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How the New FAA Bill Will Affect Air Travelers

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By Barbara Peterson, Condé Nast Traveler

Air travelers, rejoice? After three years of toil, Congress has produced a massive Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization bill, a 1,200-page doorstopper that—at least on a few pages—addresses passengers’ biggest pet peeves: tight coach seating, annoying airline fees, and transparency in pricing. Consumers won't get everything they wanted should the bill pass later this week, neither will the airlines. (The bill is expected to come up for a vote in the House Wednesday, after which it goes to the Senate and then the president’s desk for signature.) But here’s where this epic bill comes down on a number of hot-button items:
What may change

Passenger seats: Members of Congress fly a lot, and they’re not happy about those cramped coach cabins, either. So it’s not a surprise that lawmakers included language that would require the FAA administrator to draw up regulations—within one year—to establish minimum standards for seat size, seat width, and the width of aisles.

So does that mean put-upon passengers will all be flying in comfort sometime soon? Not necessarily. When this topic came up before, the FAA pointed out that they only have jurisdiction over safety—namely, crash-worthiness of the seats themselves, and the ability of fliers to get and out of those tight seats in the event of an emergency. That said, the FAA could still set a minimum on seat pitch, which might be a good start, but don’t look for the agency to start regulating airline layouts. In short, things probably won’t get any worse for coach fliers, but they probably won’t improve much, either.

Bumping passengers: The measure prohibits airlines from removing passengers from a seat after they’ve already boarded, but most carriers had agreed to this, after that infamous passenger-dragging episode aboard a United flight last year went viral. In effect, this just requires airlines to live up to their promises.

Supersonic air travel: The bill would also authorize a return of “supersonic” transport with reduced sonic booms over land, as at least one private company—the aptly named Boom Supersonic—is planning to bring it back by 2018. Hello, three-hour flights from London to New York.

Information about your delayed flights: How often have you wondered if that delay is really due to just bad weather? Under the bill, regulators will have to determine whether it’s an unfair or deceptive practice when carriers use the foul weather excuse when other factors are at play. (A reason for airlines to play the "storm" card? Bad weather isn't their responsibility.)

Service animals: Congress directed the FAA to regulate airline policies on support and service animals, as there are currently no uniform standards—instead, each airline is responsible for implementing and enforcing their own rules, which can get confusing for fliers.
What won't change

Baggage and change fees: An earlier of the bill would have required airlines to provide supporting data to federal regulators to justify the fees they charge for checking baggage, changing a ticket, and other ancillary services. (That idea recently gained momentum as most airlines—see Delta, United, JetBlue, and American—hiked the price of that first checked bag to $30.) In particular, members of Congress said they wanted to know why the fee to change a reservation can run as high as $200—for an action that requires a few keystrokes. Under fierce lobbying from the airlines, lawmakers dropped this clause in the final draft.

In-flight cell calls: Faced the prospect of a planeload of passengers screaming “Can you hear me?” into their devices, Congress said that in-flight calls should be banned; however, the calls are already prohibited on U.S. flights and there’s little support for changing that situation. So think of this clause as an insurance policy to prevent an airline from deciding at some point to permit calls (for a fee, of course).

Foreign airline flight rights: Lawmakers axed a proposal supported by both airlines and their unions that would have restricted access to U.S. markets for foreign airlines like Norwegian Air which, it was alleged, take advantage of lax labor laws in countries outside their home bases to launch flights to U.S. cities (like Norwegian’s flights from mid-size U.S. cities like Providence to points in Ireland and Scotland).

Fare transparency: Airlines will still have to advertise the entire price of the ticket, including mandatory fees and taxes, preserving a rule that the airlines have fought to repeal ever since it was implemented in 2012.

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Travel - U.S. Daily News: How the New FAA Bill Will Affect Air Travelers
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