First Lieutenant John Rader was charged $200 by United Airlines for his military-issued bag when he boarded a plane on May 15 in El Paso, Texas (video below).
Rader recalled his experience to KTBC in Austin:
I was told point blank that I'd have to pay $200 for the overage or find another bag to siphon stuff off with. Well, I didn't have the access to another bag so I was caught in a bind. There was no empathy to the situation.
I'm not looking for sympathy necessarily, but some form of empathy towards the situation, at least become a discussion and courses of action to solve the issue. There was none of that. It was just cold. I had to either pay or leave the bag.
Rader, who was returning from his 21-month deployment in Afghanistan, packed his boots, Kevlar vest, two helmets and other items in the bag.
The National Guard soldier was originally deployed for nine months, but voluntarily stayed on the mission an extra year.
A United spokesperson said that active military service members can check up to five bags free if the bags weigh under 70 pounds.
Rader recalled how airlines have been more willing to work with military members in the past:
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. It became upsetting when all you want to do is get home, and you got a $200 charge thrown on top.
After backing up their own rule on military members, United offered Rader a refund on May 16: "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."
While Rader is glad to get the refund, he wants a long-term change for other service members: "$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."
The United website has a "baggage acceptance allowance" policy for the military:
Active duty military personnel traveling on official orders or for pleasure are invited to check extra baggage free of charge. In some cases, military dependents will also be included. Please visit our Checked baggage and Changed bag rules and optional services pages for more information.