Though consumers didn’t end up with a legislated three-hour tarmac-delay rule, nor did they manage to get a “Sense of Congress” comment about airline price transparency, there is a lot to cheer about in the bill that will probably be passed next week.
Before delving into the nitty-gritty, the overall bill is welcome for the aviation industry. It is not just loaded with goodies and marching orders for the various industries that surround air transportation, but it will end up saving taxpayers hundreds-of-millions of dollars, perhaps billions, if only for the ability to plan ahead and coordinate projects.
Plus, as the NextGen air traffic navigation system gets put into place across the country there will be amazing savings in terms of the environment, carbon emissions, fuel savings, time saved and a decrease in delays and cancellations.
Specifically for consumers, the bill adds an airport component to the tarmac-delay regulations from DOT, new no-smoking rules, a new Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection is formed, musical baggage rules, military traveler breaks, child safety seat changes and new disclosure requirements for websites and phone numbers to handle complaints are mandated.
Plus, new studies about cell phones, delays and cancellations, as well as checked baggage are required by this bill, which may change the lay of the legislative and regulatory land regarding travel in the future.
Here is a section by section breakout of the main consumer issues. These are organized according to the bill sections that were released yesterday by the Commerce Committee.
Sec. 401 — Smoking is banned on virtually all flight, both domestic and foreign serving the USA.
Sec. 402 — Reporting of airline delays and cancellations are codified and now required by law. DOT already required some of these kinds of reports, so there will be no big change for consumers. However, DOT will have more data to track the effects of the current tarmac-delay regulations.
Sec. 403 — New rules for musical instruments have been specified to allow passengers to carry on smaller musical instruments as carry-on luggage and it outlines new rules for large instruments. Don’t get terribly excited — final new rules from DOT are not due until two years.
Sec. 405 — A Sense of Congress that military members and families should be granted special exemptions for many of the airline rules for luggage and family members.
Sec. 406 — Requires an update of a year 2000 GAO report on Delays, Cancellations, and Associated Causes within one year. The report will cover impact of delays and cancellations on the industry and consumers.
Sec. 407 — Compensation for delayed baggage. Congress instructs the Comptroller General to do a study of compensation for lost or delayed baggage in this new world of baggage fees. The report should assess the options for and examine the impact of establishing minimum standards to compensate a passenger in the case of an unreasonable delay in the delivery of checked baggage. Study is due in 180 days.
Sec. 408 — DOT airline consumer complaint investigations now get the force of legislation in consumer vs. airline disputes and complaints.
Sec. 409 — Requires an FAA study of all airline operations in the country focused especially on airline equipment, safety and sales revenues.
Sec. 410 — Study of the effects of cell phone use in airplanes to be delivered within 120 days. Basically, Congress wants to know if there is a technical reason that passengers cannot use cell phones in flight.
Sec. 411 — Create an Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections to “to advise the Secretary in carrying out activities relating to airline customer service improvements.”
The job of this committee is:
(1) evaluating existing aviation consumer protection programs and providing recommendations for the improvement of such programs, if needed; and
(2) providing recommendations for establishing additional aviation consumer protection programs, if needed.
Sec. 412 — Disclosure of seat dimensions to facilitate use of child safety seats. This is supposed to be completed with in one year of the passage of this law.
Airlines will be required “to post on the Internet Web site of the air carrier the maximum dimensions of a child safety seat that can be used on each aircraft operated by the air carrier to enable passengers to determine which child safety seats can be used on those aircraft.”
Sec. 413 — Gives FAA power under law to regulate airport air traffic in case of overcrowding of airports.
Sec. 414 — Provides 16 exemptions to the Washington/Reagan Airport perimeter rule. This means that 16 more flights a day can fly from DC to points beyond 1,250 miles from Washington, DC. There is a complex matrix of shifting flights from airports within the perimeter to new destinations outside of the perimeter limit.
Sec. 415 — Airports will be included in the tarmac-delay coordination with airlines. This will come into play and may serve to avoid the issues that caused the tarmac delays at Hartford during the freak October snowstorm.
• The establishment of a telephone line at DOT for consumer complaints plus the publication of that DOT number and the DOT website as well as airline consumer complaint numbers and contacts for problems. These numbers and website address must be displayed as follows:
(1) prominently displayed signs of the carrier at the airport ticket counters in the United States where the air carrier operates; and
(2) any electronic confirmation of the purchase of a passenger ticket for air transportation issued by the air carrier.
• Mandates the creation of a DOT Web page that “contains a listing of countries that may require an air carrier or foreign air carrier to treat an aircraft passenger cabin with insecticides prior to a flight in foreign air transportation to that country or to apply an aerosol insecticide in an aircraft cabin used for such a flight when the cabin is occupied with passengers.”