National Consumers League statement on DOT’s Unfair and Deceptive Practices Rule

For immediate release: November 30, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC –The National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, is deeply disappointed at the Department of Transportation’s decision late Friday to finalize its Rule on Defining Unfair or Deceptive Practices. The rulemaking, begun at the behest of the airlines’ biggest lobbying group, was opposed by NCL and a coalition of eight other consumer groups, five members of Congress, two FTC commissioners, and nearly 200 individual consumers.

The following statement is attributable to John Breyault, NCL vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud:

“The DOT’s decision, at the height of a pandemic, to kneecap its ability to protect millions of travelers from airline industry abuses is deeply disappointing. That the Department decided to do so on the Friday after Thanksgiving highlights that they hope this terrible decision will be forgotten by Monday. It should be clear to every member of the flying public that current DOT leadership is focused squarely on doing the airline industry’s bidding between now and January 20. It will be incumbent on the next Administration to undo this Rule, along with so many other anti-consumer actions taken over the past four years.”

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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.

Delta and American ending change fees another victory for consumers

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) today applauded Delta Airlines and American Airlines for their decisions to end ticket changes fees. The decision, prompted by United Airlines’ decision on Sunday to end change fees, comes after nearly a decade of advocacy by NCL and other consumer organizations to put an end to such outrageous fees.

While the end of change fees at the Big Three airlines is a victory for consumers, the airlines continue to collect billions of dollars in add-on fees for services such as baggage, seat reservations, and early boarding. In addition, low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier and smaller airlines like JetBlue, Hawaiian, and Alaska continue to charge exorbitant change fees.

The following statement is attributable to National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg:

Following United’s lead, Delta and American have taken the right step for their customers by ending change fees. Consumers often need to change a ticket reservation due to circumstances beyond their control. We don’t think they should be penalized to the tune of hundreds of dollars when life’s uncertainties interfere with travel plans.

While Delta has committed to ending change fees permanently and American has agreed to also end change fees on some international flights, more needs to be done to ensure that change fees are consigned to the dustbin of aviation industry history. The commitment to not charge change fees should be included in all three airlines’ contracts of carriage, the legally binding document that underpins each ticket. Without this action, we fear that the airlines will simply slide back into their old ways when the economy rebounds from the COVID-19 crisis or when a new CEO takes over.

Congress should also continue to push for legislation like the FAIR Fees Act, which will promote transparency and fairness in the air travel marketplace for all consumers, not just customers of the biggest airlines. NCL will continue to advocate for such common-sense consumer protection legislation.

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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.

United ending domestic change fees is welcome news and a challenge to the industry

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, applauds United Airlines for its decision to permanently remove its $200 domestic change fee. The move comes after more than a decade of complaints by travelers and advocacy by consumer organizations like NCL who have urged the industry, the Department of Transportation, and Congress to rein in excessive, anti-competitive fees.

The following statement is attributable to National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg:

“We thank United Airlines for this bold policy change. United’s announcement is a victory for basic fairness in the air travel marketplace. The flying public has been beleaguered by hefty fees for everyday acts like changing an airline ticket, checking baggage, or reserving a particular seat on the plane. This comes at a critical time, as millions struggle financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. United’s decision to end domestic change fees—and we take them at its word when it describes the change as permanent—is welcome news for airline passengers.

We also want to extend our thanks to fellow advocacy groups  and pro-consumer Members of Congress like Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Steve Cohen who have fought for consumers in Congress by championing the FAIR Fees Act. This common-sense bill would require airlines’ add-on fees to be proportional to their actual cost.

United Airlines should be applauded for listening and responding to consumer advocates.  NCL has long argued that change fees are an unnecessary and unfair money grab by the airlines, as it costs practically nothing to change a traveler’s reservation when the unexpected happens. We sincerely hope that other members of the airline industry, particularly the other two legacy carriers—American and Delta—will follow suit. Failing to do so will put them at risk of losing even more passengers to companies like United and Southwest that do right by their customers. NCL will continue to push for common-sense legislation that requires all airlines to resist using their considerable market power to gouge consumers on fees and penalties.”

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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.

Advocating for emergency air transport coverage

This spring, NCL sent a letter to the CEOs of Cigna, Aetna, and UnitedHealth Group, urging them to enter into productive negotiations with air medical service providers to ensure coverage of emergency air medical transportation. The ask came as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country, making air medical services even more essential, particularly in rural America.

“We are increasingly concerned about emergency air medical access during this crisis, and believe this life-saving care should be covered by every insurance plan,” said NCL Associate Director of Health Policy Nissa Shaffi.

