First Lieutenant John Rader was on his way home from Afghanistan on Monday when United Airlines charged him $200 to check his Army-issued duffle bag on a flight out of El Paso, Texas. Rader had been in Afghanistan for 21 months, and was returning Monday when he received the warm welcome from United.
United has been beset with public relations nightmares in the last couple of weeks, but the airline has always bragged about how well it treats servicemen and servicewomen in uniform. The even allow active duty personnel to check five bags free. The kicker is that each bag has to weigh 70 pounds or less.
Rader’s bag was over this limit. “I was told point blank that I’d have to pay $200 for the overage or find another bag to siphon stuff off with,” he said. “Well, I didn’t have another bag so I was caught in a bind.”
He paid the fee. And he wasn’t alone. At least one other solider with him was caught in the same predicament.
“There was no empathy to the situation. I’m not looking for sympathy, but some form of empathy in the situation. There was none of that. It was just cold. I had to either pay or leave the bag,” he said. “It became upsetting when all you want to do is get home and you have a $200 charge thrown on top.”
What was it he was carrying? Boots. Helmets. Body armor. Not the typical tourist swag.
United, hoping to smooth things over, released this statement Tuesday: “We are disappointed anytime a customer has an experience that doesn’t meet their expectations, and our customer care team is reaching out to this customer to issue a refund for his oversized bag as a gesture of goodwill.”
Rader seems less concerned about the money, and more concerned with the message it sends.
“I just want to make sure soldiers are cared for going forward,” he said.