Measures would help skycaps get tips

by Art Marroquin, Daily Breeze

LEGISLATION: Officials consider laws requiring airlines to hand fees over to baggage handlers.

American Airlines skycap Curtis Castillo helps a woman check her bags at LAX curbside check-in. (Brad Graverson/Staff Photographer)

As airlines begin charging travelers for checked luggage, a group of local and state politicians announced a series of measures Thursday aimed at making sure skycaps keep getting their tips.

Over the past two years, several airlines have imposed a $2 to $3 fee per bag for skycap assistance, which used to be a complimentary service.

Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Woodland Hills, introduced a bill last month that would require airlines to directly hand over the service fees to skycaps. His measure, AB 408, is scheduled to be heard next week by the state Senate’s Labor Committee.

"I know how hard the skycaps work, and I know the public’s interactions with them are generally favorable," Levine told reporters Thursday. "The American Airlines skycap Curtis Castillo, left, loads luggage at LAX curbside check-in. (Brad Graverson/Staff Photographer) skycaps go above and beyond the call of duty, but they are earning meager wages."

Henry Watts, a skycap at Los Angeles International Airport, said he has seen a 50 to 60 percent reduction in tips because airline passengers believe that the baggage fee is a gratuity.

"I don’t think it’s right," said Watts, who said he earns about $19,000 annually.

"We do good, quality work and provide a service," he said. "I want the public to know that we are not getting the $2 service fee; the airlines are getting it."

However, Levine’s proposal will likely be challenged based on legality, rather than on arguments over who should pocket the skycap service fees, according to David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, the Washington, D.C.-based trade group representing U.S. airlines.

"The state doesn’t have the legal authority to pass such a bill, and we will oppose it based on the fact that it’s preempted by federal law," Castelveter said.

As the cost of fuel continues to soar, airlines have become more frugal by cutting routes, increasing ticket fares and tacking on fees for services that used to be free.

In a further blow to travelers, American Airlines announced plans last AA skycap Willie Cailao helps travelers with their luggage at curbside check-in at American Airlines at LAX. (Brad Graverson/Staff Photographer) month to start charging $15 for the first piece of checked luggage.

"We see these fees as bad for passengers and bad for workers," said Zack Kaldveer, a spokesman for the Consumer Federation of California. "The $2 fee is really another example of airlines nickeling and diming passengers, while also taking money out of the pockets of some of their lowest-paid workers."

Levine said he understands the plight of the airlines, but increased fuel costs should be reflected in higher fares and not in service fees that could affect airport workers.

"I’m not begrudging the airlines the tough economic conditions; I understand that," Levine said. "But at the same time, this money is a significant percentage of the baggage handler’s wages. Just be honest with the consumer and don’t hide a fee that’s going to affect the baggage handlers."

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and San Francisco County Supervisor Tom Ammiano said they plan to introduce legislation similar to Levine’s bill.

Nearly two years ago, the Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance requiring LAX-area hotels to pass banquet service charges along to servers.

Hahn wants the same kind of guarantee extended to skycaps at LAX and its sister airports in Ontario and Palmdale. Such a move would allow the skycaps to pocket extra baggage fees charged by the airlines.

"These workers handle our bags, make sure our luggage arrives safely and make our travel a smoother and easier experience," Hahn said. "These workers deserve good wages and health coverage, which will result in lower turnover and a higher quality of service and security."