Industry Insights

5 Ways The New FAA Bill Impacts Business Travel

A new act of legislation promises to improve the experience of booking travel and flying for business.

On October 5, President Trump signed into law the FAA Authorization Act of 2018, a long-awaited bill that altered the legal regime of US air travel for the foreseeable future. After having long-term funding withheld for more than a year due to congressional gridlock, the Federal Aviation Authority is now cleared to operate for the next five years.

Accompanying the appropriation was a raft of regulations covering everything from commercial drones (the government can shoot them down now) to the Office of Spaceports (it’s getting established). The rules governing air travel similarly addressed a wide range of issues: it’s now illegal to smoke e-cigarettes, legal to let airlines adopt policies letting pregnant passengers board first, and necessary for airlines to let passengers traveling with small children check strollers.

There were also a number of rules with implications on business travel specifically. Here are the top five: 

Bag and change fees remain unregulated

One of the most important aspects of the Act was a rule that was ultimately left out of it.

The Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous (FAIR) Fees provision would have allowed the Department of Transportation (DOT) to determine when add-on fees were excessive and out of line with the cost of providing a service. The rule was proposed by a bipartisan group of senators early in the process, and it was included in the first Senate version of the bill. But add-on charges are a sensitive subject for airlines. Fees on baggage, flight changes, etc. bring in north of $7 billion a year across the industry. The Wall Street Journal reported that bag fees alone represented 2% of American Airlines’ 2017 revenue.

After fierce industry pushback, the FAIR Fees provision was left out of the final bill. Though some believe it might get reintroduced later, for now, it will cost whatever the airlines decide to charge to reschedule a flight.

Airlines must refund fees for services not provided

Since fees are here to stay, they might as well get their money’s worth, right? Under the new law, airlines have to refund travelers when a service they’ve paid for is not delivered. It’s unclear precisely what this rule means. Presumably, if you pay for overhead access and they make you check the carry-on due to a lack of room, or if the in-flight WiFi doesn’t work, you will legally be entitled to a refund of some kind.

Seat sizes are about to become standardized (and you can stay once you get there)

With the airlines making very clear that they’re in a race to the bottom in terms of the physical experience of flying, Congress has stepped in and authorized the DOT to set minimum dimensions for airplane seats. The rule spells an end to the era of shrinking seats in basic economy.

While we’re talking seats, this legislation also makes sure you’re able to stay in yours. In response to the Dr. Dao incident of last year, in which a United passenger was forcibly removed from his seat after he had already sat down, the Act prohibits involuntary bumping once passengers have boarded the plane.

Airlines may have to truthfully report the cause of delays

Ever been stuck on the tarmac or terminal in one of those blue-sky weather delays? We all know why airlines invent bad weather: because in that case, their only responsibility is to get you to your destination at their earliest opportunity on their own planes. Now, Congress is taking a minor step towards fixing that broken system. The Act requires regulators to determine whether it is a deceptive business practice to blame a delay on weather when other factors are at play. If they decide to prohibit the practice, could that result in airlines having to pay more of the aforementioned refunds for failing to deliver on services paid for?

The government will establish a consumer advocate

According to the Washington Post, “The bill also requires the DOT to establish an aviation consumer advocate to help consumers resolve air travel complaints.” That means businesses will have a point of contact — and hopefully a standard process — with which to resolve issues with air travel.

Other provisions

The 1,200-page FAA Authorization Act also included many other provisions less directly applicable to business travel. Airline crew are about to get more rest, flight attendants have more protection against passenger harassment, and using cell phones to make voice calls in the air has been officially banned.

Most importantly, the Act was a genuinely bipartisan solution to a critical administrative need. The bill passed 93 – 6 in the Senate; members of both parties offered praise. That alone attests to the urgency of stabilizing an important part of the national infrastructure, and setting benchmarks for a rapidly evolving air travel market.

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