Hidden fees in ticket purchases, delays on the tarmac and seats that feel smaller every time you a board a plane. These are just a few of the common frustrations we all encounter when taking a commercial flight these days.
While we are far from the smiling faces that graced the advertisements in the “golden age” of air travel, progress has been made since the dawn of commercial air travel. Flying is by far less dangerous and much more affordable than it was during that time. It is, however, also a more frustrating experience.
There can be a middle ground. Flying can be safe, affordable and comfortable.
In recent years, Washington has taken steps toward fixing the problems that plague commercial air travel by including much-needed, commonsense reforms when we reauthorize funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). These reforms put passengers first, taking on the most visible—and often most egregious—practices of airlines.
The most recent passenger protections set to be enacted were just included in a comprehensive, five-year reauthorization of the FAA that was signed into law by President Trump. Once implemented, the new rules will ensure that passengers who have boarded their flight aren’t forced off the plane due to airline overbooking and that commercial airline seats do not continue to shrink to the point of absurdity. The new reforms also ensure that airlines promptly return fees paid for services, including seat assignments and early boarding, that were not delivered and baggage fees will be refunded when items are lost or unreasonably delayed.
One additional provision in the new law hasn’t received much attention, but could have a big impact. The new law directs the Department of Transportation (DOT) to establish an aviation consumer advocate to help usher in positive changes in how airlines treat consumers. The office will monitor enforcement of issues, including deceptive ticketing practices and tarmac delays; help customers resolve carrier service complaints; and identify and recommend policies that can more effectively resolve carrier service complaints. It requires the DOT to report certain consumer complaint statistics to Congress to ensure lawmakers can address any shortcomings. If the new office does its job properly, the aviation consumer advocate could dramatically reduce the stress of air travel for customers.
These important consumer protection reforms build off those instituted in the 2016 FAA reauthorization, which one Washington Post columnist called the “most passenger-friendly” ever. The 2016 reauthorization required airlines to disclose fees to consumers and provide families with information about the availability of seats together at the time of booking. It also directed the DOT to review how airlines provide information on decisions to delay or cancel flights that may be fully or only partially due to weather.
Taking a “passenger-first” approach—coupled with modernizations to airport infrastructure and enhancements to aviation security—can help transform the flying experience into something travelers enjoy again. That would be a win for consumers and a welcome relief for us all.