NCL sues Washington Nationals over junk fees not disclosed in advertised prices

July 17, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Lisa McDonald, lisam@nclnet.org, 202-207-2829

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the National Consumers League (NCL) announced that it has sued the Washington Nationals on behalf of a class of affected consumers in the District of Columbia and beyond for violations of the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act in connection with Nationals’ single-game ticket sales practices.

Consumers are entitled to truthful information from merchants, including information about prices. According to NCL’s complaint, the Nationals advertised deceptively low prices for their tickets by failing to disclose mandatory “ticket processing” fees that could increase ticket prices by more than 25%. The complaint explains that tickets the Nationals advertised on their website as “starting at $9” actually cost $11.25 once the mandatory “ticket processing fee” was added, and that in reality, the Nationals never intended to sell those tickets “starting at $9” on their official website.

Concealing fees of this sort – commonly known as “junk fees” – until late in the transaction is a misleading practice known as “drip pricing,” which frustrates and harms consumers, according to the complaint.

NCL’s complaint alleges that this has been a practice for the Nationals for years, and that these ticketing practices are misleading – and illegal under D.C. law. The D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA), D.C. Code § 28-3901 et seq., provides a robust set of protections for consumers.  Among other things, it protects the basic right not to be misled about the price of goods and services being offered for sale.

“It’s disappointing that ticket sellers like the Nationals hide the real price of their tickets from consumers until so late in the process,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s chief executive officer. “The junk fees attached to the Nationals’ tickets are wrong, and they’re illegal.  We hope this lawsuit brings some much-needed reforms to the ticketing industry to help protect consumers from these abusive practices.”

NCL’s lawsuit seeks damages on behalf of the class of consumers as well as other relief.

Read the full complaint here.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL) 

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Chaotic evacuation of American Airlines Flight 2045 shows urgent need for updated evacuation standards and minimum seat sizes

July 17, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

WASHINGTON, DC – The evacuation of American Airlines Flight 2045 on July 12 at the San Francisco International Airport appears to have taken significantly longer to complete than the federal standard of 90 seconds. While only minor injuries have been reported, delays in the evacuation created an unacceptable risk of major injuries or death for the passengers and crew on board.

Such chaotic scenes again highlight the urgent need for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to update its emergency evacuation standards to reflect the modern flying environment.

The lengthy American Airlines evacuation was not an anomaly; evacuations over the past decade have consistently exceeded the FAA’s 90-second standard. Evacuation standards were last updated in 2005 and over the intervening 19 years, the in-cabin environment has evolved substantially. Despite these changes, the FAA has rejected or failed to act on 27 recommendations from the FAA Emergency Evacuation Standards Advisory Rulemaking Committee or those of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s own Inspector General. 

As a result, the American Economic Liberties Project, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, FlyersRights, the National Consumers League, Travelers United, and U.S. PIRG are calling on the FAA to urgently address its antiquated safety regulations by:

Updating outdated evacuation standards. Current standards do not reflect the modern cabin environment and do not account for passengers of all ages and body types, record-high passenger load factors, the proliferation of personal electronic devices, the increased amount of carry-on baggage, or the cramped seating conditions of modern aircraft.

Establishing minimum passenger seat sizes. Despite receiving two mandates from Congress and over 26,100 public comments on the issue, the FAA still has not set minimum dimensions for airplane seats. The consistent shrinking of passenger seating has allowed carriers to increase the number of passengers in the aircraft without also increasing the number of exits. Additionally, the cramped seating poses a physical impediment to quick evacuation of the aircraft. 

“The FAA has the ability to reduce the risk of the chaos like what unfolded on Flight 2045,” said John Breyault, National Consumers League vice president of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud. “Passenger safety and a profitable airline industry are not mutually exclusive. For too long, however, the agency has allowed the airline industry’s concerns about its bottom line to stand in the way of creating standards that lead to a safer cabin environment. That has to stop.”

“The FAA is long overdue in updating its emergency evacuation training and procedures,” said William J. McGee, senior fellow for Aviation & Travel at American Economic Liberties Project. “In recent years we’ve gotten very lucky, as numerous potentially deadly evacuations far exceeded the FAA’s own 90-second timeline. It’s time to rely on proven standards rather than luck.”

