Congress mandates airline seat regulation in FAA bill

The Department of Transportation would be required to set
minimum standards for seat widths and the space between rows on commercial
aircraft as part of a five-year FAA funding reauthorization bill agreed upon by
bipartisan leadership in House and Senate. 

The 1,204-page bill, which still must be win formal passage
in the House and Senate by a Sept. 30 deadline, doesn’t contain previously
proposed disclosure requirements for large travel agencies, which drew
opposition from ASTA. 

The bill would give the DOT a year to set minimum seat size
standards based upon what is necessary for passenger safety. Its inclusion in
the proposed legislation comes as airlines have shrunk seat sizes in recent
years, especially the distance between rows, to squeeze more passengers onto
planes. 

Its inclusion in the bill came over objections from the
airline industry.

Other consumer-friendly measures are also in the bill. One would
prohibit airlines from bumping passengers who have already boarded from
aircraft. Another measure sets more exacting requirements for airlines to return
fees for ancillary services that were purchased but not received, such as seat
assignments and early boarding. 

But the bill doesn’t include a Senate proposal that would
have limited the fees airlines can charge for checked bags, itinerary changes
and cancellations. The measure was left out of the joint House/Senate bill amid
strong opposition from airlines. 

Of note to the travel agent community is that the bill also
doesn’t include language contained in an earlier House version that would have
required brick-and-mortar travel agencies, OTAs and metasearch sites with
annual revenues of at least $100 million to operate under the same
airfare-disclosure requirements as airlines. 

The agent and OTA communities opposed that proposal, saying
that it would increase their costs and work times and that airlines aren’t even
required to provide them with certain key information related to fares,
schedules and other matters. 

“We applaud the leadership of the Congressional
transportation committees for listening to the views of ASTA and its members
and not imposing new and unwarranted disclosure obligations on the travel
advisor community in this compromise bill,” ASTA CEO Zane Kerby said in a
statement. “These would have imposed an economic burden of close to $30
million a year on our members, ranging from reprogramming systems to training
staff to ‘talk time’ and opportunity costs from lost sales.”

The bill also left out a House proposal to get rid of the
full-fare rule, which requires airlines to display government taxes and fees as
part of the ticket price from the beginning of a fare inquiry. 

Another proposal that didn’t make the cut was the House’s
proposed “flag of convenience” measure, which would have forbidden
the DOT from issuing foreign air carrier permits to airlines undermining U.S.
labor standards. Airline industry unions supported that proposal, but IATA and
the U.S. Travel Association opposed it, saying it would undermine the open
skies aviation agreements. 

The bill calls for $3.35 billion in funding for the FAA for
each of the next five years.

 

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