Air Passenger Incidents: Congress Ponders New Rules on Airline Service
May 4, 2017
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  • In the wake of painful airline passenger incidents caught on video, some members of Congress want new regulation of airline practices.

    Proposals include requirements for minimum seat sizes, caps on baggage fees and a guarantee that boarded passengers have the right to fly.

    Weeks after a passenger was dragged off a United Airlines flight, a House committee grilled airline industry representatives at a hearing. … Read More

    Legislation related to airlines could tie into upcoming debates over Federal Aviation Administration funding reauthorization. But prospects for the proposals are unclear, as many Republican leaders in Congress oppose big moves toward increased regulation.

    Airlines say they are already making policy changes.

    “The airlines recognize that we need to step up on customer service, and we’re willing to do that voluntarily,” said Sharon Pinkerton, a senior vice president at lobbying group Airlines for America.

    Several proposed measures feature calculated names and acronyms.

    On Thursday, U.S. Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass. and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. introduced the “Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous Fees Act,” or the FAIR Fees Act.

    The legislation would allow airlines to only charge baggage fees that cover the cost of baggage handlers and other costs associated with checking a bag. It would also only allow change or cancellation fees that cover the cost of processing tickets and potential loss of revenue.

    Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers Alliance, said that in Europe, “consumers have far more robust consumer protections than we do in the United States,” including guaranteed compensation for cancelled flights.

    Last week, U.S. Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, introduced the “Transparency, Improvements and Compensation to Keep Every Ticketholder Safe,” or TICKETS, Act. It would guarantee that ticket-holding passengers who have been approved to board have a right to fly, “unless they present security or health risks.”

    The measure comes after United Airlines took fire for having a passenger dragged from a plane.

    At a Senate aviation subcommittee hearing Thursday, Blumenthal said he is also working on a passenger bill of rights.

    “Now there is the capacity [for airline incidents] to go viral, but that’s only spreading more information about them. They’ve always occurred,” Blumenthal said. “And they will not be corrected by the airlines themselves voluntarily. We know that from history.”

    After reports this week on American Airlines’ plan to add more seats on its Boeing 737 Max jets by reducing legroom for certain economy class seats, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., pushed a bill he had earlier introduced called the “Seat Egress in Air Travel” Act, also known as the SEAT Act. It would direct the FAA to set minimum seat sizes.

    “Seat size is not just about comfort; it is about the safety and health of the flying public,” Cohen said in a written statement.