The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)
‘The status quo won’t fly any longer’
Blumenthal, Mass. senator propose legislation to hold airlines accountable
Connecticut’s Sen. Richard Blumenthal and his Massachusetts counterpart, Sen. Edward Markey, on Tuesday introduced two pieces of legislation aimed at expanding consumer protections for the flying public.
Proposed after flight cancellations and delays the last week of December caused chaos for thousands of travelers, Blumenthal’s Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights focuses on providing passengers with compensation and refunds for flight delays and cancellations. Markey’s FAIR Fees Act focuses on prohibiting airlines from charging unreasonably high fees for basic services like checked bags, seat selection and ticket changes.
“It has never been more uncomfortable, more stressful to travel by air,” Blumenthal said during a virtual press conference. “This legislation will establish clear, enforceable rules for airlines to follow, putting consumers first and restoring sanity to the skies.”
Markey said the nation’s largest airlines “can’t even guarantee consumers that their flights won’t be delayed or canceled, 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,” Markey said. “We must empower regulators and uphold passengers’ rights so they are treated with dignity before, during and after their flight. It’s time to prioritize passengers over profits.”
Among the provisions in the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights is one that would 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. Airlines would also be required to provide ticket refunds and alternative transportation for flights delayed between one and four hours.
Finally, airlines would also be required to provide alternate transportation payments, compensation, as well as cover the cost of meals and lodging for travelers whose flights are delayed more than four hours.
Markey’s FAIR Fees Act would require airlines to reveal the true costs of flying and offer lowest fares on multi-segment flights.
The two proposals would also eliminate the $25,000 cap the federal Department of Transportation has for penalizing airlines that violate rules. They would also reinstate the right of passengers to sue airlines in federal and state court for unfair and deceptive practices.
To illustrate the harm airline delays and cancelations cause the traveling public, Blumenthal and Markey had Stratford resident Christine Pastore tell her story. Pastore and her husband had hoped to fly to Denver via Southwest Airlines on Dec. 26 to visit their daughter, who was hospitalized on her birthday.
“We booked the first flight out because we hadn’t seen her since August, but when we got to the airport, we were told the flight had been canceled,” Pastore said. “They told us the earliest they could rebook us was three days later. There were some other airlines that had seats for flights to Denver, but they were charging $3,000 for a one way ticket.”
Pastore and her husband still haven’t seen their daughter. Blumenthal told Pastore that while “there is no way that money can compensate you for your heartbreak,” the provisions contained in the legislation that he and Markey are proposing would encourage airlines to do a better job.