STATEMENT: Congress votes to strengthen air traveler rights, airline accountability

Media Contacts

FAA reauthorization contains wins for consumers, but fails to address fee transparency

CLEVELAND — Nearly a year after starting serious discussions, Congress passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act this week. The bill includes significant new protections for travelers.

The consumer wins include defining airlines’ obligation to issue prompt, no-hassle refunds to customers who want them when flights are canceled or significantly delayed. This refund requirement reinforces a separate DOT rule for refunds announced in April.

The law also requires airlines to honor travel vouchers for at least five years; mandates that consumers can access free, 24/7 customer service from live agents; and eliminates fees for children under 14 years of age to sit with a parent or adult travel companion.

In addition, airlines that violate the law will face increased maximum civil penalties — up to $75,000 from the current $25,000, per violation. 

The bill did not codify into law up-front disclosure of bag fees or fees incurred by consumers for changing or canceling their booking, as required in a new Department of Transportation (DOT) rule. That will still take effect next year.

In response, Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog for U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said:

“Finally, Congress and the Department of Transportation are addressing the mess and stress consumers have encountered trying to get refunds since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Some travelers still haven’t received their money back for flights that airlines canceled in 2020.

“We’re disappointed that Congress chose not to make DOT’s rule on fee transparency the law of the land and concerned that this will make passenger rights more confusing.

“We urge Congress and DOT to look for additional opportunities to enhance consumer protections. When air travel becomes pleasant again, everyone wins.” 

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