FAIR Fees Act would prohibit airlines from charging unreasonable fees for basic services like reservation changes, carry-on baggage
Washington (January 31, 2023) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Congressmen Steve Cohen (TN-09), Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04), and Ro Khanna (CA-17) today reintroduced their Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous (FAIR) Fees Act, bicameral legislation that would prohibit airlines from charging unreasonable fees – including bag, seating, cancellation, and change fees – that are not proportional to the costs of the service actually provided. The bill also directs the Department of Transportation to review any other fees imposed by airlines and to ensure that children can sit with their family on flights at no additional charge. In 2019, U.S. domestic airlines collected $5.8 billion in baggage and $2.8 billion in ticket reservation fees alone.
“It’s no secret that airlines are pinching passengers’ pocketbooks with ridiculous fees—from charging travelers extra for a carry-on bag to forcing parents to pay to sit with their children—at the same time that they’re leaving their passengers stranded. It’s unacceptable,” said Senator Markey. “As hidden fees soar sky high, consumers are rightfully outraged at airlines’ deceptive pricing practices and poor performance. My FAIR Fees Act would ground the airlines’ corporate price gouging and protect passengers from unreasonable fees. I thank my colleagues for their partnership as we hold companies accountable to their customers, and I look forward to advancing important consumer protections in this year’s reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.”
“This legislation will ensure fliers have the essential consumer protections they deserve,” said Senator Blumenthal. “The Southwest Airlines debacle is just the latest example of why we urgently need stronger passenger protections, as air travel has become more stressful, unpredictable, and uncomfortable for fliers. This legislation will establish clear, enforceable rules for airlines to follow, putting consumers first and restoring sanity to the skies.”
“Air travelers tell me all the time about unreasonable fees for schedule changes or baggage fees that appear out of line with the likely true cost to the airlines for providing these services. It’s well past time that we have an objective assessment of those fees with the expectation that they will be either justified as reasonable or, as is more likely, reduced or eliminated. The flying public deserves nothing less,” said Representative Cohen.
“Airlines are charging folks unreasonable fees for basic services – it’s ridiculous,” said Senator Wyden. “That’s why I’m proud to cosponsor legislation that will prohibit airlines from charging excessive fees, which will save the pocketbooks of millions of families in Oregon and nationwide while traveling. I’ll always fight tooth and nail to hold airlines accountable and put an end to consumer price gouging.”
“Airlines charge consumers high fees for just about everything,” said Senator Whitehouse. “The FAIR Fees Act would put a stop to the airlines’ exorbitance and allow passengers to travel with peace of mind and more in their pockets.”
Senator Markey and Senator Blumenthal today also reintroduced the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights, comprehensive legislation to expand protections for air travelers. Among a host of key consumer protections, the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights would ensure that airlines provide passengers with fair compensation, refunds, and recourse in the event of airline-caused flight delays and cancellations, require airlines to pay at least $1,350 to passengers denied boarding as a result of an oversold flight, and mandate airlines to immediately refund bag fees for damaged or lost bags.
Earlier this month, Senators Markey and Blumenthal led 13 of their colleagues in writing to Southwest Airlines demanding answers for the thousands of flights it canceled in the last week of December. Amid the cancellation chaos, the two senators also called on Southwest to provide monetary compensation to passengers for the cancellations, in addition to the ticket refunds and reimbursement for hotels, meals, and alternative transportation that Southwest already agreed to provide to impacted customers. In November 2022, Senator Markey led Senator Blumenthal and Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) in filing a comment to the U.S. Department of Transportation urging the agency to strengthen its proposed rule on airline ticket refunds.
Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren, (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) are original cosponsors of the FAIR Fees Act in the Senate. Representatives Bennie Thompson (MS-02) and Jan Schakowsky (IL-09) are cosponsors in the House.
The FAIR Fees Act is endorsed by the American Economic Liberties Project, National Consumers League, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Action, Travelers United, and the Business Travel Coalition.
“Despite the airlines' dismal performance over the past year, they continue to nickel-and-dime passengers with higher and higher junk fees,” said William J. McGee, Senior Fellow for Aviation & Travel, American Economic Liberties Project. “We applaud Senators Markey and Blumenthal and Congressmen Cohen and Garcia for continuing the fight against unreasonable and often opaque fees that deceptively drive up the price of airline travel. And many fees should have been eliminated long ago, such as forcing families with young kids to pay extra to sit together."
“Airlines should not be in the business of nickel-and-diming passengers to death,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director, National Consumers League. “Beyond the frustration this causes for consumers, the billions that airlines collect in add-on fees inhibits competition and allows the industry to exploit a gigantic tax loophole. The FAIR Fees Act is exactly what is needed to protect passengers, promote competition, and ensure that the airlines pay their fair share towards maintaining our nation’s air travel infrastructure.”
“It is about time that ancillary fees are proportional to the true costs of providing the service. It is unfortunate that in many cases the amounts charged for ancillary services exceed the costs for those services,” said Charles Leocha, President, Travelers United. “Flight changes and cancellations as well as seat assignments can be made with a simple keystroke. However, the true opportunity costs vary depending on when the flight or seat change is made before the scheduled flight. These variable costs are nowhere to be found in the current fee structures. This bill will ensure these fees will be fair.”
“Carriers that impost all sorts of fees on travelers must be held to a standard that requires fees to bear a ‘reasonable and proportional’ relationship to their costs,” said Ruth Susswein, Consumer Action’s Director, Consumer Protection. “Otherwise we’re talking unfair and deceptive practices.”
“There are at least 10 striking examples of unfair and deceptive airline practices that drive the need to outlaw fees that are not correlated to the costs incurred by airlines,” said Kevin Mitchell, Chairman, Business Travel Coalition. “An example is when an airline charges $200 for handling a ticket change when an airline's cost for doing so ranges from $25 to $35 dollars.”