UPDATE: Delta Airlines announced today they will now allow American troops to check four bags free of charge. The decision came amid public outcry when an Army unit returning from deployment in Afghanistan was charged a total of $2,800 in extra baggage fees.
“We would like to publicly apologize to those service men and women for any miscommunication regarding our current policies as well as any inconvenience we may have caused,” read an earlier statement posted on Delta’s blog. “We are currently looking further into the situation, and will be reaching out to each of them personally to address their concerns and work to correct any issues they have faced.”
The reversal came just one day after two soldiers, Staff Sgts. Fred Hilliker and Robert O’Hair, filmed a video onboard Flight 1625 and posted it on YouTube. They criticized Delta for the additional charges, complaining that the 34 soldiers were charged as much as $2,800 in baggage fees.
“We were frustrated with the situation,” O’Hair told Fox News Radio. “Honestly, we were just trying to get home.”
O’Hair said the trouble started Tuesday during an 18-hour layover in Baltimore. His unit was heading back to Fort Polk after a deployment in Afghanistan. O’Hair said their military orders stated that each soldier was allowed to check up to four bags free of charge. But the Delta agent told the soldiers they would have to pay for the fourth bag.
“My extra bag was my weapons case,” he said. “I had my assault rifle, a grenade launcher and a 9mm pistol.”
He said the baggage fee posed an immediate financial hardship for the soldiers and many of them expressed immediate “irritation, frustration and shock.”
“A lot of the guys didn’t bring credit cards because, heck, how much do we need credit cards in Afghanistan,” he asked. “It was an unexpected price and the fact they were going against what our military orders stated.”
After the video was posted on YouTube, Delta first issued a statement on its company blog apologizing to the soldiers and noting, “How deeply Delta respects and admires the men and women who fight every day for our country.” Aftewards, they changed their policy.
Col. Thomas Collins, a spokesman for the Army, told Fox News Radio the baggage fees “seem to be unusual.”
“Historically, the airlines have been gracious in waiving baggage fees for our troops deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.
The Veterans of Foreign War told Fox News Radio that Delta’s fee was the “worst welcome home any soldier could receive.”
“We know this is a business issue and that the troops will be reimbursed if they are authorized additional baggage in their orders,” said VFW spokesman Joe Davis. “But the shock of even being charged is enough to make most servicemen and women simply shake their heads and wonder who or what it is they are protecting.”
Since many of the troops did not have cash to pay the fee, O’Hair said their Lt. Colonel ended up paying hundreds of dollars for the ones who couldn’t afford the price.
And while the soldiers are expected to be reimbursed by the military, O’Hair said it could take weeks for them to get that money – putting a financial hardship on some military families.
“Luckily I was able to pay it and I can wait for my reimbursement,” he said. “But what about a Private coming back home? A lot of these Privates are living paycheck to paycheck. They have kids to support and they need that $200.”