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Schumer: Several airlines vow not to charge for carry-on bags

By the CNN Wire Staff
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The fight against carry-on fees
  • Sen. Charles Schumer vows to "put the brakes on runaway and out-of-control airline fees"
  • Spirit Airlines last week proposed charging fliers $45 to store luggage in overhead bins
  • "Consumers are free to make their own choices," said Ben Baldanza, Spirit's CEO

Washington (CNN) -- Sen. Charles Schumer announced Sunday that several major airlines have promised not to charge passengers for carry-on baggage.

Schumer, D-New York, said he personally contacted officials at American Airlines, Delta Airlines, JetBlue, United Airlines and US Airways, and secured commitments from all five companies.

Two weeks ago, local carrier Spirit Airlines became the first in the United States to propose charging passengers $45 to store luggage in overhead bins.

"In the last week we have gained tremendous momentum in our effort to keep carry-on bags free," said Schumer. "We have begun to put the brakes on runaway and out-of-control airline fees. I am pleased some of the major carriers have responded to our efforts and have agreed not to charge for something that has always been free."

On Wednesday, Schumer introduced a bill that would amend the tax code to eliminate a loophole that he and four other senators say allows airlines to avoid taxes on certain fees. That effort came a day after two other senators put forward a bill that would change how the Federal Aviation Administration regulates carry-on baggage fees.

Video: Spirit CEO defends bag charge
I am pleased ... major carriers have ... agreed not to charge for something that has always been free.
--Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York

Spirit argued that the fee, which applies to flights booked for August 1 or later, is part of a strategy to make boarding an aircraft faster and easier. The low-cost airline, which has advertised 1-cent ticket prices on some short-haul routes, said it plans to offset the increase by reducing fees for checked luggage and some fares.

"This is a free market and consumers are free to make their own choices," said Ben Baldanza, Spirit's chief executive, in a statement last week. "Spirit is all about giving customers options to choose what they want to pay for without subsidizing the choices of others."

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, countered: "It seems that air carriers are crossing a line that will end [by] pricing middle-class families right out of being able to fly, and that's not right. While airlines have a right to set prices, families should have the right to bring a change of clothes with them and not be gouged for it."

As a result, Menendez, Schumer and the bill's other co-authors called on the U.S. Treasury Department to close a loophole that they say gives airlines preferential tax treatment for fees on services that are not deemed "reasonably necessary" for air transportation.

Under current laws, airlines pay a 7.5 cent tax for every dollar they collect in fares, but no tax is imposed on fees collected for "nonessential" services.

Watch Schumer say carry-on fees are "a step over the line" Video

The Block Airlines' Gratuitous Fees Act, or BAG Fees Act, introduced Wednesday would require that carry-on bags be considered essential and taxed at the same rate as fares.

The bill introduced Tuesday, the Free of Fees for Carry-On Act, is based on pending legislation to reauthorize funding for the Federal Aviation Administration.

Schumer says carry-ons are "a necessity of travel" for fliers Video

It would prohibit fees for carry-on bags that meet existing standards for weight and size, and require carriers to make detailed information about the fees available to passengers in advance.

The goal is to ensure that passengers are not penalized for bringing items such as medication, food and laptop computers on board, the senators said.

CNNMoney's Ben Rooney contributed to this report.