Booker, Menendez Call on Congress to Get Tough on Airlines

By David Cruz

In case your travel nightmares have kept you underground, your fellow travelers — those in the skies — have been experiencing customer service turbulence. In case you missed it, there’s the guy who got dragged off a plane, the lady who got into it with a flight attendant over a stroller and, of course, there’s poor Simon, who paid the ultimate price. Today, New Jersey’s senators said enough is — apparently — enough.

“It’s time we start reversing the years of customer neglect that have many people dreading traveling at all,” declared Sen. Bob Menendez.

Menendez and Sen. Cory Booker say they’re putting up a bill to make sure passengers get a fair shake from what they characterized as a greedy airline industry. The TICKETS ACT — maybe better known as the Transparency, Improvements and Compensation to Keep Every Ticket Holder Safe Act — has five keys points:

• Guarantees boarded passengers’ right to fly. No more forced deplaning.

• Provides fair compensation for ticket holders. Some airlines have already altered their policies on this. United will go up to $10,000.

• Improves transparency, mainly on airline bumping policies.

• Addresses ticket over-selling, allowing the Transportation secretary to set an overbooking policy for the industry.

• Requires flight crews to check in one hour before flight, as opposed to, say, when the flight is already full of paying customers.

“Need to check a bag? That’s a fee. Need to travel with you pet? That’s a fee. Want a seat next to your spouse? There’s a fee,” noted Menendez. “Meanwhile, economy passengers are squeezed together like sardines, just to sell a few more tickets per flight. And in Washington, the airline industry is spending millions to lobby for the repeal of the full fair advertising rule so that they can mask the true cost of flights from customers.”

The Democrats criticized the Republican administration and Congress for turning a blind eye to an industry that has been increasingly tight — squeezing passengers in the pocketbook and then into increasingly smaller seats. Booker says lawmakers have to use whatever leverage they have to force the airlines into better behavior.

“No airline should be able to privatize all their profits and push onto other people — onto the back of Americans — the cost of doing their business,” added Booker.

Booker says half a million people a year get bumped off flights. He says Congress can threaten to hold up the re-authorization of the FAA as a way to force them to comply with stricter rules. But the FAA authorization vote isn’t until September, which means it’ll be a while before Congress can use that leverage to make the skies a little more friendly for passengers.