FOX 29 Investigates: Airline Luggage Tossed And Left In Rain - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

FOX 29 Investigates: Airline Luggage Tossed And Left In Rain

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US Airways collects $516 million a year for baggage fees US Airways collects $516 million a year for baggage fees
PHILADELPHIA -

At 25 bucks a bag and up, airlines are raking-in big money on baggage fees. But do those fees mean your bags are moved with care and stay high and dry?

For the big U.S. air carriers, it's not just passengers in their seats that fuel the bottom line. The baggage in the belly of airliners that are what really push profits. In fact, last year the airline industry raked in a stunning $3.4 billion in baggage fees alone.

"In all honesty, it's brought the airlines back to profitability," says Todd Lehmacher of U.S. Airways.

Which brings us to a video shot by a stranded air traveler in Philadelphia International Airport a little over a week ago. In a driving rain in the early evening of Sunday, July 28th., two U.S Airways baggage handlers are seen pulling luggage from the underbelly of a jetliner, but they don't place them in a wagon to be hauled off. Instead, they "toss them" to the rain soaked tarmac.

That's right. They throw them down.

And it's not just a couple of bags. The video shows 8 pieces of luggage that consumers have likely paid at least 25 dollars for being hurled onto two rain-soaked piles.

"It was just shocking, it was just....you couldn't believe what you were seeing at that moment," recalls Matt Wascavage of Columbia, MD.

Matt Wascavage pulled out his camera and rolled.

"Not placed on the ground, literally taken off the conveyor belt and thrown on the ground in the rain. It was a driving rain, those bags were landing in puddles," says Wascavage.

Wascavage had plenty of time to record. Just back from a Maine vacation, he was stuck at the airport while sheets of rain pounded the region and grounded planes.

"Why unload the plane if you're not going to take the bags and bring them in or transfer them to a cart to take them to another plane?" Wascavage asks.

And there's more. He also recorded while a U.S. Airlines worker backed a baggage-handling-vehicle away for the jet, leaving the piles of luggage on the tarmac to be pelted by the rain.

"I think what you observed was not necessarily our employees acting as we'd like them to behave with bags," says Todd Lehmacher.

Todd Lehmacher is a Senior Communications Manager with U.S Airways.

Lehmacher says that after U.S Airway's "Philadelphia leadership team" viewed the video, it opened an investigation. He says "throwing any item is not acceptable."

"The weather was horrible. It can clearly be seen on the tape, but they're tossing the bags!" I pressed Todd Lehmacher.

"They're tossing them," he agrees.

"They're throwing them and they're doing it with bags people paid 25, 35 or more for you guys to carry."

"We acknowledge that and it will be addressed with the appropriate individuals. I can say from U.S. Airways that's not the norm, Lehmacher replies.

And remember: those bags that were getting drenched, passengers paid for them, dearly. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, last year, U.S. Airways took in $516 million dollars in baggage fees. It was the 4th highest of the country's major airlines.

"We take it very seriously," says Lehmacher. "It's just not how we train our employees to do things,"

Matt Wascavage says the bags remained uncovered on the tarmac for 30 to 45 minutes until this handler returned to get them. There was no tossing this time.

Lehmacher says the record rainfall that Sunday, (eight inches in about six hours) caused big problems for the airline and may be the reason the bags were left behind and no cart was left to haul them away. He says the airline will try to answer those questions in its probe. He adds this luggage cart seen on tape was likely for bags going to other places.

Douglas Kidd heads the National Association of Airline Passengers. A nonprofit which presses, for among other things, changes in airline fee policies. He believes U.S. Airways should have made sure its workers had a way to protect and move the rain-soaked luggage.

For them to be out in the rain is one thing. For there not to be a baggage cart to receive the bags off the plane, that to me, is inexcusable," says Douglas Kidd of the National Association of Airline Passengers.

Matt Wascavage agrees.

"U.S. Air is in a business of providing a service and if that's how they provide a service it's certainly not up to par," he says.

"We absolutely take responsibility for our employees. That's not how they're trained. In all honesty this gives us a chance to review our procedures and we'll review and find out," says Lehmacher.

While the U.S. Airways tells us it's investigating the tossed bags, it claims its workers did a "phenomenal job in the chaos" brought by the weather and that 80 percent of its planes got in the air that day.

Matt Wascavage says he e-mailed a complaint to the airline and is waiting for a "detailed response."

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