Returning U.S. soldier blindsided when airline slaps him with hefty charge for overweight duffel

Another day, another apology issued by an airline.

While it’s standard practice for many airline companies to charge fees for on board luggage, United Airlines issued an apology for charging one passenger a sizable $200 for a reportedly overweight bag, according to Fox 7.

The passenger , it turns out, was a National Guardsman returning home from a 21-month deployment in Afghanistan. And the penalty-inducing bag? A military-issued duffel bag weighed down with gear he needed while deployed like a Kevlar vest, two helmets and boots.

First Lieutenant John Rader was told his bag was too heavy as he prepared to board the United Airlines flight out of El Paso, Texas on Monday. United’s free baggage policy for active military personnel allows travel with up to five bags for free, as long as each bag is 70 pounds or lighter.

“I was told point blank that I’d have to pay $200 for the overage or find another bag to siphon stuff off with,” Rader told Fox 7. “Well, I didn’t have another bag so I was caught in a bind, do I go home without my stuff or without it?”

Rader ended up paying the hefty sum, as did another soldier traveling with him.

“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.

Rader’s extensive travels with the military never landed him in a situation like this. The soldier more than doubled his initial deployment time when he volunteered to extend his initial nine month order, eventually putting in 21 months of service.

“I just absolutely enjoy the fact that I can serve my country and live my life at the same time,” he told Fox 7.

“In the past, airlines have been very flexible to soldiers whether its upgrading us in our seating arrangements, helping us with numerous bags we travel with often. This is the first time and an isolated case in my history where it’s actually occurred,” he said.  “It became upsetting when all you want to do is get home and you have a $200 charge thrown on top.”

Rader did not think his future flights would be on the embattled airline, which has faced several scandals recently including the now infamous video of a doctor being forcibly removed from an overbooked flight.

“As I civilian traveling, I would not fly United after this situation,” Rader said.

“We are disappointed anytime a customer has an experience that doesn’t meet their expectations,” United said in a statement released Tuesday, “and our customer care team is reaching out to this customer to issue a refund for his oversized bag as a gesture of goodwill.”

Other airlines have policies in place for military travelers as well, such as American Airlines which allows up to five bags free for active duty military. Each bag can only weigh up to 100 pounds each. Active military travelers are exempt from the two piece baggage limit on Southwest Airlines, as long as all of the bags weigh 100 pounds or less.

While Rader was glad United acted to rectify what happened to him, he believes a policy change for the airline is in order as “$200 can go a long way when you come back.”

“Not a lot of people are compensated, so $200 comes out of pocket, you weren’t expecting it can change things, so I just want to make sure soldiers are cared for going forward,” he said.

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