On October 5, 2018, President Trump signed into law the “FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.” The Act, which has wide-ranging implications for the aviation industry, funds the FAA for the next five years. The legislation affects, among other issues, aviation-related consumer protection, labor law, airline fees and disability accommodations in air travel. This briefing focuses on consumer protection-related provisions in the Reauthorization Act.

Prohibition on Bumping Passengers

  • What the law says: The Act prohibits airlines from removing a passenger from a flight or denying him/her boarding after having been accepted for boarding by a gate agent. By December 2018, DOT must revise its existing regulations to clarify that there is no limit to the amount of compensation an airline may pay to a bumped passenger for an oversold flight. Airlines must also proactively offer compensation rather than wait for a passenger to request compensation.
  • What the law means for airlines: Airlines are allowed to remove passengers from the aircraft for health, safety, or security reasons or if the passenger engages in obscene, disruptive, or unlawful behavior. However, once a passenger has cleared the gate agent, airlines cannot involuntarily remove the passenger from the aircraft. Also, airlines must offer compensation to passengers who are voluntarily or involuntarily denied boarding in amounts that meet or exceed those set by DOT.

Minimum Dimensions for Passenger Seats

  • What the law says: By October 2019, the FAA must issue regulations that establish minimum dimensions for passenger seats (including minimums for seat pitch, width, and length) that are necessary for the safety of passengers.
  • What the law means for airlines: Airlines will have an opportunity to comment on the rulemaking and any proposed changes to seat size. The FAA, as a safety regulator, is likely to focus on the relationship between seat dimensions and the ability to safely evacuate an aircraft in an emergency.

Passenger Rights Disclosure Document

  • What the laws says: By January 2019, DOT must require airlines to submit a one-page document that summarizes the rights of passengers in air travel. The summary must describe the compensation owed to passengers by airlines under existing consumer protection law (e.g., compensation for damaged or mishandled baggage, involuntary denial of boarding).
  • What the law means for airlines: Airlines must display the document “in a prominent location” on their websites within 90 days after submission of the document to DOT.

Large Ticket Agents’ Consumer Protection Requirements

  • What the law says: By April 2019, DOT must issue regulations that will require large ticket agents (ticket agents with annual revenue of $100 million or more), to the extent practicable, to comply with certain customer service standards and consumer disclosure requirements currently applicable to airlines (e.g., disclosure of the full fare, including all taxes and fees, and fees for all optional services, including checked baggage fees).
  • What the law means for airlines: Large ticket agents will be held to many of the same standards as airlines with regard to customer service and disclosure of information. However, large ticket agents that fail to meet the new disclosure requirements due to a lack of information from the ticketing airline will not be in violation of the regulations.

Lithium Batteries

  • What the law says: By January 2019, DOT must align its regulations with the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) standards for the transport of lithium ion batteries. DOT must also initiate a process to grant or deny applications for passengers to travel with lithium ion batteries for a “medical device,” a term defined by the legislation. Further, DOT must appoint an advisory working group with expertise in the safe manufacture, use, or transportation of lithium batteries.
  • What the law means for airlines: The advisory working group will include representatives of passenger and cargo airlines.

Mobile Phone Voice Communications

  • What the law says: DOT must promulgate regulations that prohibit voice communications on mobile phones during flight.
  • What the law means for airlines: On-duty flight crews and federal law enforcement officers are exempt from the prohibition. The law does not include a deadline for DOT to adopt these regulations. Airlines will have an opportunity to comment on the rulemaking.

Priority Boarding of Pregnant Women

  • What the law says: By April 2019, DOT must review airline policies regarding traveling during pregnancy and may revise regulations to require airlines to offer priority boarding to pregnant passengers.
  • What the law means for airlines: Airlines will have an opportunity to comment should DOT decide to amend existing regulations.

Gate Checked Strollers

  • What the law says: Airlines must allow passengers traveling with a stroller to check the stroller at the gate.
  • What the law means for airlines: The stroller must be used to transport a child traveling on the same flight as the passenger. Airlines are relieved of the gate check requirement if the stroller’s size or weight poses a safety or security risk.