If a certain Senator has her way, a bill that forces airlines to allow one free checked bag (within weight limits), free passenger access to drinking water and restrooms will become law.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) hopes that her Airline BASICS Act would force Airlines to provide the services I mentioned above at no cost to passenger. The Bill would also require clearer disclosure of the various fees charged by airlines (that part I am supportive of).

I don’t know about you, but I don’t recall ever being charged for using a water fountain or for use of the restroom while on board or in an airport in the US or in most places around the world (there are a few exceptions in eastern Europe!). The Senator claims that air travel is already stressful and this bill will help reduce some of these stresses for passengers:

“When an airline advertises a flight, that is how much it should cost, plain and simple,” Landrieu said in a prepared statement. “Passengers should not be charged additional fees for checked or carry-on baggage, drinkable water or other reasonable requests. Air travel can be a stressful experience for many reasons, but unfair fees for basic amenities should not be one of them.”

In this blogger’s humble opinion, I think this is a very bad idea. The baggage fees that are being charged by airlines are one of the primary reasons airlines are able to survive what has become an extended recession for them. Only now are they starting to claw back to profitability after years of losses and bankruptcies that swept through the industry (and with AMR, we’re not done yet!).

This bill assumes that air travel is a right and not a privilege and that airlines need to sacrifice their viability in order to appease a loud minority of travelers. It doesn’t take into consideration that if airlines start to fail again, thousands upon thousands of jobs will again be lost in an economy that can ill afford to lose them. And does anyone think that fares will not rise dramatically in lieu of free checked baggage?

Airlines will collect approximate $3 billion in baggage fees alone this year. $3 billion that is very much the difference between survival and failure of the industry. It’s one thing for Washington to protect travelers against excessive delays as provided for in the Passenger Bill of Rights, but it’s a completely different matter to let Washington dictate to an airline how it generates it’s revenue.

While I respect the Senator’s right to propose legislation, I have to strongly disagree with this piece. It is shortsighted with tremendous potential for unintended consequences. I would suggest to the Senator to allow the dynamics of a free market society to run its course. If passengers don’t like the fees, no one is forcing them to board an airliner. As it stands now, $3 billion dollars of passenger money is voluntarily flowing to the airlines for checked baggage suggesting an acceptance of current fee structures that are in place.

As you can sense, I have a fairly strong opinion on this topic, and it’s only my opinion. I would like to hear what you think.