“We are asking that insurers review the robustness of their coverage policies and immediately enter into network negotiations with air medical providers so that this critical service is covered, and patients are never left with a bill they cannot pay.”

NCL calls on insurers to cover air medical services during COVID-19 crisis

May 5, 2020

Contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC –The National Consumers League (NCL) last week sent a letter to the CEOs of Cigna, Aetna, and UnitedHealth Group, urging them to enter into productive negotiations with air medical service providers to ensure coverage of emergency air medical transportation. The ask comes as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the country, making air medical services even more essential, particularly in rural America.

In its letter, NCL notes that it is increasingly concerned about emergency air medical access during this crisis, and that it believes this life-saving care should be covered by every insurance plan. NCL asks that insurers review the robustness of their coverage policies and immediately to enter into network negotiations with air medical providers so that this critical service is covered, and patients are never left with a bill they cannot pay.

Text of the letter, signed by NCL Executive Director Sally Green is below:

Dear Mr. Wichmann, Mr. Cordani, and Ms. Lynch:

The National Consumers League has long advocated for health care as a right and argued for fair treatment for all stakeholders across the health care spectrum – patients, physicians, hospitals, health plans, and health care providers. Our mission is particularly acute during the global COVID-19 pandemic, when medical professionals are on the frontlines fighting for our health and safety, stricken patients need life-saving care, and nearly everyone is focused on their health and that of their loved ones.

In this vein, we are increasingly concerned about access to emergency medical care, especially in rural America, as the virus indiscriminately makes its way across the country. When minutes count, Americans who fall victim to COVID-19 must be assured that they can get to the nearest, most appropriate medical facility as quickly as possible. As COVID-19 strains hospital capacity and critical medical equipment like ventilators become attenuated, emergency air medical transports between facilities are often the only way for patients to get the care they need.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 85 million Americans can only reach a Level 1 or Level 2 trauma center within one hour if they are flown by an air medical helicopter. The effects of this access problem are staggering, and even more pronounced as we wrestle with the COVID-19 crisis. For many Americans, air medical ambulances are a vital link to timely, life-saving care.

We believe that such life-saving care should be covered by insurance. Patients pay their monthly premiums – and copays and deductibles – so they are not bankrupted should the worst befall them or their loved ones. Unfortunately, there have been far too many stories of people who were transported by air ambulance because it was ordered by a first responder or doctor, only to be told later by their insurance company that they would have to shoulder the bulk of the cost. This should not be the case anytime, but especially now as our nation wrestles with a pandemic.

This explains why we at the National Consumers League are writing to you for your input and thoughts. We believe that emergency air medical transportation should be included in every health coverage plan. We think that insurance companies and air medical providers must work together to bring these services in-network, so patients are not left footing a bill they can never hope to pay.  Adequate network agreements are imperative so that patients are not told – after the fact – that they were transported by an air ambulance that was not in-network. When an emergency happens, or worse yet, a pandemic strikes, patients are not choosing whether to take an air ambulance, let alone choosing a particular provider.  Similarly, coverage denials based on “medical necessity” should be the exception, not the rule, in light of the fact that patients are not a part of the decision-making process.

We ask that your companies immediately take a comprehensive look at your coverage policies for air medical services and the robustness of your provider networks. We urge you and the air ambulance community to enter into network negotiations, take patients out of the middle, find a middle ground on reimbursement that fairly compensates both sides, and ensure rural communities have access to air ambulance transports. Refusing to fairly negotiate is simply not an option in light of the current crisis. Entering into productive negotiations immediately will ensure that patients across the country have access to the medical care they need and that they are simultaneously protected from balance bills.

Thank you for your attention to our concerns.

Sincerely,

Sally Greenberg
Executive Director
National Consumers League

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering 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.

National Consumers League statement on lack of airline passenger protections in COVID-19 relief bill

March 26, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League, America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, today called the Senate’s failure to include consumer protections for airline passengers in the COVID-19 relief bill a missed opportunity to protect the flying public. The bill, which passed the Senate on a 96-0 vote and appears headed toward passage in the House of Representatives, does not contain the passenger protections, supported by consumer groups, that were in Speaker Pelosi’s proposed bill.

The following statement is attributable to Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League:

“Airlines are canceling flights by the hundreds, leaving consumers who have spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on planned vacations and other travel high and dry. We are seeing disturbing reports that those customers, whose flights were canceled through no fault of their own, are being given the run-around by the airlines when they try to get a refund. A one-year flight voucher is of no use to consumers who don’t know when the current COVID-19 outbreak will subside.

