HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A Connecticut lawmaker is asking airlines to drop their checked baggage fees to help shorten security lines.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal has teamed up with Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey on the proposal, which they believe will help curb wait times at airports during the busy summer tourism season.

The senators say suspending the fees won’t eliminate lines but it’s a start.

A spokeswoman for the nation’s largest airlines called the senators’ proposal a misguided attempt to re-regulate airlines and warned it could make airline travel more expensive — fares would rise to offset the loss of income from fees. 

Jean Medina of Airlines for America said it would be better if the Transportation Security Administration had more staffing at the busiest airports and encouraged more travelers to sign up for PreCheck, a program that lets known travelers zip through security faster without removing shoes, belts, jackets and laptops. Last week her group encouraged travelers to post pictures of long lines on social media with the hashtag #IHateTheWait.

The TSA has issued warnings about potential backups this season, with airlines telling travelers to arrive up to two hours before their scheduled flight in order to wait for checks.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker has also voiced his concerns over increasingly longer wait times at Newark Liberty International Airport — citing lack of proper TSA staffing as the cause. Nationally, the number of TSA screeners is down 15 percent since 2011.

TSA is under growing pressure to fix the long lines. Some airports use private contractors instead of TSA for screening. Officials for the big New York City-area airports and Seattle have indicated they are considering such a move.

Bag fees have grown rapidly since 2008, when American Airlines became the first big carrier to charge for checking even one bag. It was a tool that the then-financially troubled industry used to deal with rising fuel prices.

Since then, fuel prices have fallen and airlines have earned record profits. The bag fees have remained; they brought in $3.8 billion last year, according to government figures.

Many passengers avoid the fees by carrying more luggage on the plane, leading to competition for limited space in the overhead bins.

“You can definitely see how it manifests in the lines at the airport,” one traveler at LaGuardia Airport told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond. “It’s terrible to fly, it’s terrible to go anywhere.”

Markey and Blumenthal said the TSA told them that passengers using checkpoints near airlines that charge bag fees have 27 percent more rolling carry-on bags.

Medina, the industry spokeswoman, said her group has seen no data to support the TSA’s claim. TSA declined to comment.

Long lines aren’t limited to airports where the main airlines charge bag fees. Recently passengers tweeted pictures of long TSA lines at Baltimore and other airports that are dominated by Southwest Airlines, which does not charge for the first two bags.

Spokesmen for American and Delta Air Lines said their airlines were loaning workers to help TSA with non-screening duties like handling bins and managing the lines at checkpoints and even offering recommendations for redesigning checkpoints for better flow.

 

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