The Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights & FAIR Fees Act would put in place essential consumer protections for fliers

Washington (February 31, 2023) - Following a holiday travel season with Southwest Airlines’ meltdown and other airline disruptions affecting thousands of fliers, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) led the introduction of the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights and Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous (FAIR) Fees Act, bills to expand protections for air travelers.

Among a host of key consumer protections, the comprehensive 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. The Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights is cosponsored by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

The FAIR Fees Act, encompassed in the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights, would prohibit airlines from charging unreasonably high fees for basic services like checked bags, seat selection, and ticket changes. The FAIR Fees Act is cosponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

“Air travelers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for basics like a carry-on bag, a seat next to their children, or even for a sip of water, especially as airlines continue to fail passengers at every turn,” said Senator Markey. “Our nation’s largest airlines can’t even guarantee consumers that their flights won’t be delayed or cancelled, that their luggage won’t be lost, or that they won’t get stranded at the gate because of overbooking. The status quo won’t fly any longer. We must empower regulators and uphold passengers’ rights so they are treated with dignity before, during, and after their flight.”

“This legislation will ensure fliers have the essential consumer protections they deserve,” said 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.”

The legislation would protect air travelers by:

Requiring Airlines to Refund Tickets and Compensate Passengers for Delays and Cancellations Caused by the Airlines

  • Requires airlines to provide ticket refunds and alternative transportation for flights delayed between one and four hours.
  • Requires airlines to provide ticket refunds, alternate transportation, compensation, and cover the cost of meals and lodging (as applicable) for flights delayed more than four hours.
  • Directs the DOT to facilitate interline agreements between airlines to ensure availability of alternative flights.
  • Cracks down on airlines using weather as an excuse for delays and cancellations that are actually the airlines’ fault.

Providing Compensation for Involuntary Denied Boarding

  • Establishes that $1,350 is the minimum level of compensation an air carrier or foreign air carrier must pay to a passenger who is involuntarily denied boarding as the result of an oversold flight.
  • Encourages airlines to provide compensation to passengers who relinquish their seat in the form of a cash payment.
  • Prohibits airlines from imposing a cap on the amount of compensation provided to a passenger for relinquishing their seat. 

Stopping Airlines from Endangering Safety by Shrinking Seats

  • Prohibits airlines from shrinking seat size further until DOT implements a minimum seat size requirement.

Bolstering the Transparency of Passengers’ Rights 

  • Requires airline employees to undergo biannual training on passengers’ rights.
  • Ensures that passengers receive a clear explanation of their rights at ticket purchase and throughout travel. 

Protecting Basic Humanity on Planes

  • Requires that the FAA study food and water safety on aircraft and mandate drinking water and restrooms be available free of charge.
  • Requires working restrooms on all aircraft and that restrooms must accommodate passengers with disabilities.

Grounding Sky-High Nickel-and-Dime Fees

  • Prohibits airlines from charging exorbitant, unnecessary fees that bear no relation to the service provided.
  • Requires airlines reveal the true costs of flying and offer lowest fares on multi-segment flights.
  • Requires airlines be transparent about changes and costs associated with frequent flyer programs.
  • Requires airlines refund bag fees immediately for damaged or lost bags.

Restoring Consumers’ Rights to Pursue Claims against Airlines

  • Reinstates the right of passengers to sue airlines in federal and state court for unfair and deceptive practices.
  • Reinstates the right of passengers with disabilities to sue airlines in federal court for denying basic access.
  • Improves process for passengers to submit airline complaints and forces airlines to address concerns quickly.

Bolstering DOT’s Enforcement against the Airline Industry

  • Requires the DOT to explain reasons for failing to impose penalties on airlines for violations of passenger rights.
  • Institutes a study by DOT and consumer groups on the feasibility of system in which fines on airlines go directly to passengers.
  • Eliminates the cap on fines that DOT charges airlines for violating consumer protection laws and prevents airlines from negotiating low, slap-on-the wrist fines for egregious conduct.

Addressing Lack of Meaningful Competition in the Airline Industry

  •  Requires a Government Accountability Office investigation into the fairness of airfares and fees as compared to the costs of services provided on flights since the consolidation of air carriers.

The text of the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights can be found here. The text of the FAIR Fees Act can be found here