In spite of this, the Senate approved a COVID-19 relief that did not require even the most basic of passenger protections of the airlines. While we applaud Congress for putting checks into the hands of the most vulnerable consumers and protecting the livelihood of millions of airline workers, it should have done more to protect the passengers who are the lifeblood of the industry. It is likely that this will not be the last time that the airlines come to Congress asking for a taxpayer bailout due to the COVID-19 outbreak. NCL will continue to press our elected representatives to ensure that consumers’ needs are not left unaddressed in the next relief bill.”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering 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.

National Consumers League statement on airline consumer protections in Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act

March 24, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League, America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, today called on leaders in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to support the consumer protection provisions in the “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act,” (H.R. 6379) the COVID-19 relief legislation introduced by Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY). These provisions would prohibit airline price gouging (Sec. 601) and require full cash refunds for cancelled flights (Sec. 602) during the national COVID-19 emergency. In addition, the bill would require that airlines provide quarterly reports to the Department of Transportation on the revenue they collect from baggage, change/cancellation, seat reservations, and other add-on fees.

NCL, along with a coalition of consumer and passenger rights groups, last week called on Congress to include a series of consumer protection measures in any airline bailout legislation. The proposed protections would address passengers’ concerns during the current emergency as well as broader structural issues in the airline industry going forward.

The following statement is attributable to John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud at the National Consumers League:

“A functioning airline industry is vital to America’s economy during this time of national emergency. Congressional leaders must not lose sight of the fact that passengers are the lifeblood of that industry. Congressional Democrats’ COVID-19 relief bill contains many, but not all, of the protections that airline passenger groups, including NCL, requested. While it is not a perfect bill, we urge leaders in the Senate and House to work together to ensure that the proposed protections are not watered down at the behest of the airline lobby as negotiations progress toward a final package.”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering 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.

Consumer groups urge Congress to insist on consumer protections in airline taxpayer bailout

March 19, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC–A coalition of national consumer and passenger rights groups today called on Congress to include provisions in any contemplated airline industry bailout legislation that address both the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak on passengers as well as long-standing consumer protection concerns.

After years of record profits, the airline industry is now facing steep and painful financial headwinds due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the industry has asked the Trump Administration and leaders in Congress for a bailout package of grants, loans, and tax relief reportedly totaling more than $50 billion. This includes $29 billion in grants, up to $25 billion in loans, three months of tax rebates and a repeal of aviation excise taxes through at least the end of 2021.

To address the immediate danger of the coronavirus and related passenger protection concerns during the national emergency, the groups urged Congress to require airlines to take steps to mitigate the spread of coronavirus on airplanes, require cash refunds for consumers who cancel flights or whose flights are canceled by the airline, require reasonable rebooking fares and increase call center staffing levels.

As advocates for consumers, the groups further urged Congress to heed the lessons of the 2008 financial crisis by including a slate of needed consumer protections such as making ancillary fees reasonable, restoring a private right of action, empowering state attorneys general to protect passengers, prohibiting further reductions in seat sizes, and ensuring equal access to fare, fee and schedule data.

“A commercially viable air transportation system is vital to the U.S. economy, but in the past decade the airlines have raked in $96 billion in profits on the backs of consumers with the implicit assurance that taxpayers would bail them out in the event of a major market disruption,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League. “If the airlines are going to run to Congress for a bailout when they could have invested in pandemic insurance or increased their cash reserves, then policymakers should require binding commitments to address long-standing consumer protection concerns.”

“After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Consumer Reports supported taxpayer relief  for the airline industry, but urged Congress to require protections to address longstanding consumer complaints,” said William J. McGee, Aviation Adviser for Consumer Reports.   “Unfortunately, no such protections were included, and since then, the airlines have consolidated, become less consumer-friendly, and laid off hundreds of thousands of workers as their profits soared.  Meanwhile, consumers have had to put up with tighter seats, indifferent customer service, and an increasing number of costly fees. Consumers should not be left out now.”

“Restoring a private right of action is the one necessary structural solution to provide sufficient industry discipline to prevent airlines from trampling on all the rights and interests of their customers,” stated Business Travel Coalition chairman Kevin Mitchell. “The right to sue when harmed is fundamental and is one that the U.S. Congress never intended to have stripped from airline consumers when it deregulated the industry in 1978. Moreover, it is a right that consumers exercise in every other consumer-facing industry to discourage market participants from abusing their rights.”

