a special class of citizen who enable everyone else to enjoy every liberty our great country holds dear," Lisicki wrote. "They deserve special treatment because they have earned it."

But such decisions must be made by individual airlines, wrote James C. May, president and CEO of the Air Transport Association of America, in a response to Lisicki. [Both letters can be seen at Stripes.com]

"While it would be unlawful for us to suggest a uniform industry pricing program, we will bring your letter to the attention of all our member air carriers for their independent consideration," May wrote in his response Monday.

The matter was brought to the VFW’s attention by a recent article in the El Paso [Texas] Times about a soldier who had to pay extra for a third bag on his way to Camp Bowie, Texas, to train for his Iraq deployment, Lisicki wrote.

The airline in this case was American Airlines, but the $100 fee for a third bag "appears to be the industry norm" unless servicemembers fly first class or are elite frequent flyers, he wrote.

American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner said it is impossible for the airline to waive the fees for troops because the government covers the expense.

"They don’t pay a dime, so we can’t give a soldier a break," Wagner said. "Nothing we do will cost the soldier any less than zero."

American Airlines already allows soldiers to take up to 190 pounds of luggage onto a flight for free, while other passengers have to pay extra after 50 pounds, he said.

He also said the story in the El Paso Times was the first time the airline had heard of a soldier who "didn’t understand the travel policy," namely that they will be reimbursed.

But Davis countered that the $100 fee is a "chunk of change out of a young enlisted man’s pocket."

He also said servicemembers must keep their receipt and remember to file it with their travel voucher when they redeploy.

However, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said servicemembers do not have to wait until the end of their tours before filing a travel voucher.

"You submit vouchers for portion of travel, particularly if you’re going to be deployed in a place for a long time," Whitman said Tuesday.

With the new Defense Travel System, servicemembers can be reimbursed for travel expenses within days, he said.

Still, the VFW feels troops should not have to pay a fee to take a third bag downrange, Davis said.

"Paying $100 up front and knowing it’ll be reimbursed quickly is a great electronic advancement, but soldiers deploying into a war zone have far more important things on their minds that filing travel vouchers," he said in an e-mail.

"Meanwhile, back on the home front — especially for junior enlisted and Guard and Reservists who are taking a cut in pay while being activated — that $100 means groceries and gasoline."

Read the letters ...(In PDF format)

From VFW Commander-in-Chief George Lisicki to the Air Transport Association of America

Reply from James May, President and CEO of the Air Transport Association of America to George Lisicki


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