Congress comes to the aid of travelers, sort of

Congress last week proposed not one, but three ideas that could dramatically improve your next travel experience. I know that sounds like the opening line of a joke, but it’s true.

To get a sense of just how friendless travelers are in D.C., consider the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill, which funds the agency, among other things. It’s the best chance in four years to fix everything that’s wrong with flying, and maybe a few other travel problems, too. The current 273-page bill looks like it was written by airline lobbyists, save for one or two provisions that could help ordinary passengers.

For example, the powers that be tossed air travelers a table scrap with an interesting proposal that would help you when your luggage is misplaced by an airline. Specifically, it directs the Secretary of Transportation to create a rule that requires airlines to refund any baggage fees charged to passengers if luggage isn’t delivered within 24 hours, beginning at the time of the flight arrival. Currently, airlines only have to cough up these highly profitable fees if they lose your bag, and they only did that after the government forced them to.

But it’s a half-baked idea. While air travelers want their luggage to be delivered on time, they’re more concerned about getting to their destinations themselves — when their airline’s schedule promised it would get them there. To make this rule truly consumer-friendly, Congress should mandate that airlines refund airfares if they can’t deliver you to your destination within 24 hours of their schedule.

Second great idea: A proposed new law called the Stop Online Booking Scams Act, which would require all third-party hotel booking websites to disclose that they’re not affiliated with the hotel for which you’re making the reservation. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., says that the new requirement will help you tell the difference between legitimate hotel websites and fraudulent ones masquerading as name-brand sites.

But for guests, the more important disclosure is price. The hotel industry is awash in mandatory “resort” fees, lodging taxes and other surcharges, and hotel websites frequently don’t reveal these extra charges until the final booking screen. For consumers, the problem isn’t just knowing that they’re booking through a third party, but also knowing up front how much they’re going to pay for their room.

If the hotel industry, which supports the bill, really wants to help its customers, why not tweak it to require any hotel reservation site to disclose the full rate, including any mandatory fees, when you request a price quote?

Finally, we have the Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) Act introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., which does something air travelers have wanted for a long time: It sets minimum dimensions for passenger seats on planes. Cohen says the average distance between rows of economy class seats has dropped, from 35 inches before airline deregulation in the 1970s, to about 31 inches today. The average width of an airline seat has also shriveled, from 18 inches to about 16½.

Smaller seats aren’t just a comfort issue, but also a potential safety problem, according to Cohen. The Federal Aviation Administration requires that planes be capable of rapid evacuation in case of emergencies, yet they haven’t conducted emergency evacuation tests on all of today’s seats. Doctors also warn that deep vein thrombosis can afflict passengers who can’t move their legs during longer flights, notes Cohen.

Critics and industry lobbyists say setting a minimum seat size would interfere with a free market and raise fares. But there’s no credible evidence prices would go up, and the SEAT Act would go a long way toward making air travel a little safer, if not more civil.

Unfortunately, the SEAT Act failed as an amendment to the FAA bill last week, but Cohen says he plans to ask Congress to vote on it again soon.

The crop of proposals contains at least one dud: A proposed amendment to the FAA bill that would allow airlines to quote an initial fare minus taxes and mandatory fees, deceptively called the Transparent Airfares Act. The act, which passed the House two years ago but failed to gain any traction in the Senate, is being pushed again by airline apologists. It would effectively dupe air travelers into believing their fares are cheaper than they are, potentially costing them billions of dollars.

But overall, these congressional actions are something to cheer about if you’re a traveler. Now, if we could only get them passed.

How to help pass these pro traveler laws

Contact your representative. Bonus points if they’re on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation, but it’s not necessary. Tell them you support the SEAT Act, a modified Stop Online Booking Scams Act, and that you favor the refund provision in the FAA bill. Every vote matters.

Keep the pressure on. As these laws work their way through the legislature, stay in contact with your representative about making a positive change for travelers. You can contact your elected representative here: house.gov/representatives/find

Vote for change. If these proposals don’t become law — and let’s not kid ourselves, they probably won’t all pass — then remember who did this to you come election time. Vote for someone who will do the right thing. Oh wait, it’s an election year. How convenient!

Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook

Underwritten by

This site is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

This site is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

This site is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

This site is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

This site is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

This site is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

This site is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

This site is underwritten by InsureMyTrip

It’s simple. InsureMyTrip finds you the right travel insurance plan, every time. InsureMyTrip is the authority on travel insurance. Rated A+ for travel insurance by the Better Business Bureau. All travelers that purchase a policy through  InsureMyTrip have access to Anytime Advocates® for claims assistance.

This site is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

This site is underwritten by SCOTTeVEST

An innovative apparel brand for people who want easy access to everything they need. For those who live for every second, SCOTTeVEST lets you maximize your life. Ditch the carry-on bag and pick up a  SCOTTeVEST.

This site is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

This site is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

This site is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

This site is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

This site is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

This site is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

This site is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.