Consumer Alert: Proposed bills mandate consumer protections for flyers

ROCHESTER, N.Y. It has happened to all of us. You get to the airport only to learn that the airline overbooked your flight. Then the negotiations begin as the airline tries to coax someone into giving up their seat.

Two bills are being proposed in the senate that say if the airline bumps you, they have to pay you at least $1350. And it doesn’t matter how much your ticket was. This bill would also limit fees for things like baggage and seat selection. And here’s another big one. It would force airlines to enter into partnerships to put you on a flight with another airline if they have to cancel your flight.

And for Southwest passengers, that’s huge. Southwest canceled 16,700 flights during its Christmas debacle. Two million people were left in the lurch, and the airline does not partner with other airlines. So all those folks had only two choices: Wait for Southwest to get its act together or buy a ticket yourself for alternate transportation.

The bill would also force airlines to provide a refund or alternate transportation if your flight is delayed one to four hours. If it’s more than four hours, the airline has to provide ticket refunds, transportation, and compensation for meals and lodging.

Southwest believes their Christmas fiasco will cost them about $1.1 billion. You may remember the story I brought you about my cousins’ turbulent journey to Rochester from Houston. 

Her connecting flight was canceled on the way here, and she was forced to sleep in the airport. She finally got to Rochester the next afternoon following a series of canceled flights. Then ten days later, her flight was delayed for hours when was scheduled to fly home. And she was traveling with a 7-year-old. So she applied online for reimbursement.

She had to buy meals and supplies to keep her little niece comfortable during their overnight stay at the Baltimore airport. Sharon submitted her credit card bill and circled applicable purchases. And Southwest emailed her a letter with instructions to get her money as well as an apology and promise to do better. They also gave each customer $300 worth of points for future travel.

While the Southwest situation was catastrophic, all airlines performed poorly last year with 52 percent more canceled flights than the year before. So a group of senators is proposing two bills, the Airline Passengers Bill of Rights and The FAIR Act.

FAIR is an acronym for Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous Fees Act. But those bills are getting plenty of pushback. The trade group, Airlines for America says the bills represent government-controlled pricing, would decrease competition, and ultimately lead to higher ticket prices.