FAA funding bill may mean big changes for fliers – or none

An impending fight in Congress this spring over the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill could affect your next flight, for better or worse.

Trade associations call the appropriations bill the most important piece of legislation in the travel industry. The last one, passed in 2012, not only funded the FAA but also turned tarmac-delay rules into law and established an advisory committee for Aviation Consumer Protection.

But passengers, advocates and airline representatives can’t seem to agree on what the next FAA bill should — and shouldn’t — say.

Frequent flier Andy Abramson, a Del Mar, Calif., communications consultant who spends more than 200 days a year traveling, wishes Congress would take up basic passenger concerns, such as competition and customer service. He notes that since the previous bill was passed, American Airlines and US Airways have merged, reducing the number of legacy carriers to just three.

“We have far less competition,” he says. “Service levels in the air are declining.”

How could the government help? Abramson and other frequent travelers say it needs to find a way to encourage competition, either by reducing barriers to airline start-ups or by reviewing airline alliances, which offer airlines antitrust immunity. They could also set minimum comfort standards for passengers, which would prevent airlines from moving the seats closer together, as some have now done.

Passenger advocates are also pushing for changes. They have a long wish list that also includes addressing competition, limiting taxes and fees on travelers, and ensuring enforcement of regulations designed to protect consumers.

Before they can push their agenda, though, they’ll need to protect the gains made in 2012. They fear airlines may lobby to end the advisory committee on Aviation Consumer Protection, which has been a burr under the airline industry’s saddle for years because it routinely forces them to answer for their service lapses.

Also potentially on the chopping block are tarmac-delay rules, which prevent airlines from keeping passengers waiting in a parked plane for more than two hours without allowing them to disembark, according to Kevin Mitchell, president of the Business Travel Coalition, a group that represents corporate travelers. Airlines contend these rules cost them money because they force them to preemptively cancel flights.

Advocates also hope Congress will take a closer look at the competitive landscape, which includes not only the reduced number of domestic airlines, but also the so-called code-sharing alliances — business arrangements that allow airlines to share a flight with one another, which can include marketing flights operated by another carrier as though they are their own. Critics contend that these agreements hamper competition and force customers to pay more for tickets.

“Today, there are only three big alliances, and they are acting like monopolies, to the detriment of passengers,” says Charlie Leocha, president of Travelers United, an airline advocacy group. (Full disclosure: I’m a founder of Travelers United but am no longer involved with the organization.)

Alliances also permit airlines to shirk their responsibilities when it comes to issues such as luggage. Because there’s a gray area over whose baggage rules apply on a code-sharing flight, airlines can shift blame on lost or damaged luggage until passengers give up in exasperation, advocates say.

The airline industry would prefer the government take a more hands-off approach, which means it’s likely to fight any efforts to clarify rules or limit its ability to establish code-share alliances. It’s also fighting to include a controversial provision that would allow it to initially quote an airfare without the attendant taxes and fees, a bill called the Transparent Airfares Act, which passed the House last summer but so far has failed to gain any traction in the Senate.

“If Congress is serious about protecting consumers and ensuring transparency, it should include the provisions of the Transparent Airfares Act in the FAA reauthorization bill to ensure our customers know how much of their advertised ticket price is attributable to federal taxes and fees,” says Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade group for domestic airlines.

Critics say that kind of “transparency” would hurt potential fliers by giving them the impression that their airline tickets are cheaper than they are.

To be sure, airlines and passengers have some common ground. For example, the groups are unified when it comes to topics like lowering taxes on airline tickets. They’re also on the same page when it comes to modernizing air traffic infrastructure as part of a project called NextGen. But the issues that divide them seem fairly intractable and could lead to the delay of the bill, observers fear.

“These and many other issues involve advocates, opponents, lobbyists and Congress, usually leading to lengthy discussions and public debate before final resolution,” says Robert Mittelstaedt, a business professor and airline expert at Arizona State University. “While the 2015 process will likely involve some of the same drama as past authorizations, the average passenger will see little impact in the short term. However, as the saying goes, ‘Your mileage may vary’ — especially since the process could involve new fees and regulations before it is done.”

In the end, all the bickering is unlikely to address the big issues that passengers complain about. Steven Pinchefsky, a software consultant and frequent traveler based in Washington, sums them up as: “smaller seats, charging for everything and a lack of compassion.” Even airline employees, who try to ease some of the pain of air travel, are so hamstrung by restrictive policies created for the sole purpose of making more money, he says, “there’s nothing they can do to make your experience better.”

And that’s the problem with the FAA bill, which may be our best shot at improving air travel for years. You can’t legislate compassion. If you could, then this fight over the FAA bill would be over before it even started.

The next FAA Reauthorization bill will be ...

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by G1G.com

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Elliott Advocacy 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.

Send this to a friend