Consumers Union: Airline Bill is Mixed Bag for Consumers

Experts

Director, Financial Policy
Sr. Director, Strategic Communications

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the House prepares to vote on the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018, Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports, says the bill represents both good news and bad news for the nation’s air travelers.

While the bill includes some hard-fought provisions to protect consumers, the airline industry succeeded in pressuring Congress to remove provisions that would have helped rein in airline fees.

“At best, this bill is a mixed bag for consumers,” said William J. McGee, aviation and travel adviser for Consumer Reports. “It contains some important consumer protections aimed at seat sizes, air ambulances, and passenger rights, but it fails to protect Americans from the fast-growing problems with airline fees. Airlines are nickel-and-diming consumers with new and higher fees, while they’ve forsaken customer service for all but a very few. Lawmakers and regulators must put their constituents first and put meaningful protections in place when it comes to the fairness and transparency of fees.”

Among the key components of the bill that Consumers Union has long supported:

• The bill establishes minimum dimensions for airline cabin passenger seats, which is important for passenger health and safety, as well as comfort.

• The bill protects passengers from being removed from overbooked flights. Consumers Union testified in support of this reform at a congressional hearing in 2017, following the Dr. David Dao debacle on United Airlines.

• The bill takes steps toward reforms for air ambulances, which have a history of charging huge, surprise bills. The FAA legislation establishes an advisory committee to recommend rules and requires the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to report to Congress on oversight.

• The bill takes steps to make it easier for consumers to reliably compare the prices of airline tickets. It requires a DOT rulemaking to ensure that, to the extent feasible, there is a consistent level of consumer protection regardless of where consumers purchase tickets.

However, Consumers Union is very disappointed that the bipartisan Fair Fees Act provision was eliminated from the bill. It would have ensured that change and cancellation fees are reasonable, and it would have directed the FAA to establish standards for assessing whether other types of fees were reasonable and proportional to the costs of the services provided. Another provision requiring additional disclosure of fees was also removed.

Consumers Union believes the need for transparency and accountability in airline pricing and fees has never been greater, as shopping and booking have become muddied by more and higher fees, which often have little relation to cost of the service.

Learn more about the organization’s work to expose and eliminate unreasonable fees through its What the Fee?! campaign at whathefee.com

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Consumers Union is the advocacy division of Consumer Reports, an independent, nonprofit 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. 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.