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Final FAA Reauthorization Legislation Likely to Include New Consumer Protections

In the wake of several high-profile cases of apparent passenger mistreatment, U.S. lawmakers are signaling a new willingness to hold airlines accountable for the way travelers are treated.

When legislators vote to re-authorize the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in a few weeks, the final language will most likely include some new basic consumer protections for air travelers. Following a string of embarrassing customer service failures by US carriers, key lawmakers have indicated that the FAA Reauthorization Bill will in some way address concerns about the perceived mistreatment of paying customers by the airlines.

“We’d like the airlines to understand what they should be doing on their own for consumer protections that are reasonable, rational and common sense,” Representative Frank LoBiondo, who chairs a Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on aviation, told The Hill this week. “And if they don’t do it on their own, we’re going to help them out.”

Proposed language in the House version of the bill will reportedly prohibit airlines from making room on overbooked flights by removing paid customers who have already boarded the plane. Proposed rule changes in the Senate version of the legislation are said to go even further and might prohibit US airlines from overbooking flights altogether.

Lawmakers began considering the need to lay down the law in the wake of the incidents like the one this April in which a Kentucky physician was brutally removed from an overbooked United Airlines flight. The all-around-poorly-handled situation in which Dr. David Dao was seriously injured made headlines around the globe and also became a rallying cry for passenger rights proponents.

Not surprisingly, the airlines have publicly indicated that there is no need to legislate additional passenger protections. Airlines for America (A4A), the US airline industry’s largest trade and lobbying organization, was quick to point out that airlines have already solved the problem without the need for government interference.

“U.S. airlines are focused and committed to treating every passenger with the respect and dignity they deserve,” A4A VP Shannon Pinkerton told lawmakers in testimony following the now-infamous United Airlines incident. “Airlines recognize that the onus is on us to foster a customer-centric environment. We commit to our passengers – and the members of this committee – that U.S. airlines will continue to work and invest in our ultimate industry goal of providing a safe, efficient and enjoyable travel experience each and every day.”

According to Pinkerton’s organization, member airlines have taken concrete steps to ensure that passengers are protected. Those reforms include, among other initiatives, reducing and in some cases eliminating overbooking, calling law enforcement to remove flyers only in instances where passenger safety or security is at risk and retraining employees and crew to help avoid unnecessarily escalating customer service conflicts into full-blown law enforcement conflicts.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

Comments are Closed.
htb June 29, 2017

I think it should be made clear that the airline has to pay a substantial amount of compensation and is obligated to get the passenger to their final destination in any available flight in the case of involuntary denied boarding, along with duty of care, similar to the European regulation. Right now the airlines can do whatever they want, hiding behind their one-sided T&Cs.

Oxnardjan June 24, 2017

Hopefully part of the consumer protection should be minimum space requirements. A 29" pitch is too narrow and a seat width less than 18" is unconscionable. We need more airports so that there are more options available to fliers. It used to be only the elite flew....now it is a major way of transportation. Skip the Bullet train and invest in airports.

diver858 June 23, 2017

Airlines have a simple solution - hold back assigning seats to customer who buy cheap tickets at the last minute on overbooked flights.