“This serves as another example of why the FAA must look at this issue with the importance it deserves,” said Teresa Murray, consumer watchdog director, U.S. PIRG. “The recent evacuation tests relied on ‘able-bodied adult subjects under 60,’ the FAA acknowledged in 2022. We all know this doesn’t reflect modern travel — planes filled with children, senior citizens, people with disabilities and people who are heavy. This issue must be prioritized before we have a tragedy.”

Emergency landings and emergency evacuations occur several hundred times annually often due to smoke or fire in the cabin. The latest incident showed confusion and panic after a fire erupted in the rear of the plane,” said FlyersRights President Paul Hudson. “Needed improvements were recommended unanimously by the FAA Emergency Evacuation Advisory Rulemaking Committee in 2020. But it is up to FAA Administrator Whitaker to take action, without further delay.”

“This terrifying event is a stark reminder to the FAA to move forward with updated, safer evacuation standards and seating dimensions that reflect current air travel conditions,” said Erin Witte, director of consumer protection at Consumer Federation of America. “We urge the FAA to take the opportunity provided by Congress in the Reauthorization Act to publicly commit to addressing these issues.”

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About the National Consumers League (NCL) 

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL’s Child Labor Coalition praises the Biden Administration’s proposed rule to protect indoor and outdoor workers from extreme heat

July 3, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

WASHINGTON, DC – The Child Labor Coalition (CLC) strongly supports the Biden Administration’s proposed rule to protect indoor and outdoor workers from extreme heat. The U.S. Department of Labor announced the rule on July 2. The CLC is chaired by the National Consumers League (NCL) and has 37 organizational members, including numerous farmworker organizations and nonprofits. Both the CLC and NCL are members of the national Heat Stress Network, organized by Public Citizen.

Read the full proposed rule.

While the proposed rule does not recommend age-specific guidelines for child or teen workers, they would benefit greatly from OSHA-mandated heat-related safety protections. Extreme heat can lead to heat stroke, injuries, illnesses, and even death.

Exemptions to U.S. child labor law allow children in agriculture to work at age 12, and, in some cases, even younger, and those exemptions allow them to work unlimited hours, when school is not in session.

Reid Maki, director of child labor advocacy at the Child Labor Coalition, emphasizes the dire conditions faced by outdoor workers: “Farm workers perform physical labor in high heats without the benefit of shade. They work long hours under the hot sun with temperatures well exceeding 90 degrees, sometimes over 100 degrees without a break. They risk passing out, heat stroke, and death. We are most worried about children and teens. There is no doubt that putting rules in place will save lives.”

“President Biden and Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su have taken an important first step,” says Maki. “The proposed rule provides a pivotal opportunity to have a national conversation and develop comprehensive OSHA regulations to protect workers across many industries. We strongly urge the Department to add specific protections for children working in agriculture. We know that children are at increased risk of heat illness.”

The Protect Indoor and Outdoor Workers from Extreme Heat rule proposes several critical measures to address worker safety:

  1. Heat Risk Evaluation: Employers would be required to evaluate heat risks and develop comprehensive plans to mitigate these risks, especially when temperatures exceed 90 degrees.
  2. Rest Breaks and Hydration: Mandatory rest breaks and access to drinking water are key components to ensure workers stay safe and hydrated.
  3. Acclimatization Protocol: Employers must develop protocols to help new employees or those returning from vacation or sick leave adjust to the heat during their first week back.
  4. Heat Illness and Emergency Response Plan: This includes appointing individuals to implement heat emergency procedures, instructions for transporting affected employees to emergency medical facilities, and procedures for responding to signs of heat-related illness or heat stroke.

The proposed rule extends to indoor work environments as well, ensuring that workers in hot indoor settings are also protected. However, the proposed rule specifically excludes professions such as firefighters and emergency response teams.

Employers would also be required to provide training, implement procedures to respond to heat-related illnesses and take immediate action to assist workers experiencing symptoms of heat emergencies.

