Will Passengers Win The Fight In A New FAA Reauthorization Bill?
February 10, 2016
Every few years, Congress is supposed to authorize legislation to set FAA funding levels and policy priorities (known as "reauthorization").
And that time is now.
The FAA Reauthorization bill is set to be marked up by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this Thursday, where additional amendments will be considered.
So far, the bill spends much of its 273 pages dealing with air traffic control reform. This is where, FlyersRights believes, the legislation offers nothing significant to help passengers and could potentially cause much harm.
"It's time to transfer management of Next Gen to NASA," said Paul Hudson, President of FlyersRights.org. "The only US organization with the real expertise and track record in engineering civilian aerospace systems that work. Not to a new untested AMTRAK, controlled by airlines and other special interests."
New ATC technology is expensive so airlines don't want to pay for it - and unsurprisingly, neither do general aviation or corporate jet companies. So the the House FAA Bill would end up putting the burden on passengers, who will no doubt see new fees and taxes.
The United States ATC system is the best in the world, using radar and human controllers. The so-called NextGen system which uses GPS and computers has failed five attempts to introduce it, and has all been abandoned as a failure by the FAA.
Also, passenger representatives are excluded from a new Air-Traffic Control board that would be dominated by airline reps.
Despite all this, some important pro-passenger provisions has made it into the bill, thanks to coordination between passenger advocates and legislators.
A group of congressmembers, led by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) slipped in the Families Flying Together Act of 2015. This language would direct the Department of Transportation to establish a policy that a family be seated together during a flight.
Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) authored a provision that would allow passengers on domestic flights to recoup their checked baggage fees if the airline does not deliver their luggage in 24 hours.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) announced a Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) Act as an amendment to the bill, establishing minimum seat size standards for the safety and health of airline passengers.
And the Travel Technology Association (Travel Tech) seeks to break up the US airline cartel, affirming that recent airline mergers have left us with only four large domestic carriers, which is bad for the marketplace.
Presidential and Congressional elections could have a significant influence on airline passenger rights and interests.
The time is approaching when it should be possible to see which candidates are best or least worst for air travelers.
One problem with all of them is they, as frequent air travelers, receive mega amounts of frequent flyer miles from the airlines; campaign contributions; and jobs and patronage from airports.
More than one nominally consumer friendly member of Congress has told FlyersRights that they are for passenger rights as long as they do not "offend the airlines"! Which of course eliminates 98% of passenger friendly proposals.
FlyersRights this week will file Freedom Of Information Act requests for frequent flyer miles granted to members of Congress.
We are also renewing our call for congress to fly in middle seats in coach class for at least 30 flights this year. This will enable them to get a better understanding of the plight of passengers and to get better acquainted with their constituents.
Candidates for president all fly in private jets and congressional leaders often use government planes. Sometimes they are accompanied by lobbyists and wealthy special interest reps.
Candidates who claim to want to represent the general public should give equal time and access to the public, instead of just wealthy special interests and their close supporters.
Looking at individual candidates, Donald Trump flies in private jets and helicopters, and has previously owned an airline. He also lost key personnel in an helicopter crash.
Senator Cruz hails from Texas where American and Southwest are located. He has no discernible record on air travel issues but generally favors less regulation.
Senator Rubio's staff has met several times with FlyersRights but has not supported any passenger rights legislation since 2012.
Senators Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have not been actively involved in air travel issues.
We are commited to solutions for promoting airline passenger policies that forward first and foremost the safety of all passengers while not imposing unrealistic economic burdens that adversely affect airline profitability or create exhorbitant ticket price increases.
All American air carriers shall abide by the following standards to ensure the safety, security and comfort of their passengers:
Establish procedures to respond to all passenger complaints within 24 hours and with appropriate resolution within 2 weeks.
Notify passengers within ten minutes of a delay of known diversions, delays and cancellations via airport overhead announcement, on aircraft announcement, and posting on airport television monitors.
Establish procedures for returning passengers to terminal gate when delays occur so that no plane sits on the tarmac for longer than three hours without connecting to a gate.
Provide for the essential needs of passengers during air- or ground-based delays of longer than 3 hours, including food, water, sanitary facilities, and access to medical attention.
Provide for the needs of disabled, elderly and special needs passengers by establishing procedures for assisting with the moving and retrieving of baggage, and the moving of passengers from one area of airport to another at all times by airline personnel.
Publish and update monthly on the company’s public web site a list of chronically delayed flights, meaning those flight delayed thirty minutes or more, at least forty percent of the time, during a single month.
Compensate “bumped” passengers or passengers delayed due to flight cancellations or postponements of over 12 hours by refund of 150% of ticket price.
The formal implementation of a Passenger Review Committee, made up of non-airline executives and employees but rather passengers and consumers – that would have the formal ability to review and investigate complaints.
Make lowest fare information, schedules and itineraries, cancellation policies and frequent flyer program requirements available in an easily accessed location and updated in real-time.
Ensure that baggage is handled without delay or injury; if baggage is lost or misplaced, the airline shall notify customer of baggage status within 12 hours and provide compensation equal to current market value of baggage and its contents.
Require that these rights apply equally to all airline code-share partners including international partners.