Editors' pick: Originally published May 24.
Delta (DAL) - Get Report said Tuesday it won't back a proposal that U.S. carriers eliminate bag fees this summer in an effort to speed up long airport security lines that result from insufficient staffing by the Transportation Security Administration.
But Delta said it would assist TSA when possible -- on Monday, the carrier told The Minneapolis Star-Tribune that it will hire 40 people this summer to help agents move passengers through security faster at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Delta's third-biggest hub with 408 daily departures.
The carrier said it will spend between $3 million and $4 million on additional staff at its 32 largest U.S. airports between June and August to help shorten the long security lines. American (AAL) - Get Report and United (UAL) - Get Report are taking similar steps at their key airports.
"Delta believes the focus should remain on our current efforts," the carrier said Tuesday in a prepared statement. "We are investing significant time and resources to work alongside the TSA to improve checkpoint efficiency and staffing, mitigate wait times, and encourage customer PreCheck enrollment."
Besides providing workers, Delta has partnered with Clear, a biometric identity company, to enable rapid screening for premium passengers at key airports. The partnership "will shorten wait times and reduce the workload on TSA screeners," Delta said.
But Delta won't consider dropping its checked bag fees, Bill Lentsch, senior vice president of airport customer service and airport, told the Star-Tribune. "We've seen heavy travel periods in the summer months before," Lentsch said. "We know we can solve this."
Last week, U.S. Senators Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D.-Conn. proposed that airlines eliminate the checked baggage fee in order "to encourage people to check their luggage rather than putting in in the carry-on," the two men said.
The proposal gained support from Homeland Security Chief Jeh Johnson. "We've asked the airlines to consider possibly eliminating the checked baggage fee to encourage people to check their luggage rather than putting it in the carry-on," Johnson said in the prepared statement. Earlier this month, Blumenthal and Markey sent letters to the 12 major U.S. airlines urging a summertime halt to bag fees.
In 2015, the airline industry collected baggage fees of $3.8 billion, which contributed to record profits of $25.6 billion, according to the U.S. Transportation Department.
Nevertheless, the airline industry has little appetite for cutting revenue in order to assist a federal agency that already derives its income largely from ticket fees. The prevailing feeling is that Congress should adequately fund the TSA.
"If Congress really wanted to take action to address lengthy security lines it should return the $13 billion it diverted in 2013 from the increase passengers pay in TSA fees to the general fund," said Jean Medina, spokeswoman for the Airlines for America lobbying group.
"There is absolutely no data to suggest a causal relationship between airfare pricing and recent unacceptable security wait times," Medina said. "The model of giving customers the option of buying services they value and use, like checking a bag, has been in place since 2008. Further, airports served predominantly by carriers that do not charge separately to check a bag are also experiencing security wait times in excess of 90 minutes."
In particular, airline experts point to Chicago's Midway Airport, where the primary airline, Southwest, does not charge for bags and yet security lines have been unreasonably long.
In allocating about $4 million to assist TSA, Delta is joining American, which said last week it will allocate a similar amount to provide contract workers to assist TSA at its hubs and gateways, and United, which announced a similar commitment on Monday.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.