A bipartisan bill put forward Wednesday by the Senate
transportation committee would offer several new consumer protections for
airline passengers, but steers clear of a controversial proposal to privatize
the nation’s air traffic control (ATC) system.
“This is a good starting place for both parties to come together
and hopefully get something passed,” Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said in an announcement jointly released by
he and committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.)
As Nelson’s comment suggests, the Senate bill, which would fund
the FAA only through Sept. 2017, is more modest than its counterpart introduced
by the House transportation committee last month, which would extend through
Most notably, it does not address the Republican-backed House
bill’s call for the creation of a nonprofit corporation to run the U.S. ATC
network. House supporters say such a move would speed implementation of the
GPS-based NexGen system. The Senate bill instead proposes a series of studies
and reporting requirements designed to facilitate more efficient system
But the Senate bill goes well beyond the House proposal on the
issue of consumer protection. While both bills include language that would
require airlines to refund checked baggage fees when items are lost or delayed,
the Senate proposal would also trigger automatic refunds for services purchased
but not received, such as early boarding, seat assignments and carry-on
In addition, the bill would require airlines to notify families
traveling with children about the availability of seats together at the time
of booking. And it would call on the DOT to review the airline practice of
altering an itinerary by more than three hours, or altering an itinerary to
include extra stops, if compensation is not offered.
Notably the bill would create a standard, required method for
airlines to display ancillary fees, including baggage fees, cancellation and
change fees and seat assignment fees prior to the point of purchase.
That measure differs sharply from the House bill, which would do
away with the full-fare advertising rule that requires airlines and other
ticket sellers to post the total price, including taxes and fees, in all
In a statement Wednesday evening, the trade group Airlines for
America (A4A) chafed at the Senate bill.
“Regulations proposed in the Senate bill under the cloak of
consumer protection have the potential to drive up the cost of air travel for
consumers and potentially harm service to small- and medium-sized communities,”
the group said.
But A4A commended the Senate transportation committee on its
decision not to propose an increase in the maximum amount that
airports can assess in Passenger Facility Charges (PFC) per flight segment.
Airports, which use those funds for infrastructure projects, had called for the
maximum fee to be increased from $4.50 per segment, which it has been since
2000, to $8.50.
The committee’s exclusion of the proposed increase prompted the
U.S. Travel Association to issue a critical statement before the bill was even
"There exists a bipartisan recognition that adjusting the PFC
cap is long overdue. After all, addressing the issue of airport infrastructure
and airline competition are about as meaningful measures as lawmakers could
hope to address in FAA renewal,” Jonathan Grella, the association’s vice
president for public affairs said.
The Senate transportation committee is scheduled to debate the FAA
reauthorization bill on March 16.
FAA funding expires on March 31, before any long-term
reauthorization will be passed. The House is expected to introduce a temporary
funding measure ahead of the funding expiration.