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21 November 2018
Prohibition on bumping passengers
Minimum dimensions for passenger seats
Passenger rights disclosure document
Large ticket agents' consumer protection requirements
Mobile phone voice communications
Priority boarding for pregnant women
Gate checked pushchairs
On 5 October 2018 President Trump signed into law the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorisation Act of 2018. The act, which has wide-ranging implications for the aviation industry, will fund the FAA for the next five years. The legislation affects, among other issues, aviation-related consumer protection(1) labour law, airline fees(2) and disability accommodations in air travel. This article focuses on consumer protection-related provisions in the act.
The act prohibits airlines from removing passengers from a flight or denying them boarding after having been accepted for boarding by a gate agent. By December 2018 the 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.
Airlines are allowed to remove passengers from aircraft for health, safety or security reasons or if the passenger engages in obscene, disruptive or unlawful behaviour. However, once a passenger has cleared the gate agent, airlines cannot involuntarily remove the passenger from the aircraft. Further, airlines must offer compensation to passengers who are voluntarily or involuntarily denied boarding in amounts that meet or exceed those set by the DOT.
By October 2019 the FAA must issue regulations which establish minimum dimensions for passenger seats (including minimums for seat pitch, width and length) that are necessary for the safety of passengers.
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.
By January 2019 the DOT must require airlines to submit a one-page document which summarises the rights of passengers in air travel. The summary must describe the compensation owed to passengers by airlines under existing consumer protection law (eg, compensation for damaged or mishandled baggage and involuntary denial of boarding).
Airlines must display the document in a prominent location on their website within 90 days of submitting the document to the DOT.
By April 2019 the 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 (eg, disclosure of the full fare, including all taxes and fees, and fees for all optional services, including checked baggage fees).
Large ticket agents will be held to many of the same standards as airlines with regards 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.
By January 2019 the DOT must align its regulations with the International Civil Aviation Organisation standards for the transport of lithium ion batteries. The 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, the DOT must appoint an advisory working group with expertise in the safe manufacture, use or transport of lithium batteries.
The advisory working group will include representatives of passenger and cargo airlines.
The DOT must promulgate regulations that prohibit voice communications on mobile phones during a flight.
The on-duty flight crews and federal law enforcement officers are exempt from the prohibition. The law does not include a deadline for the DOT to adopt these regulations. Airlines will have an opportunity to comment on the rulemaking.
By April 2019 the DOT must review airline policies regarding travelling during pregnancy and may revise regulations to require airlines to offer priority boarding to pregnant passengers.
Airlines will have an opportunity to comment should the DOT amend existing regulations.
Airlines must allow passengers travelling with a pushchair to check it at the gate.
The pushchair must be used to transport a child travelling on the same flight as the passenger. Airlines are relieved of the gate check requirement if the pushchair's size or weight poses a safety or security risk.
For further information on this topic please contact David Heffernan or Robert Foster at Cozen O'Connor by telephone (+1 202 912 4800) or email (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). The Cozen O'Connor's website can be accessed at www.cozen.com.
(1) For further details please see "Consumer protection".
(2) For further details please see "New airline fees".
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