Posts

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.

###

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

###

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

###

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 urges Congress to improve air travel as FAA reauthorization progresses

February 15, 2024

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

Washington, DC – Last week, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee advanced the five-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The legislation does contain some victories for consumers, but it does not contain the deep reforms of an uncompetitive industry that are sorely needed.

“Passengers are crying out to Congress to implement real reforms that make flying less miserable,” said NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud John Breyault. “The Senate Commerce Committee could have used its twice-a-decade opportunity to swing for the fences on behalf of the flying public. Unfortunately, they settled for a bunt single.”

NCL, in coalition with other consumer and passenger rights organizations, has called for stronger safeguards to be included in the FAA reauthorization bill for years. Last February, NCL and eight other advocacy groups sent a letter to House and Senate Commerce Committee leaders urging support for a range of critical reforms to the airline industry. Key among those demands was a change to allow state attorneys general to enforce consumer protection laws against airlines, something that federal law currently prohibits them from doing. Thirty-seven bipartisan state attorneys general have also supported this reform, which both the House of Representatives and the Senate have so far ignored in their bills.

“Congress is running out of time to get this right,” said Breyault. “We strongly urge members of the Senate to make protecting the flying public a bigger priority as this bill moves to a floor vote.”

Several of the passenger rights coalition’s other priorities were included in the bill reported out of the Senate Commerce Committee. These reforms include a requirement that children be seated with their family and caregivers without additional fees, a requirement that air travel vouchers not expire before five years, standards for refunds in the event of a delay or cancellation, minimum customer service call center requirements, and creating an assistant Secretary of Aviation Consumer Protection.

###

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.