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If The Seat Fits
March 16, 2016
There is no escaping the “David vs Goliath” comparison, between the airlines’ powerful lobbying group and the dogged advocates for consumer protection.

Now airline seat space is a hot topic in Washington.

For years FlyersRights has been hammering home the negative affects of cramped seating on safety and health, and finally we could be seeing a tipping point. People are ‘mad as hell and not gonna take anymore.’

Tipping Point?

Back in early February, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-TN introduced the ‘Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) Act’ in an attempt to direct the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to establish minimum seat size standards.

But the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-PA, urged his members to vote against the amendment – and almost every member of his party did. The amendment was defeated.

Unsurprisingly, the airline PACs are Rep. Shuster’s largest supply of reelection funding, with donations from the leading US airlines – American, Alaskan, Continental, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, and Southwest. Airline PACs have given $92,000  to Rep. Shuster this cycle. 

But taking up the cause are US Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), also filing an amendment to the FAA’s reauthorization bill that adopted Rep. Cohen’s same minimum seat space standards to “protect the health and safety of passengers.” It is currently pending before Congress.

Not to be undone, last week we saw a spectacularly named ‘Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous (FAIR) Fees Act‘ by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and again Richard Blumenthal, which would limit charges for checked bags, ticket changes and cancellations.

FlyersRights President Paul Hudson remarked, “A few bills have been introduced by Democrats but none by Republicans, who are in the majority in Congress and nothing by the Obama Administration that has a record under Anthony Foxx and Michael Huerta of ignoring or rejecting nearly all consumer measures, refusing to fund the aviation consumer hotline passed in 2012, blocking airline competition, foot dragging on safety measures and generally doing whatever the industry demands.”

Air passenger rights concerns practically every citizen of the United States.

FAIR Fees Act, the largest airline passenger organization with over 50,000 members nationwide, strongly supports  legislation proposed by Senators Blumenthal and Markey to rein in the runaway and often concealed and exorbitant change fees,  baggage fees and other fees being charged by airlines. 
We petitioned the DOT in February 2015 to require that change fees on international flights be capped at $100 unless an airline can show that a higher fee is “reasonable”.  The  DOT has a duty and legal authority to ensure that international air fares and fees are “reasonable”  but has failed to act since 1980, claiming that market forces will prevent unreasonable fees.  The DOT also has authority to prohibit “deceptive and unfair” airline practices for domestic as well as international air travel, but again has declined to act on any measure affecting pricing since 1980. 
Due to consolidation of US airlines into four carriers (American, Delta, Southwest, United) controlling 86% of domestic flights and three joint ventures (aka “alliances”) controlling over 60% of international flights, most with antitrust exemptions granted by DOT, the airline industry has become an oligopoly that largely acts in concert to introduce fees and raise prices.  Furthermore, airlines have an extra incentive to use fees instead of airfares to increase prices since fees are presently exempt from the airline ticket tax which funds the Aviation Trust Fund used to support air traffic control and airport infrastructure improvements. 
Some so-called super low fare airlines like Spirit and Frontier use scores of fees to make their fares seem lower than they actually are to fool consumers. 
The DOT is the sole regulator of airlines, and under the preemption clause of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 and judicial rulings, they have been deemed exempt from all state and local consumer protection laws and most tort law, as well as other federal regulations by the FTC, FCC. OSHA, FDA, EPA and other federal agencies except the FAA.
For details see DOT-OST-2015-0031 on We also have proposed that the tax loophole for airline fees be closed as it is draining the Aviation Trust Fund and that fees be deemed exorbitant and prohibited if they exceed a certain multiple of the reasonable cost of providing the service. 
DOT has not acted on our change fee petition and under its rules it can be deemed denied.  
Paul Hudson, President

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