US Senate FAA Bill Directs DOT to Regulate Airline Fees
June 29, 2017
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  • The US Senate’s version of FAA reauthorization, which easily cleared a key vote June 29, includes a provision enabling the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to determine which airline fees “are not reasonable.”

    As expected, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed an FAA reauthorization bill that does not include spinning off US air traffic control (ATC) from FAA, which is the centerpiece proposal of the House of Representatives FAA reauthorization legislation. The Senate bill reauthorizes FAA for four years as opposed to six years in the House bill. The Senate and House are aiming to pass a unified bill before FAA authorization expires on Sept. 30, but reconciling the disparate legislative proposals will not be easy.

    The Senate bill cleared the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee by voice vote, demonstrating there is strong bipartisan support for the legislation. Committee chairman John Thune (R-South Dakota) described the bill as “passenger-friendly aviation reform legislation” and noted there is widespread backing for it in the Senate. 

    One amendment added and approved during the June 29 markup of the bill is sure to get airlines’ attention. Sponsored by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), the amendment has the stated purpose of prohibiting airlines “from imposing fees that are not reasonable and proportional to the costs incurred by the air carriers.”

    Markey attempted to include a similar amendment during the markup of FAA reauthorization legislation last year, but failed. The provision is now included in legislation that has been cleared to proceed to the Senate floor for a vote. 

    The amendment calls for DOT, within 270 days of the bill’s enactment, to issue regulations prescribing which airline fees are unreasonable and therefore prohibited or limited to a certain amount based on DOT’s assessment of airline costs. Fees to be scrutinized by DOT are flight cancellation fees, checked baggage fees, seat selection fees and flight change fees, according to the text of the Markey amendment. DOT will also be able to regulate “any other fee imposed by an air carrier relating to a flight in interstate air transportation,” according to the amendment.

    In determining whether checked baggage fees are unreasonable, DOT is directed to assess “the costs of processing checked baggage electronically; and any related labor costs; and any other considerations [DOT] considers appropriate,” according the language of the Markey amendment.