The seats get smaller, the luggage gets more expensive, travelers are bumped more often (and more publicly) – and the complaints are getting loud enough that elected officials are getting involved.
According to CNBC, a new FAA bill recently passed by Congress will mandate airline seat size – but that’s not all. So why is this so all-fired important right now? Here are a few reasons -- which planners should listen to when considering their arrangements for travel:
A measure to stop seat shrinkage: The room between rows – measured from a point on one seat to the same point on the seat in the next row was once commonly 34 or 35 inches, and is now less than 30 inches on some planes. FAA officials say existing safety rules mean seats are unlikely to ever get smaller than 27 inches. (We know – that’s still small but at least it couldn’t get smaller). They're directing officials to set minimum standards that can not be made smaller in years to come.
And by the way, in case you're wondering, why seat space is suddenly such a priority, here is the reasoning in Washigton: lawmakers are saying it's essential to enact a minimum seat ruling now because tighter space is a threat to the FAA mandate that airlanes need to be able to be fully evacuated within 90 seconds in the event of an emergency.
Stop the bumping: The bill also blocks the involuntary bumping of passengers who have already boarded (That rule came in light of that absolutely viral video showing a passenger being dragged off a United flight.)
The so-called ‘service animals:’ Transportation Department officials are being directed to create reasonable measures to ensure people aren’t improperly pretending their pets are service animals. It also prohibits animals from being put into overhead compartments
Help for mothers: the bill mandates that large airports provide nursing rooms for new mothers. It also creates rules to allow pregnant passengers to board earlier
Airports will have to keep up with the number of TSA Pre-Check patrons: The bill and expands the availability of PreCheck security access – an area of congestion in many airports
Inconveniences to passenters must be spelled out: When computer outage causes widespread cancellations or delays, the airline must say on its website whether it will help stranded customers with hotel rooms, meals or seats on another carrier
You disrupt the flight crew, you’ll pay – big: The new bill strengthens penalties for flyers who interfere with flight crews
Flight attendants will get some breaks: The bill requires that flight attendants get a minimum of 10 hours of rest between their work shifts
Noise complaints on the ground: The bill addresses concerns about increased airport noise levels caused by new flight paths
If that looks like a lot, remember the bill was over 1,200 pages long. It unfortunately allowed lawmakers to scrap something passengers requested – a move to block airlines from imposing fees deemed “not reasonable and proportional.” (Airlines had heavily lobbied against increasing transparency in fees). It also left out any regulations on baggage fees, something that has become the source of multiple complaints, particularly in light of last week’s report that Delta, United and JetBlue are now charging $30 for the first checked bag on domestic routes, up from $25 previously, and $40 for the second bag, up from $35. Something else that ws banned was in-flight voice calls. While no carrier currently allows this, there was no legal barrier in place preventin an airline from changing its policy.
Something that won’t affect passengers on commercial flights (but which gives a nod to progress) is also included in those 1,200 pages: drone use. The bill creates a system by which drone companies could deliver packages, and additionally establishes punishments for anyone who interferes with wildfire fighting by flying a drone nearby.