Summer heatwaves are upon us, and while many of us retreat to air-conditioned spaces, countless workers endure the blistering sun and soaring temperatures. For those laboring in the fields, on construction sites, and in other outdoor environments, extreme heat can be deadly. Record-breaking temperatures across the United States create life-and-death situations for outdoor workers, and each year, thousands of workers suffer from heat-related illnesses and hundreds die.

Whether working indoors or outdoors in high heat, the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness are the same and include weakness, dizziness, headaches, nausea, fevers, overheating, and muscle cramps. According to the Mayo Clinic, workers are encouraged to exercise caution when temperatures are between 80 and 90 degrees (Fahrenheit) and extreme caution when they are between 90-103 degrees. Temperatures higher than that are considered dangerous.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

Guest blog: Kids and car safety

By Sydney Greenberger, NCL Summer Intern

On June 20, the first day of Summer 2024, 1,086 baby onesies were placed in a display across from the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington, DC, representing the number of young lives lost to hot cars since 1990 in the United States. Kids and Car Safety predicts that over 7,500 more children have survived being left in hot cars, with various injuries. Already in 2024, three young children have lost their lives; the situation is exacerbated because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has failed to issue a regulation requiring technology to be placed in new cars to stop hot car deaths despite a mandate from Congress to do so.

In 2022, Congress directed the NHSTA to issue a federal safety standard requiring new vehicles to be equipped with technology to prevent hot car deaths by November 2023. The NHTSA has delayed action until November 2024. The technology is there, and it isn’t expensive, but the NHTSA has priorities other than protecting the lives of innocent children and companion animals at risk of being forgotten in hot cars this summer.

A common misconception among parents in the U.S. is ‘this would never happen to my family; how could you ever leave your child in a car?’ However, history proves that these tragedies can happen to anyone. More than half of these accidents occur because a parent unknowingly left their child in their vehicle. It happens to parents who are absent-minded. But it also happens to the most attentive parents. Parents who are well-educated and well-off. Over the past decade, it has happened to a dentist, a social worker, a police officer, a nurse, an assistant principal, a pediatrician, and many more. Preventable hot car tragedies can happen to anyone.

On average, 38 American children die yearly from these tragedies. 88% of these victims are under three years of age. 43% of children who were unknowingly left in cars were supposed to be dropped off at their daycare. Rear-facing car seats look the same to parents whether there is a child in them or not, and if a child is asleep, it can be easy to forget they are there.

Once a child has been left in a hot vehicle, saving them from these preventable tragedies is a race against the clock. A child’s body temperature rises 3-5 times faster than an adult’s. Cracking the windows and parking in the shade do little to slow the heating process or decrease the maximum temperatures in a vehicle, and temperatures in cars rise fastest within the first 10 minutes of being parked. Hot car deaths have occurred on sunny days with temperatures as low as 60 degrees. Heatstroke starts when the body reaches a core temperature of 104 degrees, and death can occur at just 107 degrees. By the time parents realize what has happened, it is almost always too late.

Technology could have prevented most of these accidents from occurring. Most car manufacturers support rear-seat reminder systems, which are audio and visual systems that remind drivers to check the backseat after shutting off the engine and exiting the vehicle. The hot car provision passed by Congress calls for these audio and visual reminders, but advocates believe that occupant detection systems are needed to prevent hot car deaths and injuries. Occupant detection systems use motion, radar, lidar, and carbon dioxide to detect a living being inside a vehicle. These systems can distinguish between living things and inanimate objects in the back seat. The system cannot be overridden or disabled, and minimizes false alarms.

Rather than require occupant detection and alert technology that costs less than $20 per vehicle, the NHTSA has decided that a “Stop. Look. Lock.” campaign is more effective than inexpensive life-saving technology.

Until the NHTSA passes these required regulations to ensure child safety in hot cars this summer, it’s up to parents to ensure the safety of their children and pets. If you see a child left unattended in a vehicle, immediately call 911. Teach children that vehicles are not a play area, and store car keys out of reach. Have a plan that your childcare provider will call you if your child fails to show up for school. Create a “look before leaving” routine whenever you get out of the car. Many parents leave their briefcase or ID badge in the back seat, so they must check before going into the office. Others always keep a large stuffed animal in the car seat. If their child is in the car, the stuffed animal moves to the front seat, reminding parents that the child is in the back.

