Senators push for airline passenger protections after holiday travel meltdown

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Passengers walk past a flight status board in Terminal C at Orlando International Airport that shows many delays, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, after the FAA grounded all U.S. flights earlier in the day.
Joe Burbank | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

Two Senate Democrats on Tuesday reintroduced legislation to strengthen airline passenger protections following a year of travel disruptions that was capped by chaos that stranded thousands of people over the December holidays.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts are trying to get traction on two bills that aim to speed up passenger refunds during flight disruptions and tamp down on airline fees that range from seating assignments to checked bags and brought in billions for the airline industry.

The Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Bob Casey, D-Pa., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also calls for minimum compensation of $1,350 for travelers bumped off of oversold flights. Currently airlines can cap compensation for those delays at $1,550, according to the Transportation Department.

Their attempt to get the legislation approved comes a month after Southwest Airlines canceled some 16,700 flights from Dec. 21 through Dec. 31 after its internal crew rebooking systems were unable to handle numerous flight changes from bad weather, prompting executives to slash the schedule. Southwest last week said it has processed nearly all reimbursement requests but declined to provide further detail.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is planning to hold a hearing on the latest airline disruptions in the coming weeks.

The bills also follow a push by the Biden administration for stricter airline passenger rules, including for traveler refunds.

Airlines for America, an industry group whose members include the largest U.S. carriers, didn’t immediately comment.

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