“As air travel is the main way the coronavirus has quickly spread to become a global pandemic, airlines have a special obligation to strictly obey government guidelines to mitigate the pandemic even though this means less revenue and increased expenses in the short term,” said Paul Hudson, President, FlyersRights.org, Public Member, FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee and Evacuation Advisory Rulemaking Committee. “DOT Secretary Chao must also strictly enforce the guidelines and abandon the agency’s weak enforcement of passenger rights. Congress at a minimum should repeal the exemption of airlines from consumer protection laws applying to all other businesses.”

“The last investment taxpayers made in the airline industry during a time of crisis was followed by record profits on the backs of consumers through less competition, transparency, passenger comfort and a proliferation of fees for services previously included in the price of a ticket,” said Kurt Ebenhoch, executive director of Travel Fairness Now. “This time, massive public assistance to the airline industry must be coupled with a meaningful commitment from the airline industry to passenger safety and consumer protection.”

“For years, the airlines have failed to place either passenger health and safety or passenger rights first, so Congress needs to require that they do,” said Ed Mierzwinski, U.S. PIRG Senior Director for Federal Consumer Programs.

“It’s time to put the public interest front and center as we take steps to address the immediate problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the airline industry in the long-term,” said Susan Grant, Consumer Federation of America’s Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy.

The letter was signed by the National Consumers League, Business Travel Coalition, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, EdOnTravel.com, FlyersRights.org, Travelers United, Travel Fairness Now  and U.S. PIRG.

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ABOUT

The National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering 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.

Business Travel Coalition

Founded in 1994, the mission of Business Travel Coalition is to interpret industry and government policies and practices and provide a platform so that the managed travel community can influence issues of strategic importance to their organizations. For more information, visit www.businesstravelcoalition.com

Consumer Action

Through education and advocacy, Consumer Action fights for strong consumer rights and policies that promote fairness and financial prosperity for underrepresented consumers nationwide.

Consumer Federation of America

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of non-profit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, more than 250 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization’s Board of Directors. CFA is a research, advocacy, education and service organization.

Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports (CR) is a nonprofit membership organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. For 80 years, CR has provided evidence-based product testing and ratings, rigorous research, hard-hitting investigative journalism, public education, and steadfast policy action on behalf of consumers’ interests, including their interest in safe and affordable air travel. Unconstrained by advertising or other commercial influences, CR has exposed landmark public health and safety issues and strives to be a catalyst for pro-consumer changes in the marketplace. From championing responsible auto safety standards, to winning food and water protections, to enhancing healthcare quality, to fighting back against predatory lenders in the financial markets, Consumer Reports has always been on the front lines, raising the voices of consumers.

EdOnTravel.com

A longtime travel expert, Ed helps consumers get the most from their travel dollar. His feature and Q&A columns give readers up-to-the-minute advice on everything from planning an itinerary for a European rail trip to booking flights, renting cars and buying travel insurance. Perkins also peppers his columns with valuable tips to avoid travel hassles.

FlyersRights.org

FlyersRights.org, established in 2007, is the largest airline passenger organization. It publishes a bi-weekly newsletter, operates a free hotline for airline passengers 877-FLYERS6, advocates for passenger rights and interests, represents passengers on the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee dealing with air safety, and maintains a staffed office in Washington, D.C. For more information, visit www.flyersrights.org

Travel Fairness Now

Travel Fairness Now is a non-profit coalition of 70,000 travelers advocating for greater transparency, competition and fairness in travel. For more information, please visit www.travelfairnessnow.org.

Travelers United

Travelers United is the only nonprofit, consumer travel organization dealing with air, rail, bus, rental car, cruise, and lodging.  With a presence in Washington, DC we regularly bring together the Department of Transportation, the Federal Trade Commission, congressional representatives, and major stakeholders to impact important issues on behalf of travelers. For more information, visit www.travelersunited.org

U.S. PIRG

U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.

If you care about cramped airline seats, you should care about the FAA’s evacuation tests

Last month, I had the pleasure of testifying before the House Aviation Subcommittee on the implementation of the Federal Aviation Administration’s 2018 reauthorization bill. My testimony touched on many of the pressing consumer protection priorities for airline passengers teed up by the 2016 and 2018 FAA reauthorization bills. 

The big news coming out of that hearing, however, was FAA Deputy Administrator Daniel Elwell announcing that the FAA will this November conduct its first evacuation tests with live participants in two decades. While this may sound like the kind of announcement only politicos should care about, it’s actually a very big deal for anyone who flies 

Why is that, you may ask?  