The most effective way to prevent hot car deaths of children and pets is through the life-saving technology that the NHTSA has failed to regulate and require. The NHTSA has left it solely to parents to ensure child and animal car safety. We should all be calling our members of Congress and urging government officials to prioritize and regulate the safety of children and pets.

Sources

Safety recommendations from noheatstroke.org

Kids and Car Safety

Kids and Car Safety Occupant Detection vs. End of Trip Reminder

From the NHTSA

32304B. Child Safety

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

Press Release

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Advocates call on Biden Administration to act on airline passenger protection mandates

May 28, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

WASHINGTON, DC – With the summer travel season under way, consumer and passenger rights advocates today called on the Biden Administration to act expeditiously on consumer protection rulemakings and other actions mandated by the recently enacted Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization language. In a letter to President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg, the groups urged the Administration to prioritize the following actions:

  • Nominating a pro-passenger Assistant Secretary of Aviation Consumer Protection;
  • Ensuring that the FAA establishes minimum seat size standards for air carriers;
  • Improving reporting of the causes of flight delays to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT);
  • Ensuring that customer service channels are staffed by humans; and
  • Completing an independent non-partisan study of airline industry consolidation.

“Beginning the hard work of making airline travel less frustrating for passengers should not wait for the next election,” said John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud at the National Consumers League (NCL), which organized the letter. “Congress gave the Administration an aggressive timeline for implementing the new law, and we do not want these important new protections to be slow walked.”

“Both parties and both Houses of Congress put forth key protections for consumer advocacy, competition, and safety,” said William J. McGee, Senior Fellow for Aviation & Travel at American Economic Liberties Project. “In the past we’ve seen legislation that was not fully acted upon, and we urge the Biden Administration to swiftly and decisively implement these new laws.”

“The message from Congress is clear: the Administration must promptly take concrete steps to improve air travel for Americans,” said Erin Witte, Director of Consumer Protection for Consumer Federation of America. “Rather than waiting or delaying, the Administration should push forward and prioritize the implementation of the Reauthorization Act.”

“Congress has done its job and now it’s time for the Administration to do theirs,” said Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog Director at U.S. PIRG. “As we saw during COVID, our economy and our quality of life relies a lot on safe, reliable air travel. We’re eager to see these changes enacted quickly in hopes that air travel will become pleasant again.”

“Since 2007, FlyersRights as the largest airline passenger organization has been advocating for many of the provisions in this legislation,” said Paul Hudson, President of FlyersRights.org. “But while Congress previously required the FAA to enact numerous measures such as minimum seat size in 2018, FAA and DOT have often failed to act on Congressional mandates. This time must be different!”

The letter was signed by nine consumer and passenger advocacy organizations, including the American Economic Liberties Project, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, FlyersRights.org, National Consumers League, Public Citizen, Travelers United, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

To read the full letter, click here.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

NCL applauds Supreme Court for siding with consumer protection in upholding CFPB’s constitutionality

May 16, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL) is pleased to celebrate the victory for consumers in today’s Supreme Court decision. In upholding the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) funding structure, the Court has rejected extremist legal theories and allowed the agency to continue its important work to maintain a fair financial marketplace and promote economic and racial justice.

“The Supreme Court delivered a blow to the payday lending industry who challenged the CFPB’s funding for their own commercial gain. This is good news for consumers across the country,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s CEO. “The Court’s ruling clears a cloud over agency’s work and makes clear that financial regulators will not be gutted on behalf of special interests.”

The Bureau’s funding structure was key to its independence from short-term political agendas, similar to the Federal Reserve Board and other key regulators. Without the CFPB, consumers would be vulnerable to a slew of junk fees, predatory collection practices, and unfair application processes for some of their biggest financial decisions.

Further reading:

  • NCL statement on Fifth Circuit decision to invalidate CFPB’s independence
  • NCL applauds the CFPB’s effort to prohibit junk fees in financial services
  • NCL supports CFPB’s proposal to remove medical debt from credit reports
  • NCL applauds decisive action by CFPB against fraudulent payments processor
  • NCL supports confirmation of Rohit Chopra as CFPB director
  • Leading consumer groups call on FTC and CFPB to update study on accuracy of consumer data

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

NCL applauds Congress’s passage of aviation consumer protection improvements

May 16, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through 2028, sending it to the president. The legislation includes a number of wins for the millions of consumers who travel by air every year: airline vouchers cannot expire in less than five years, caregivers can sit with their minor children without paying an extra fee, and passengers will automatically receive a refund if their flight is cancelled.

