Whitehouse Joins Blumenthal, Colleagues to Introduce Bill of Rights for Airline Passengers
Amidst the busy summer travel season, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) joined Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) to introduce comprehensive legislation to expand protections for American air travelers. In addition to many other protections, the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights would require airlines to pay at least $1,350 to passengers denied boarding as a result of an oversold flight, prevent airlines from shrinking their seats until the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) sets a minimum standard for seat size, and require airlines refund bag fees immediately for damaged or lost bags.
This legislation builds on the progress Blumenthal and Senate Commerce Committee Democrats have made in this area, both in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 and the 2016 FAA extension.
“Airlines have been able to physically and financially squeeze passengers for too long. Our Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights establishes a baseline for making air travel safe, affordable, and reliable for the millions of Americans who fly every day,” said Whitehouse. “Our bill would help end the abusive practices that currently make air travel an unpleasant experience for many passengers, building on a law we passed last year directing the FAA to set a minimize seat size.”
“Whether it’s growing fees or shrinking seats, the rights and needs of air travelers are frequently and flagrantly ignored by airlines. This significant legislation would bolster the rights of air passengers and ensure tougher, much-needed oversight of the airline industry,” Blumenthal said. “For far too long, airlines have raked in billions by squeezing every possible cent from their customers. Everyone – regardless of age, ability, or income – deserves the right to comfortable air travel. It’s time to pass an air passengers’ bill of rights to protect consumers and restore sanity to the skies.”
“Exorbitant checked bag and change fees, frequent IT meltdowns, airline consolidation, and growing dissatisfaction with the flying experience make a passengers’ bill of rights as important as a boarding pass. Ensuring that airline customers have basic consumer rights every time they fly is a requirement in the 21st century. The Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights gives passengers control over their flying experience, returning fairness to the friendly skies,” Markey said.
“Excessive and unexpected fees, delays and cancellations, overbooked planes—almost everyone who has flown has experienced the need for a ‘Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights,” Wyden said. “For too long, the FAA has knuckled under the airline industry. It’s time to stand up for the rights of all air passengers and against excessive airline fees by ensuring ironclad consumer protections for air travel.”
“Flying is an important method of transportation and should be safe and accessible to all. That is why I am cosponsoring the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights. The bill includes important provisions to make airline travel more accessible to people with disabilities and to hold airlines accountable to provide safe and equitable service for everyone,” Casey said.
The Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights would protect air travelers by:
Providing Compensation for Involuntary Denied Boarding
- Establishes that $1,350 is the minimum level of compensation an air carrier or foreign air carrier must pay to a passenger who is involuntarily denied boarding as the result of an oversold flight.
- Encourages airlines to provide compensation to passengers who relinquish their seat in the form of a cash payment.
- Prohibits airlines from imposing a cap on the amount of compensation provided to a passenger for relinquishing their seat.
Stopping Airlines from Endangering Safety by Shrinking Seats
- Prohibits airlines from shrinking seat size further until DOT implements a minimum seat size requirement.
Bolstering the Transparency of Passengers’ Rights
- Requires airline employees to undergo biannual training on passengers’ rights.
- Ensures that passengers receive a clear explanation of their rights at ticket purchase and throughout travel.
Requiring Airlines to Refund Tickets and Compensate Passengers for Delays and Cancellations Caused by the Airlines
- Requires airlines provide ticket refunds and alternative transportation for flights delayed between one and four hours.
- Requires airlines to provide ticket refunds, alternate transportation, compensation, and cover the cost of meals and lodging (as applicable) for flights delayed more than four hours.
- Directs the DOT to facilitate interline agreements between airlines to ensure availability of alternative flights.
- Cracks down on airlines using weather as an excuse for delays and cancellations that are actually the airlines’ fault.
Protecting Basic Humanity on Planes
- Requires that the FAA study food and water safety on aircraft and mandate drinking water and restrooms be available free.
- Requires working restrooms on all aircraft and that restrooms must accommodate passengers with disabilities.
Grounding Sky-High Nickel-and-Dime Fees
- Prohibits airlines from charging exorbitant, unnecessary fees that bear no relation to the service provided.
- Requires airlines reveal the true costs of flying and offer lowest fares on multi-segment flights.
- Requires airlines be transparent about changes and costs associated with frequent flyer programs.
- Requires airlines refund bag fees immediately for damaged or lost bags.
Restoring Consumers’ Rights to Pursue Claims against Airlines
- Reinstates the right of passengers to sue airlines in federal and state court for unfair and deceptive practices.
- Reinstates the right of passengers with disabilities to sue airlines in federal court for denying basic access.
- Improves process for passengers to submit airline complaints and forces airlines to address concerns quickly.
Bolstering DOT’s Enforcement against the Airline Industry
- Requires the DOT to explain reasons for failing to impose penalties on airlines for violations of passenger rights.
- Institutes a study by DOT and consumer groups on the feasibility of system in which fines on airlines go directly to passengers.
- Eliminates the cap on fines that DOT charges airlines for violating consumer protection laws and prevents airlines from negotiating low, slap-on-the wrist fines for egregious conduct.
Addressing Lack of Meaningful Competition in the Airline Industry
- Requires a Government Accountability Office investigation into the fairness of airfares and fees as compared to the costs of services provided on flights since the consolidation of air carriers.
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