U.S. airline fees for passengers checking luggage have become standard in the past few years, but a travel industry group says the first checked bag should be free. The U.S. Travel Association on Wednesday called on airlines to let passengers check one bag at no extra charge, to reduce the number of carry-on bags going through airport screening and speed up the security process.

Most major U.S. airlines charge passengers $25 to check one bag and higher fees for more luggage when they travel in the U.S.

“No one can argue that the implementation of baggage fees hasn’t resulted in an increase in the number of bags going through [airport] checkpoints,” said Geoff Freeman, executive vice president of USTA. “If we want to address the security process, we have to look at the number of bags coming through.”

The suggestion was one of 13 made by the travel industry lobbying group in a yearlong analysis of ways to improve security and reduce the burden on travelers. The report calls on Congress to enact policies to improve air travel security.

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Travelers in a December survey by the USTA and Consensus Research said they would take two to three more trips per year if fewer hassles were involved. Those extra trips would add about $85 billion to the U.S. economy and support 880,000 more jobs.

Baggage and other fees accounted for much of the $3 billion operating profit reported by the six largest U.S. carriers for the third quarter of 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

“We feel this is an industry issue and not just an American Airlines issue,” spokesman Tim Smith said in an e-mail. The Fort Worth-based carrier charges U.S. economy-class travelers $25 for the first checked bag.

The Air Transport Association, the airline industry trade group, on Wednesday said it opposes the passenger screening proposals. Other key suggestions of the report included:

Standardize quantity and size rules of items that can be carried onto an airplane.

Create a voluntary, government-run “trusted traveler” program to focus resources on the highest-risk travelers.

Expand existing trusted traveler programs to qualified international passengers.

Remove any conflicting authority at checkpoints by giving the Transportation Security Administration full rein.

Reduce duplicative TSA screening for low-risk, international arrivals.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which does not charge for checked bags, cites another benefit of checked luggage. “We certainly can’t speak for the industry, but we know what works for Southwest,” spokesman Brad Hawkins said. “Having fewer bags in the cabin does speed up the operational process of the airline.”

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