Two U.S. senators say one way to reduce long airport security lines this summer is for airlines to drop their fees on checking luggage.
It's the latest suggestion for dealing with what could be a hellish summer at the nation's airports. Airlines are already warning passengers to arrive at least two hours early to get through security and catch their flights.
Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey and Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday they asked executives at 12 airlines to drop checked-bag fees this summer.
The senators say suspending the fees won't eliminate lines but it's a start.
A spokeswoman for the nation's largest airlines called the senators' proposal a misguided attempt to re-regulate airlines and warned it could make airline travel more expensive -- fares would rise to offset the loss of income from fees.
Jean Medina of Airlines for America said it would be better if the Transportation Security Administration had more staffing at the busiest airports and encouraged more travelers to sign up for PreCheck, a program that lets known travelers zip through security faster without removing shoes, belts, jackets and laptops. Last week her group encouraged travelers to post pictures of long lines on social media with the hashtag #IHateTheWait.
Denver International Airport officials, concerned about a potentially record-breaking crush of summer travelers clogging security checkpoints, are urging passengers to get to the airport three hours before their flights.
TSA is under growing pressure to fix the long lines. Some airports use private contractors instead of TSA for screening. Officials for the big New York City-area airports and Seattle have indicated they are considering such a move.
Bag fees have grown rapidly since 2008, when American Airlines became the first big carrier to charge for checking even one bag. It was a tool that the then-financially troubled industry used to deal with rising fuel prices.
Since then, fuel prices have fallen and airlines have earned record profits. The bag fees have remained; they brought in $3.8 billion last year, according to government figures.
Many passengers avoid the fees by carrying more luggage on the plane, leading to competition for limited space in the overhead bins.
Markey and Blumenthal said the TSA told them that passengers using checkpoints near airlines that charge bag fees have 27 percent more rolling carry-on bags.
Medina, the industry spokeswoman, said her group has seen no data to support the TSA's claim. TSA declined to comment.
Long lines aren't limited to airports where the main airlines charge bag fees. Recently passengers tweeted pictures of long TSA lines at Baltimore and other airports that are dominated by Southwest Airlines, which does not charge for the first two bags.
Spokesmen for American and Delta Air Lines said their airlines were loaning workers to help TSA with non-screening duties like handling bins and managing the lines at checkpoints and even offering recommendations for redesigning checkpoints for better flow.
United Airlines, the busiest carrier at Denver International Airport sent Denver7 this statement in response to the proposal:
"At United we are focused on providing reliable and on-time service to our customers throughout their entire travel experience. We are working collaboratively with the TSA every day, particularly at our hubs in Newark and Chicago, to address longer than normal wait times at some security checkpoints. We encourage customers to allow plenty of time in their travel schedules, particularly during the upcoming summer travel season."
An official with Denver-based Frontier Airlines tells Denver7 the company will review the request.