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New laws are in the works

Airlines have been a central focus in an ongoing Congressional debate around junk fees — a topic championed by President Biden, who wants to eliminate hidden fees that hurt Americans’ pocketbooks and the economy.

Biden took airlines to task in his State of the Union address earlier this month, saying he would make them disclose the full ticket price upfront and refund money if a flight is canceled or delayed.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed a rule in September that would protect travelers by ensuring they know the full price of airline tickets before they buy — including any family seating fees, baggage fees and charges for flight changes or cancellations.

Similar wording was included in Biden’s Junk Fee Prevention Act, introduced in October 2022 with the aim of cutting out pesky fees that are “ripping off” Americans in everything from banking services to internet bills, concert tickets, and airline services.

But for some frustrated lawmakers, things are not moving quickly enough.

Markey, along with other senators, are ready to take matters into their own hands, tackling unfair or deceptive practices by airlines through a series of bills.

He was part of a group that reintroduced the Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous (FAIR) Fees Act to “put an end to the nickel and diming of passengers” with unreasonable fees, and is a lead cosponsor of Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)’s Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights — a comprehensive law to expand protections for air travelers.

“If there's one thing that really ticks people off, it’s how they’re abused by the airline industry,” said Markey at a press conference in Boston’s Logan airport earlier this month.

“Airline executives have continuously turned a deaf ear to the complaints of the flying public in our country. The day of reckoning has arrived.”

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Airlines respond to mounting pressure

Government efforts to tackle junk fees are starting to have an impact, even as the proposed laws are yet to take off.

Markey reintroduced his Families Fly Together Act earlier this month to stop airlines from “emptying parents’ pockets” just so they can sit with their kids.

“Flying with children [is] hard enough,” he said — and two major airlines are now making moves on that front.

On Feb. 20, United Airlines announced a new dynamic seat map feature that will sit children under 12 years old next to an adult in their party for free – regardless of the type of ticket purchased.

A day later, Frontier Airlines made a similar announcement about changes to its seating system.

United’s new family-friendly policy will take effect in March. Before the change, the airline charged seat reservation fees from $9 to $169 each way, depending on ticket class, flight duration and other variables.

Also, the DOT has published a dashboard of airline policies for when flights are delayed or canceled due to issues under the airlines’ control.

This led nine airlines — including giants like Southwest, American and Delta — to change their policies around guaranteeing coverage of hotels, and 10 airlines guaranteeing coverage of meals for stranded passengers.

“Junk fees may not matter to the very wealthy, but they matter to most other folks in homes like the one I grew up in, like many of you did,” Biden said during his State of the Union address.

“They add up to hundreds of dollars a month. They make it harder for you to pay your bills or afford that family trip.”

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About the Author

Bethan Moorcraft

Bethan Moorcraft

Reporter

Bethan Moorcraft is a reporter for Moneywise with experience in news editing and business reporting across international markets.

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