FAA regulations require that the “maximum capacity” of an aircraft must be able to be evacuated in less than 90 seconds in an emergency. The analogy is to the “maximum capacity” signs you may have seen in conference rooms, hotels, or other public spaces. Since the 1990’s, airlines have gotten fuller, seats have gotten smaller, and more bags and support animals have been brought into the cabin. Despite these changes, FAA has not updated its evacuation standards and has been content to allow airlines to self-certify that they can meet the 90-second threshold, largely based on computer simulations. 

This all changed last July when Congress passed the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act which requires FAA to set minimum seat size standards. That’s why Dan Elwell announced that the FAA will be conducting the tests in November. The airlines, which have been pulling down record profits in recent years as they’ve steadily crammed more butts into more and smaller seats, will almost certainly want the FAA to give its blessing that their sardine cans are safe.  

Unfortunately, the FAA seems intent on granting them their wish. The advisory committee it appointed to provide feedback on the evacuation standards is packed with industry insiders and hamstrung by its own charter from considering seat sizes and seat pitch (the room between seats) as part of its recommendations. The DOT’s Office of Inspector General has an ongoing audit of the evacuation standards, but there’s no indication that the FAA will wait on the results of that audit before it conducts its tests. 

We can’t let the FAA rubber stamp the airlines’ current inhumane and potentially unsafe seating configurations. That’s why NCL, along with a coalition of consumer and flyers rights groups this week sent a letter to the FAA and the DOT urging them to update their evacuation standards before the November tests. We’re calling on the agency to update its evacuation testing standards to account for things like the presence of passengers with disabilities, parents who are separated from their children (thanks in no small part to rising seat reservation fees), full overhead bins, and passengers who insist on taking their bags with them when they evacuate (or, even worse, filming themselves evacuating). These are all factors that are likely to slow down evacuations, but FAA’s evacuation testing standards don’t account for them. 

Updating evacuation testing standards may sound like wonky, inside-the-Beltway bureaucratese, but the consequences of not doing so could be deadly.

FAA evacuation tests could give green light to unsafe and inhumane airline seating

October 21, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) upcoming passenger evacuation tests are designed with outdated standards that do not reflect the realities of today’s airline travel marketplace, said a coalition of ten consumer and flyers rights organizations in a letter sent today to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson and Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao.

The groups’ letter explains how the FAA’s current evacuation testing standards, which have not been updated in more than 20 years, do not account for multiple factors that could prevent safe evacuation in the legally-required 90-second threshold. For example, the current standards do not account for the presence of emotional support animals in the cabin, parents who may be separated from their children due to airlines’ family seating policies, or passengers with disabilities. In addition, the current evacuation standards do not account for the experience in recent emergencies of significant numbers of passengers attempting to bring personal items like roller bags with them as they evacuate. Nor do the standards effectively simulate the disruption from the widespread panic that can be expected in the event of an actual emergency.

“The FAA’s standards are woefully out of date and out of step with the current state of airline travel,” said John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League, which organized the letter. “Unless the standards are improved, the airlines will almost certainly see the results of these tests as a green light continue their never-ending quest to shrink seat sizes and cram more passengers into planes.”

In September, FAA Deputy Administrator Daniel Elwell announced that that the agency will conduct tests of airplane evacuations involving 720 “demographically representative” people over 12 days in November 2019 in Oklahoma City. These tests, the first conducted by the FAA in nearly two decades, come in response to a Congressional mandate that the agency set minimum seat size standards in order to increase passenger safety. Unfortunately, the FAA appears to be pressing forward with the testing without input from the DOT’s Office of Inspector General, which is currently conducting an audit of evacuation testing standards, or the agency’s own emergency evacuation standards advisory committee. Furthermore, it appears the testing will not be conducted with full-scale airplane cabin mock-ups, but instead using smaller sections that don’t properly simulate packed airplanes.

“It is imperative that Secretary Chao and Administrator Dickson act aggressively to address our organizations’ concerns so that the public, whose faith in the FAA has been significantly diminished recently, will have confidence that the highest of standards were employed during the test evacuations,” said Business Travel Coalition chairman Kevin Mitchell. “Congress also needs to ensure that the testing processes and the underlying critical assumptions are realistic,” added Mitchell.

“Airline travel has changed significantly over the last 20 years, with shrinking seats and record passenger loads, a high influx of carry-on bags, scattered seating of families, ubiquitous electronic gadgets and cords and even on-board animals,” said William J. McGee, Aviation Adviser for Consumer Reports. “It is critical that the FAA’s methodology changes as well, so that this vital testing accurately reflects real-world scenarios, where the stakes are often life-and-death.”

The letter was signed by the National Consumers League, Business Travel Coalition, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, EdOnTravel.com, FlyersRights.org, Travel Fairness Now, Travelers United and U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.

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About the National Consumers League

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.