The measure also strengthens the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) ability to hold air carriers accountable when they break the law by tripling the maximum civil penalty the Department may impose and creating an assistant secretary position for aviation consumer protection.

“The National Consumers League is grateful to the negotiators of this bill for working to improve the flying experience,” said NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud John Breyault. “Without support from Senator Cantwell, Senator Cruz, Representative Graves, Representative Larsen, and their diligent staff, these important new consumer protections would not have made it to President Biden’s desk.

“We look forward to the president signing the bill into law and a robust enforcement regime from DOT. Particularly, we expect the FAA to act on its mandate from Congress to establish minimum seat sizes on airplanes—a directive Congress has given the agency twice now.”

Unfortunately, Congress missed a significant opportunity to enact structural change in how airlines are regulated. The airline industry still enjoys extraordinary privileges and remains protected from Federal Trade Commission and state government oversight. A tax break for add-on fees remains in place, encouraging air carriers to generate revenue from added charges instead of the base fare. And a provision that would have established bare-bones safeguards around the devaluation of frequent flyer rewards was stripped from the bill.

While there is still work to be done, the flying public undoubtedly secured important wins in this reauthorization. NCL is appreciative of the allies to consumers who championed our priorities on the Hill and we will continue to advocate for passengers as the legislation is implemented in the coming years.

Further reading:

  • Consumer advocates support federal review of air industry’s data collection practices
  • Full list of consumer and public interest advocates’ priorities for the FAA reauthorization
  • Consumer groups call for a moratorium on smaller airplane seats pending FAA safety review

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

NCL supports AI liability rule, recommends extending its reach

May 2, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – This week, NCL and six other consumer advocacy and public interest organizations submitted comments in support of a Federal Trade Commission proposal that would establish legal liability for AI developers who know (or have reason to know) that their AI is facilitating fraud.

The FTC’s proposed rule would enable the agency to crack down on scams that use deepfakes and voice cloning. It would also help to fill a glaring gap in its ability to hold impersonation frauds accountable, like romance and grandparent scams. This hole in the Commission’s capacity to return funds to victims of fraud is a direct result of the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2021 AMG Capital Management v. FTC case.

“While some AI developers implement safeguards to prevent the misuse of their products, many do not,” said NCL Public Policy Manager Eden Iscil. “The FTC’s initiative in this space should put companies on notice that they cannot put out unregulated AI tools and allow criminals to supercharge their frauds with them.”

Recent trends have shown the urgent need for the FTC to have strong enforcement options to combat impersonation fraud. NCL’s Top Ten Scams report for 2023 found significant consumer losses attributed romance and family-and-friend imposter fraud, with victim complaints showing median losses at $8,000 and $1,040, respectively. Generative AI, including text generation, voice cloning, and visual deepfakes, can enable these scams to be significantly more effective. The Federal Bureau of Investigation noted a 322% increase in sextortion reports between 2022 and 2023, attributing much of the increase to the proliferation of AI tools.

The Center for American Progress, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Electronic Privacy Information Center, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the National Consumer Law Center, and NCL urged the Commission to clarify that the liability for AI developers in facilitating fraud should also apply to companies that provide scammers access to AI tools, even if the companies did not develop the AI themselves. The full comments can be found here.

Additional reading:

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

NCL on Upcoming Congressional Hearings with UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty

April 30, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – Tomorrow, the Senate Finance Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee will hear from UnitedHealth Group CEO on the insurance company’s cyberattack that put millions of medical records and patient privacy at risk.

The cyberattack is, of course, cause for concern, but there are also several other ways major insurance companies like UnitedHealth Group are hurting consumers. These companies have taken over the prescription drug marketplace – they are integrated with the pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) who gatekeep our prescriptions, limiting access and increasing out-of-pocket costs.

