Adam Dupuis's picture

While We Weren't Looking: Trump Signed New Law Radically Changing Airline Travel

As we all debated the Supreme Court appointment of Kavanaugh, the government was still rolling on writing and approving laws.  We're not sure if it was strategy or not but when Sen Collins was making her speech about the SCOTUS nomination, Trump decided to sign into law a bill that had been sitting on his desk for two weeks.

This new bill that received the John Hancock of #45 was the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018, altering many aspects of how we travel in the air, but leaving two major issues untouched and actually placing them out of the reach of the FAA.

What do we now have to thank Congress and #45 for changes in airline policy?  Well it's actually what has not changed and what cannot be regulated that is the main part of the FAA Reauthorization Act. 

One of the biggest issues we all have as airline passengers is the cost of things.  We received no help from lawmakers in that department as the bill, now act DOES NOT regulate two of those main charges we hate.  Baggage fees and flight change fees. INC.com shares this on flight change fees:

As you might have experienced yourself, those fees can lead to passengers simply discarding a reservation they can't use, because paying the change fee would cost more than a brand new ticket.

Add it all up, and it's about $3 billion or more annually across the industry. American Airlines alone made $878 million from change fees last year, which adds up to about 2 percent of its revenue, according to The Wall Street Journal.

"It is our top priority to ensure that this--what we consider an existential threat to our business--does not become law," Sharon Pinkerton, the lobbying group's senior vice president for policy, told the Journal a few days ago.

And baggage fees? Well those can be whatever the airlines want them to be.  Even Southwest, an airline that has two free checked bags for passengers helped to lobby against baggage fee regulation.

What else was part of this Reauthorization Act? The fees were what the FAA is not authorized to act on, but the Act does give them the ability to alter our travel.  Let's sum up sone of the changes.  The first section you may notice as issues that were in the news quite a bit.  We're happy that Congress is paying attention to public opinion and current events.  We wonder if this was all found out because we're all watching Twitter a little more for our presidential briefings.

Here are the new things the FAA can do, thanks to pop culture and all that is viral:
  • Prohibits airlines from "bumping" passengers who've already boarded a plane.
  • Makes it illegal to store a dog or other animal in an overhead bin.
  • Mandates that airlines must allow passengers to check strollers if they are traveling with small children.
  • Increases the penalties for interfering with cabin crew or flight crew.
  • Tells the FAA to set up an "aviation consumer advocate," so that when you have something bad happen to you on an airplane, and you don't know who to tell, you'll have at least have someone to complain to.

These are other alterations that were not so newsworthy, but things we all have complained about at one time or another. They are:

  • Requires the FAA to set minimum standards for seat width and seat pitch.
  • Prohibits passengers from using mobile phones to make voice calls during flight.
  • Bans e-cigarettes from planes.
  • Requires airlines to refund passengers for "services they paid for but did not receive."
  • Requires the government to look into whether it's "unfair or deceptive" when airilnes say flights are delayed due to weather, when there are actually other factors involved.
  • Lets the FAA require airlines to let pregnant women board airplanes first.

One subject that was very viral in our community was the separation of or not allowing families with same-sex parents to board together. Some airlines were guilty of not considering them families or just allowing one parent to board and not both.

And in looking out for the flight attendants, the act also included:

  • Creates a task force to study sexual harassment and misconduct among airline employees.
  • Establishes minimum standards for how much rest time flight attendants get between shifts.

As for future travel and safety:

  • Requires the FAA to consider whether to allow supersonic airplanes over the continental U.S.
  • Allows the Justice Department, Homeland Security, and other federal law enforcement to hack or shoot down privately owned drones if they deem them a threat.
  • Also requires the FAA to work on regulations to allow "regular flights of package-delivery drones," like what Amazon wants to do.

And then there's the things that don't belong on the bill, but Congress decided to tag onto it to get them by.

  • Authorizes $1.68 billion for relief for Hurricane Florence, which hit the Carolinas last month.
  • Requires the FAA to set up an "Office of Spaceports." 

h/t: bulleted lists from www.inc.com

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With the exception of creating the Office of Consumer Affairs, this is Much Ado About Nothing. It's all politics. The flight attendants do get a couple more hours of sleep and evening, just like the pilots do, and that's helpful.

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Thanks. More in-depth articles about laws that affect our everyday lives can only help us better understand the impacts of so many laws that are passed while no one looking.

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