More than a year after Congress passed a law requiring airlines to issue prompt fee refunds for delayed bags, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) wants to know why it’s taking so long for the administration to act.
In a letter sent today to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Nelson called on her to immediately issue rules needed to carry out the law.
“As we enter the heart of the summer travel season, each further day of delay causes substantial consumer harm,” Nelson wrote. “I urge you to act now to give the flying public the protections they were promised in last year’s FAA extension.”
The FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act, which passed Congress and was signed into law in July 2016, gave the Department of Transportation (DOT) one year to develop rules requiring fee refunds for delayed luggage and mandated a review of airline family seating policies. Specifically, the law required DOT to adopt rules requiring the airlines to issue prompt baggage fee refunds when checked luggage is not delivered within 12 hours after the arrival of a domestic flight or 15 hours after the arrival of an international flight. Additionally, it mandated that DOT review current airline policies on family seating and, if appropriate, require them to seat families with children under the age of 13 together.
According to DOT statistics cited by Nelson, the top 13 U.S. airlines collected at least $4.2 billion last year in baggage fees – resulting in passengers being charged as much as $11.4 million per day in bag fees.
Below is the text of Nelson’s letter to Secretary Chao.
July 20, 2017
The Honorable Elaine C. Chao
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20590
Dear Secretary Chao:
I write today regarding the status of regulations that were due by July 16, 2017, implementing two critical aviation consumer protections contained in last year’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) extension.
As you know, the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 passed Congress last year with broad bipartisan support. In addition to extending the FAA’s operating authority for one year, the bill also contained two provisions designed to help commercial air travelers. The first provision (Section 2305) generally required automated refunds for any baggage fees when checked luggage is not delivered within 12 hours after the arrival of a domestic flight or 15 hours after the arrival of an international flight. The second provision (section 2309) directed the Department of Transportation (DOT) to review and, if appropriate, establish policies directing air carriers to seat children 13 or under adjacent to the seat of an accompanying family member over the age of 13.
By statute, the DOT was required to take final action on both of these regulations no later than one year after enactment of the bill – or July 16, 2017. Unfortunately, neither regulation has been finalized by the deadline.
As we enter the heart of the summer travel season, each further day of delay causes substantial consumer harm. According to DOT statistics, in 2016, the top 13 U.S. carriers collected almost $4.2 billion in ancillary baggage fees. This works out to approximately $11.4 million in checked baggage fees per day. And, even assuming that only two percent of paid checked baggage is not delivered within the deadlines, that amounts to almost $229,000 in refunds that consumers are not receiving every day this rule is delayed.
Furthermore, the failure to promulgate the family seating regulation also causes substantial consumer harm. This summer, almost all flights are completely full. When a family is not able to obtain adjoining seating for children 13 or under, it causes undue stress and discomfort as family members are often forced to beg other passengers to move so they can sit next to a young child.
In recent months, the DOT has spent a substantial amount of time on issues, such as privatization of the FAA’s air traffic control function, that appear to be taking away resources from statutory mandates – like these important aviation consumer protection requirements. I urge you to act now to give the flying public the protections they were promised in last year’s FAA extension.
Thank you in advance for your assistance with this important matter.
Senator Bill Nelson