Here are the top questions American consumers deserve answers to:

  • How will your company work to not only protect patient data going forward, but also protect patient choice and power in their healthcare decision-making?
  • Can you explain the relationships and makeup of UHG, Optum Rx, and Optum Health? How does this vertical integration give consumers a fair choice when it comes to their health when there is a clear incentive to keep patients – and thus profit – in the UHG family?
  • UnitedHealth Group’s PBM Optum Rx claims to benefit consumers by negotiating rebates with drug manufacturers – why, then, aren’t consumers experiencing lower costs at the pharmacy counter?
  • How much does Optum Rx collect each year in rebates from drug manufacturers? How much profit does the UHG corporation rake in from prescription drug purchases?
  • Is UHG aware of the significant health and financial challenges that prior authorization requirements impose on consumers and their families?

The insurance industry is riddled with poor incentives that ultimately hurt consumers. Lawmakers have an opportunity this week to shine a light on these problems. We need bipartisan reforms to give consumers more power when it comes to their prescriptions, and ultimately, their health.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

Consumer groups welcome protections in FAA reauthorization agreement, urge continued improvements

April 29, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. House and Senate negotiators released their bipartisan and bicameral compromise bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As consumer and public interest advocates, we are grateful to members of Congress who are utilizing this opportunity to implement meaningful safeguards to the flying experience. However, as the last few years have demonstrated, there is a need for even more protections to address the extreme hardships that passengers have been forced to endure. Given the limited opportunity to enact reforms in the five-year cycle of the FAA reauthorization, we strongly urge Congress to enact amendments to further strengthen the bill before its final passage. 

“Consumers are notching significant wins in this package, but there is still work to be done to fix a broken airline industry,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “Tripling civil penalties, codifying DOT’s authority to issue important consumer protection rules, prohibiting family seating fees, and creating an Assistant Secretary position charged with protecting airline passengers will all have meaningful impacts on the flying experience. There is more that can be done as this bill heads to the floor, including requiring airlines to maintain 24/7 customer service telephone lines, protecting against the devaluation of frequent flier benefits, and codifying DOT’s ability to protect consumers from unrealistic airline scheduling practices. We look forward to working with leaders in Congress on this important issues.”

“Considering this bill was expected eight-plus months ago, you might have thought House and Senate negotiators would have taken the extra time to include all of the meaningful protections airline passengers deserve,” said Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog Director with U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “We’re particularly concerned with the absence of some provisions that would make air travel less burdensome, such as fee transparency.”

“Airline passengers will achieve some real gains in this bill and we look forward to seeing continued progress to strengthening the bill to include compensation for consumers,” said Ruth Susswein, Consumer Action’s Director of Consumer Protection.

“This legislative package includes some important steps forward for air travel consumers and ensures that some existing protections are not weakened,” said Erin Witte, director of consumer protection for Consumer Federation of America. “As this bill moves toward passage, we urge Congress to take full advantage of the opportunity to make it as strong as possible.”

Importantly, there are several boons for consumers in this version of the reauthorization, including:

  • Establishing a permanent office of consumer protection at the Department of Transportation, headed by a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary;
  • Requiring airline vouchers to be valid for at least five years;
  • Tripling the amount DOT can fine airlines for law violations;
  • Requiring air carriers to allow families to sit together with no extra charge;
  • Commissioning a Government Accountability Office study on competition and consolidation within the industry.

As it heads to the Senate floor, passenger advocates are urging senators to protect those provisions while supporting additional amendments that were included in previous versions of the House and Senate reauthorization bills, including: 

  • Requiring airlines to provide cash refunds for cancellations and significant delays automatically, without the need for consumers to navigate often-complicated refund processes; 
  • Eliminate a loophole that would allow FAA to avoid creating safe and humane seat size dimensions; 
  • Provide DOT with clear authority to regulate unrealistic and deceptive flight schedules; 
  • Codifying DOT’s authority to mandate ancillary fee transparency; 
  • Directing FAA to study the impact of shrinking seats sizes on the safety of airplane evacuations and passengers with disabilities.

Additional reading:

  • Full list of consumer and public interest advocates’ priorities for the FAA reauthorization
  • Consumer groups call for moratorium on smaller airplane seats pending FAA safety review

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.