Aug. 17--A group of United Airlines skycaps plans to ask a federal judge Friday to prevent the airline from charging travelers at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago a fee for their services.
Bankrupt United, searching for ways to make more money, intends this week to start charging Chicago travelers $2 a bag for skycap services. Those services have traditionally been free, though travelers customarily tip skycaps for their help with luggage and flight check-in.
The fee system violates a 1997 agreement between United and a group of 44 skycaps that requires arbitration for such changes, said Chicago attorney John Moran, who represents those skycaps.
The 10-year agreement settled a lawsuit brought by United skycaps against the airline after it outsourced its skycap services in 1993.
United says the skycaps' recent claim is baseless.
"We don't think our actions have breached the agreement," spokeswoman Jean Medina said.
United still plans to put the fee system in action this week at Chicago's O'Hare, she said.
The airline and its discount operation Ted have implemented the system at 11 other airports since November, Medina said.
United eventually plans to charge the skycap fee throughout its network, including at Denver International Airport. The airline has not announced a date for the change at DIA.
The system would hurt the skycaps' livelihood, Moran said. The $2-a-bag fee would replace tips, which represent the majority of the skycaps' income.
Moran said skycaps make a little less than $4 an hour plus tips.
Under the fee system, a vendor would collect the $2 fee and distribute an undisclosed portion to the skycaps along with an undisclosed increased hourly wage.
By mid-March the airline will start charging $2 per bag to check travelers outside the terminal.
About 15 percent of Northwest passengers use the skycap baggage-check service where it is available; it handles some 4 million bags a year. That service may soon cost $2 a bag.
The airline now has three nonstop flights a day from Midway to Denver, Ted's base, and two daily nonstops to Washington Dulles.