What’s in the FAA funding bill for passengers?

The Federal Aviation Administration funding bill is out this morning, and while everyone else is focused on privatizing air traffic control, there are a few noteworthy proposals that will directly affect you.

As a reminder, the FAA bill is the best opportunity in four years to fix what’s wrong with flying. So it’s something to be taken seriously, but not too seriously. The markup session happens next week, and that’s where the rubber hits the runway.

Here’s the full text of HR. 4441.

Among the highlights: new rules regarding kids and seat assignments, prohibitions on voice communications and refunds on checked baggage that’s delayed.

See Title V for the details. Let’s go through them one by one. I’ve edited them for brevity and skipped one or two that were procedural. I’ve also offered a helpful English translation.

Families traveling together

It shall be an unfair or deceptive practice under subsection (a) for any ticket agent, air carrier, foreign air carrier, or other person offering to sell tickets for air transportation to fail to disclose, whether verbally in oral communication or in writing in written or electronic communication, prior to an individual’s purchase of more than 1 ticket for a covered flight, the notification in paragraph (2), if such purchase includes a ticket for a child.

In other words, tell us if we can’t sit with our kids.

Prohibition on certain cell phone voice communications

The Secretary of Transportation shall issue regulations to prohibit an individual on an aircraft from engaging in voice communications using a mobile communications device during a flight of that aircraft in scheduled passenger interstate or intrastate air transportation.

No chatting on the plane. Because Chairman Shuster said so, that’s why.

Use of new technologies

The Secretary shall periodically evaluate the benefits of using mobile phone applications or other widely-used technologies to provide new means for air passengers to communicate complaints in addition to the telephone number established under subsection (a) and shall provide such new means as the Secretary determines appropriate.

File your airline complaint on Snapchat. Way to get with the times, guys.

Improved notification of insecticide use

An air carrier, foreign air carrier, or ticket agent selling, in the United States, a ticket for a flight in foreign air transportation to a country listed on the Internet Web site established under subsection (a) shall disclose, on its own Internet Web site or through other means, that the destination country may require the air carrier or foreign air carrier to treat an aircraft passenger cabin with insecticides prior to the flight or to apply an aerosol insecticide in an aircraft cabin used for such a flight when the cabin is occupied with passengers.

The “say before you spray” law. OK.

Refunds for delayed checked baggage

The Secretary shall initiate a rulemaking proceeding to require that air carriers to refund any baggage fees charged to a passenger for checked baggage on a flight in scheduled passenger interstate or intrastate air transportation if the checked baggage of that passenger is not delivered within the 24-hour period beginning at the time of the arrival of the flight of the passenger at the destination at which the passenger was to retrieve the checked baggage.

You mean, they aren’t already doing this? Seriously?

It’s really astounding that in a 273-page bill to fund the FAA, they could only find a few paragraphs for consumers. I guess that’s how much we mean to Congress.

The FAA reauthorization bill is ...

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • James

    To open the can of worms…

    I see no problem with telling people with children they are not guaranteed to be seated together. Consider the inverse rule: If there was a requirement that the airlines must seat the child next to the parent, and the parent/child are bumped… Do you bump someone on the next flight so the parent/child still sit together? Or do they stay bumped until there is a flight with two seats together?

  • sirwired

    I would not consider the FAA –>funding<– bill to be the best place to address the concerns of air travelers… it's called a "funding" (or, more appropriately, "appropriations") bill for a reason.

    The best place for legislation directed at air travelers would be something dis-entangled from the thicket of the annual appropriations process.

  • Altosk

    I’m not following the “don’t tell us we can’t sit next to our kids” part. Is there any example listed? What are the airlines required to do? If I buy a 1st class seat and an ecomony seat for the kid, does she get a free upgrade? And, at what age is the child no longer considered a child? After all, 15 year olds can sit in the exit rows.

  • ctporter

    Also, what about parents that for various reasons need to book at the last minute where there are only a few seats available, should airlines bump other prior booked passengers to allow for an ability to select and keep seats together for those booking at last minute?

  • Skeptic

    Neither of you read the summary. The bill would not require the airlines to seat you and your children together. It would require them, as Chris said RIGHT IN HIS SUMMARY, to tell you if you can’t sit with your kids BEFORE accepting your payment for the flight. An informed consumer is a benefit to the system: c.f. Adam Smith’s economic theory of capitalism which requires “perfect knowledge” in order for markets to function properly.

  • taxed2themax

    I too am not 100% clear on what this part actually says or means. I would be a supporter of requiring *notification* that when booking a child’s fare together with a regular adult fare, that there may be fees required to obtain seats ‘next to’ one another. I would not be a supporter of making it a mandate that the carrier must insure the child is seated next to the adult without payment of the fee that would otherwise apply or creates the possibility that the carrier must displace another passenger to insure the adult and child are seated next to one another. But again, I’m not 100% clear on what the bills text actually says in long form.

  • Michael__K

    Families are not even guaranteed to be allowed on the same flight, even if they have purchased tickets on that flight together on one reservation.

    If, for example, the flight is oversold by 3 seats and a family of 5 is last on the boarding priority list, the airline will forcibly separate the family without their consent. I have personally witnessed this happen to a family.

  • jim6555

    The last thing that I want to see is the privatization of the air traffic control system. I live in Florida and we have privatized our prisons, the Medicaid program and our schools (they call them charter schools). For the most part, the results have been disastrous. There are some things that private enterprise can do better than government and other things that government does better at. I believe that air traffic control is one of those services that should remain in government hands.


  • ctporter

    That still leaves parents feeling “angry – that’s unfair!” that the only choices they have to select seats together are if they want to purchase the premium seats, if at the time of their booking no “free” seats together are available.

  • LonnieC

    Good luck finding that. Everything is tied to funding nowadays….

  • James

    It is so unfair that if, when I book a ticket, an aisle seat isn’t available for free! Waaaaa!

  • LonnieC

    All the legislation requires is notice that it is not possible to provide two seats next to each other if one is to be occupied by a child. Once the notice is given, the purchaser may do what he/she wishes. This is nothing more than a disclosure requirement – before the purchase is made – no more nor less.

  • LonnieC


  • LonnieC

    Perhaps not essential for many of us, but this bill also provides details for nursing rooms in airports (see Section 122).

  • ctporter

    Exactly LOL!

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