Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade mayor vetoes luggage-wrap rules at MIA

Wrapping luggage in plastic for protection on international flights is big business at Miami International Airport. Travelers preparing to fly to Cuba from MIA in this 2009 file photo get their luggage wrapped before their flight.
Wrapping luggage in plastic for protection on international flights is big business at Miami International Airport. Travelers preparing to fly to Cuba from MIA in this 2009 file photo get their luggage wrapped before their flight. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Wednesday vetoed a planned crackdown on outside luggage wrapping for Miami International Airport, setting up a showdown with commissioners over their effort to help the airport’s official baggage wrapper.

Issuing his first veto in nearly two years, Gimenez said it made no sense to start regulating baggage wrap at MIA and warned of travel disruptions if the county screened which bags were properly encased in plastic and which weren’t.

“Clearly this policy is not in the best interest of our core business at MIA — our passengers and our airlines,” Gimenez wrote in a veto message issued late Wednesday afternoon. “There are many customer service improvements needed at MIA, and limiting baggage wrap is not one of them.”

Safe Wrap has the lone contract to wrap bags inside MIA, allowing it to charge a premium over outside vendors who wrap luggage in hotel lobbies and private homes. Safe Wrap used to be one of them, but since 2013 it has enjoyed the advantages of being MIA’s official wrapper. That brings with it the ability to re-wrap luggage opened by federal screeners in the secure areas of MIA. The airport posts signs warning travelers that luggage wrapped off premises will remain unwrapped if opened by the Transportation Security Administration.

The rules that commissioners approved Oct. 6 on a lopsided 10-2 vote require all wrapped luggage to comply with standards met by Safe Wrap. The company, which contributed about $55,000 to commissioners’ reelection efforts in the last two years, said the change would boost its revenue by millions of dollars as it increases market share. Commissioners argued Miami-Dade has an interest in supporting Safe Wrap’s business since it was an MIA vendor, and noted the company’s success would mean more airport dollars under the contract’s revenue-sharing provisions.

“I feel we have a certain obligation to our partners to help them become profitable,” Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, who voted for the new rules, said Wednesday.

With his veto, Gimenez now faces a test of his ability to influence the 13-member commission, which needs nine votes to override a mayoral veto.

The lone commissioner who missed the original vote, Sally Heyman, said Wednesday she didn’t yet have a position on the matter. Even with Heyman, Gimenez would need to pull two of the yes votes over to his side in order to be guaranteed enough support to sustain a veto. To override, county rules require a two-thirds vote of commissioners present. That rule could change the math if fewer than 13 commissioners attend Tuesday’s regularly scheduled commission meeting.

Gimenez’s veto sets up his biggest legislative fight of the year, a testament to the high stakes involved in a traveler service virtually unknown throughout most of the United States. Popular with travelers to Latin America, the plastic wrap is prized as a deterrent for both airport pilfering and inserting contraband into luggage by smugglers.

The luggage-wrap fight has divided various airport tenants, with the Gimenez administration producing letters from airlines slamming the proposed wrap rules as too disruptive and Safe Wrap providing testimonials from baggage-handling companies saying competitors’ wrap were causing equipment jams.

Luggage wrapping is big business at MIA, with Safe Wrap generating nearly $15 million last year for a service that typically costs about $20 a bag. Safe Wrap was an outside wrapper until it won the MIA contract in 2013. Safe Wrap must pay at least $9.6 million to MIA in 2015 under its minimum-rent agreement, making it the top vendor at the airport.

“We want to pay more,” Safe Wrap president Radames Villalon said.

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