U.S. News

Trump administration opposes requiring 'reasonable' airline baggage fees

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Transportation told Congress it opposes a Senate bill that would require new rules prohibiting airline fees that are not “reasonable and proportional,” along with many other new consumer protections that the administration deems “unnecessary and wasteful,” according to a letter seen on Friday by Reuters.

FILE PHOTO - Travelers make their way through Reagan National Airport in Washington December 23, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The U.S. House in April passed a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration by a 393-to-13 vote. It now moves to the Senate, which could take up the issue as early as next month. The Senate Commerce Committee in July 2017 passed a version of legislation to extend the FAA.

The DOT said the Senate airline fee provision requiring rules barring “unreasonable” cancellation, baggage, seat selection and same-day change fees would mark a return to the pre-1978 era before airline deregulation.

The bill said the government must review whether fees are “disproportionate to the costs incurred by the air carrier.”

The provision “represents a giant step backwards, presents a risk of even wider re-regulation of the airline industry, and ultimately would harm air carriers and consumers alike,” the DOT’s deputy general counsel, James Owens, said in the May 23 letter.

Airlines for America, an airline trade group representing United Airlines Inc, American Airlines Group Inc, Southwest Airlines Co and others, said previously the provision would result in “government-mandated price controls” and should be rejected. The House bill does not have the provision.

U.S. airlines’ revenues from baggage and reservation change fees increased from $5.7 billion in 2010 to $7.5 billion in 2017. Other fees are not reported to regulators.

The letter said both bills have a number of consumer mandates that are “unnecessary and wasteful” and “would constitute significant regulatory overreach.”

The Trump administration called provisions that would bar airlines from denying seats to passengers who have already checked in or were cleared by the gate attendant to board “objectionable” because it would make it more difficult or prohibit airlines from continuing the practice “of overselling their scheduled flights to compensate for ‘no shows.’”

The letter suggested a passenger could need to be involuntarily bumped for a federal air marshal.

The proposals were prompted by outrage following the forcible removal in April 2017 of a United passenger from his seat in Chicago. United has since banned the practice.

The top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, Bill Nelson, said the letter “reads more like something written by the airlines instead of the government watchdog that’s supposed to be protecting consumers.”

Both bills would require the department to issue regulations permanently banning mobile phone calls onboard planes. The letter called that “problematic,” noting that the Federal Communications Commission has not approved regulations to permit calls.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler