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Travel & Airlines


Future Rule on Expenses for Stranded Passengers

The Department of Transportation announced (May 8) that it plans to start a process for a rule, without issuing an actual proposed rule, that will require airlines to cover certain expenses for certain passengers if left stranded by a cancellation or delay.

The future rule will focus on meals, hotels, and rebooking expenses when an airline has caused a cancellation or significant delay in the flight, as well as potentially compensation requirements (e.g., miles, credits, vouchers). In issuing the proposed rule, the Department says it will provide a proposed definition on the specifics for cancellation or delays caused by airlines, presumably versus other causes (e.g. weather, air traffic management, etc.).

The Department did not specify when a proposed rule will be issued, and any rulemaking process once a proposal is published could take some time to adjudicate before being implemented in a final form. That means any new rules will certainly not be implemented over the usually busy summer travel season. 

(posted: 5-9-23)


DOJ Seeks to Block JetBlue Purchase of Spirit Airlines

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit (March 7) seeking to block an acquisition of Spirit Airlines by JetBlue. Spirit is JetBlue’s primary low-cost competition.

DOJ argues that the acquisition would lead to the elimination of competition, increased fares and reduced choice on routes across the country with the elimination of half of Spirit's “ultra-low-cost” capacity across the US. DOJ believes that Spirit offers an important low-cost, no-frills flying option to cost-conscious/price-sensitive travelers, and the company also forces other airlines to keep prices in check.

DOJ says it is taking this action consistent with Section 7 of the Clayton Act (one of two core antitrust laws), which prohibits mergers and acquisitions that may substantially lessen competition, or tend to create a monopoly.

JetBlue says in a statement that it will continue to proceed with this purchase. The company argues that the acquisition will create a stronger low-cost carrier that can more effectively compete with the major airlines.

Antitrust lawsuits can potentially take years to resolve, and are sometimes resolved through ongoing negotiations between the litigating parties.

(posted: 3-7-23)


Airline Fees and & Family Seating

Airlines have begun taking actions to address family seating concerns. United Airlines (UA) announced (February 20) a plan that “makes it easier” for families to sit together on its flights with respect to children 12 and under sitting next to an adult family member.

UA said this is being accomplished primarily through software upgrades to its booking systems that offer adjacent seats if available at booking. Importantly, for customers with Basic Economy tickets where an adjacent seat was chosen during a booking and that seat is no longer available prior to travel, UA says that customers will have the opportunity to switch flights without an additional cost.

Soon after the UA announcement, Fronteir Airlines and American Airlines announced actions to ensure child seating with a responsible adult at no additional charge. 

The US Department of Transportation publishes a regularly-updated dashboard identifying airlines who do, and do not, guarantee adjacent seats for children 13 or under and an accompanying adult at no additional cost for all fare types.

President Biden has previously called out “junk fees” by airlines, among other entities, including in his 2023 State of the Union Address where he specifically highlighted airlines charging special fees for customers to sit together. The Department of Transportation had encouraged airlines to address policies on this matter in the summer of 2022, but there currently is no mandated requirement in regulation or law.

(updated: 3-7-23)


Southwest Airlines Commitments to Passengers

Southwest announced that it is providing 25K in bonus points–the equivalent of about $300–for passengers whose flights were canceled or significantly delayed between December 24-January 2. 

Southwest previously set up a travel disruption website, where passengers can submit requests not only for ticket refunds, but also “reasonable requests” for reimbursement for meals, hotels, and alternative transportation.

The Secretary of the US Department of Transportation sent a letter (December 29) to Southwest Airlines in light of significant Christmas holiday travel disruptions, reiterating requirements of the airline under consumer regulations regarding refunds on cancellations, baggage recovery, and the airline’s own public commitments to its customers.

Time will tell if Southwest Airlines, and other airlines disrupted during the holidays, live up to the requirements and commitments.

(posted: 1-5-23)


COVID-19 Testing of Chinese Visitors

Numerous nations have begun putting in a COVID-19 testing requirement for visitors from China; for example: the United States, France, Italy, India, Japan, Israel, the United Kingdom, Austrailia, South Korea, and Canada.

The United States imposed (December 28) its restriction, which starts January 5, via a notice by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). Its rationale for the decision is to “slow the spread of COVID-19 in the United States during the surge in COVID-19 cases in the PRC given the lack of adequate and transparent epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data being reported from the PRC.”

All air passengers from China, two years and older, will be required to get a test (such as a PCR test or an antigen self-test) no more than 2 days before a departure from China, including Hong Kong or Macau, and show a negative test result to the airline upon departure.

(posted: 12-30-22)


TSA Raising Gun Confiscation Fines

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced (December 16) that it is raising fines for persons caught with guns in carry-on bags/luggage. The fine will increase by about $1,000, from $13,910 to $14,950, or a 7.5% increase.

TSA says that the agency has confiscated a record level of firearms at airport checkpoints– 6,301–above the prior 2021 record of 5,972. Eighty percent of the firearms were loaded. Persons found with guns will be subject to enhanced screening, will lose TSA PreCheck eligibility, and may be arrested by state or local law enforcement.

Guns found on carry-on items have increased dramatically over the past decade. Guns confiscated in 2012 totaled just 1,549.

(posted: 12-18-22)


REAL ID Act ID Requirement Extension

The Department of Homeland Security announced (December 5) that it will extend in an updated regulation by two years–from May 3, 2023 to May 7, 2025–the REAL ID Act, an enforcement start date. This action eases an immediate concern of chaos at U.S. airports in the spring of 2023 if persons were to present non-compliant identification.

The REAL ID Act requires Federal agencies to be prohibited from accepting driver’s licenses and identification cards that do not have the stringent features required in law and regulation.

In general, the standards include anti-counterfeiting technology, measures that prevent insider fraud, and the use of documentary evidence and record checks to ensure a person is who they claim to be.

The Department claims that the extension is needed “ in part” because of COVID-19 pandemic-driven delays at the state level that “significantly hindered” the number of persons obtaining REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses.

(posted: 12-6-22)


Airline Fees Disclosure Proposed Rule

The Department of Transportation announced (September 26) a proposed rule intended to strengthen airline disclosure of fee information so that consumers better understand the value they are getting on ticket purchase decisions.

Under the proposal, airlines and travel search websites will have to disclose upfront before a ticket purchase, the fees that are charged to sit with your child, for changing or canceling a flight, and for checked or carry-on baggage. The rule will apply only to flights to, or within, the United States.

In addition, the proposal requires airlines and ticket agents to enable consumers traveling with young children to purchase adjacent seats with their airline tickets at all points of sale. Airlines that do not charge a fee for adjacent seating to those traveling with a young child would not be required to disclose or make transactable adjacent seating fees.

Once the proposed rule is finalized, airlines would generally have six months to implement new fee disclosure rules, ticket agents perhaps longer (air carriers would need to work in “good faith” with ticket agents) to fully implement the requirements.

The proposed rule is subject to a 60 day public comment period. Any final rule is unlikely to be completed until next year.

(updated: 9-26-22)


Plane Ticket Refunds Rule

The Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a proposed rule (August 3rd) that seeks to strengthen consumer protections for persons seeking refunds for flights canceled by an airline. While DOT requires refunds under current rules, the basis for requiring refunds are inadequately defined. As a result, the Department believes refund rules are applied inconsistently.

The proposal will codify in regulations that a failure to provide refunds when a carrier cancels or significantly changes a flight to, from, or within the United States is an unfair practice. “Significant changes” under the proposal will include:

  • changes that affect the departure and/or arrival times by three hours or more for a domestic flight or six hours or more for an international flight;

  • changes to the departure or arrival airport;

  • changes that increase the number of connections in the itinerary; and,

  • changes to the type of aircraft flown if it causes a significant downgrade in the air travel experience or amenities available onboard the flight.

A “canceled flight” would mean a flight that was published in a carrier’s Computer Reservation System at the time of the ticket sale but was not operated by the carrier.

The rule is subject to a public comment period, and therefore it is not clear if, or when, the rule will be finalized.

(updated: 8-3-22)


Wrongful Detention & Travel Advisory Updates

President Biden issued an Executive Order (EO) on “bolstering” efforts to bring hostages and wrongfully detained U.S. nationals home. In tandem with the EO the State Department updated its travel advisory system.

The EO seeks to improve current Federal efforts on wrongful detention in several ways. The EO clarifies and enhances roles and responsibilities of the governmental offices and other entities involved in responding to wrongful detention/hostage situations. Included are improvements in engagement with affected families, such as the sharing of intelligence information regarding detainee status as well as the government’s efforts to secure their release and return. The EO also authorizes the imposition of costs on persons responsible for wrongful detention and hostage situations, including visa bans and financial sanctions.

State Department travel advisories will now include a new risk indicator – the “D” indicator. The indicator is intended to warn U.S. citizens of the risk of wrongful detention by a foreign government. The indicator will be used to highlight the elevated risk of wrongful detention in particular countries that the State Department believes “have regularly engaged in this practice.” This is also intended to show in a transparent way to such governments that the United States is willing to call out such behavior.

(updated: 7-20-22)


Pre-Testing Requirement Dropped

The CDC withdrew (June 10th) its long-standing requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic that persons coming to the United States show a negative test result or documentation of recovery from the virus before boarding a flight. The CDC says that the requirement is being withdrawn given the “availability of effective therapeutics, and the accrual of high rates of vaccine- and infection-induced immunity” of U.S. citizens with each measure contributing “to lower risk of severe disease and death.”

(updated: 6-10-22)


Face Mask Mandate - Canceled

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced (April 13, 2022) it had extended the travel face mask mandate for airports/airlines (as well as other transportation networks) through May 3, 2022, a District Court judge in Florida struck down the mandate in a decision on April 18, 2022.

The Court claims that the Federal Government does not have clear authority to issue a Federal mask mandate based on current statutory authorities, and that the CDC failed to use proper regulatory public notice and comment procedures. The Court did not opine on the results or benefits of mask-wearing. 

The Department of Justice said it will appeal the decision if/when the CDC ”concludes that a mandatory order remains necessary for the public’s health," and the CDC requested that appeal (April 20, 2022).

Mask wearing for travel is now voluntary, unless State/local laws require it. The ruling only applies to a Federal mandate.

(updated: 4-21-22)


Gender Identity and Travel


State and Homeland Security (DHS) are taking actions to address barriers transgender people face with respect to travel. Among the actions:

  • The State Department will enable (starting April 11, 2022) all U.S. citizens to select an “X” as their gender marker on their U.S. passport application.

  • DHS is working closely with air carriers across the nation to promote the use and acceptance of the “X” gender marker to ensure more efficient and accurate passenger processing.

  • DHS updated TSA Standard Operating Procedures to remove gender considerations when validating a traveler’s identification at airport security checkpoints. This will help ensure the accurate and efficient validation of each traveler’s identity while avoiding unnecessary delays.

  • DHS is updating TSA PreCheck and CBP Trusted Traveler Programs enrollment to include “X” gender markers “to enhance access for transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming travelers to these programs.”

(updated: 4-1-22)


Accessible Aircraft Lavatories

The Department of Transportation announced a proposed rule (March 18, 2022) to require airlines (and as a result airline manufacturers) to make at least one lavatory on new single-aisle aircraft with 125 or more passenger seats large enough to permit a passenger with a disability “to approach, enter, and maneuver within the aircraft lavatory, to use all facilities in that lavatory, and to leave using the aircraft’s onboard wheelchair.” The proposed rule would apply to new aircraft ordered 18 years after the effective date of the final rule, or delivered 20 years after the effective date of the final rule.

(updated: 3-22-22)


No-Fly/Blacklist for Unruly Passengers

A group of eight Republican Senators (primary: Cynthia Lumis, R-WY) sent a letter to the Attorney General (February 14, 2022) expressing opposition to the creation of a Federal “no fly” list for unruly passengers. The Senators said in the letter that because the current no-fly list is focused on terrorism, taking this action would “seemingly equate them to terrorists who seek to actively take the lives of Americans and perpetrate attacks on the homeland;” and, that this would result in severely restricting the ability of unruly passengers to “fully exercise their constitutional right to engage in interstate transportation … [and] raises serious concerns about future unrelated uses and potential expansions of the list based on political pressures.”

While airlines maintain their own lists for passengers that are, for one reason or another, not permitted to fly on their airline, there is no Federal no-fly list for passengers who become unruly or violent. The Secretary of Transportation stated on October 31, 2021, that a Federal no fly list for violent passengers "should be on the table." The current terrorism-focused No Fly List, managed by the Federal Government, contains only the identity information of known or suspected terrorists and not unruly/violent passengers. No known externally-facing action has been taken by the Department of Transportation or the Department of Justice to move forward on a proposal.

Most airlines have not offered public support for any version of a centralized no fly list for unruly/violent passengers, the prime exception being the CEO of Delta Airlines, Ed Bastian, who has repeatedly called for airlines to voluntarily band together to create a national no fly list. Recently, however, Mr. Bastian called for the creation of a Federally-maintained no-fly list for this purpose. The Transportation Workers Union recently called for a no-fly list for passengers who have assaulted airline workers.

(updated: 2-26-22)


Denied Boarding/Baggage Compensation

The Department of Transportation issued a Final Rule (January 13, 2022) implementing provisions of the Keep Every Ticketholder Safe Act of 2018 included as part of FAA reauthorization law including:

  • prohibiting airlines from denying boarding to a revenue passenger traveling on a confirmed reservation or involuntarily removing that passenger from a flight, if the passenger checked in before the check-in deadline and had a ticket or boarding pass collected or electronically scanned and accepted by a gate agent.

  • clarifying definitions of required denied boarding compensation and increases the levels of compensation. Airlines are to provide to eligible passengers denied boarding due to oversales at least the lower amount of: (1) 200% of the passenger's one-way fare or $775 for delays of more than one hour but less than two hours for domestic flights and delays of more than one hour but less than four hours for international flights, and (2) 400% of the passenger's one-way fare or $1,550 for delays of more than two hours for domestic flights and delays of more than four hours for international flights.

(updated: 2-2-22)


Alcohol & Unruly Passengers

The FAA sent a memo to airports (August 2021) requesting that airports help address the unruly passenger problem on airlines by addressing alcohol consumption. While the memo does not specifically request that airports reduce passenger alcohol consumption, it does ask for help from airports to avoid unruly behavior tied to alcohol use. The memo mentions anecdotal reports that some concessionaires offer alcohol “to go,” and passengers believe they can carry that alcohol onto flights or they become inebriated during the boarding process. The memo asks airports to do more to educate passengers and concessionaires about alcohol rules.

(updated: 2-2-22)


Connected Policies


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Zero Tolerance Policy
Zero Tolerance Policy

This website summarizes core elements of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) policy with respect to unruly passengers -- a.k.a. the "zero tolerance policy."

Status: this policy is in effect and the FAA stated April 20, 2022 that the policy is "here to stay."

Airline Fees & Charges / Competition EO
Airline Fees & Charges / Competition EO

Executive Order (14036), the Biden Administration EO on "Competition" includes several provisions related to airlines and travelers such as directing the Department of Transportation (DOT) to consider issuing clear rules regarding refunds of fees when baggage is delayed or when service isn’t actually provided; and directing DOT to consider issuing rules that require baggage, change, and cancellation fees to be clearly disclosed to customers.

Status: this EO was published on July 14, 2021.

FAA Zero Tolerance Policy
FAA Zero Tolerance Policy

This National Policy document represents the official announcement of the FAA's of a "special emphasis enforcement program to more effectively address and deter" unruly certain unruly conduct by passengers. The program provides that civil penalty action will be initiated against passengers who assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of a crewmember’s duties in violation of FAA regulations or who engage in prohibited conduct regardless of culpability. Violators are subject to fines of up to $35,000 and imprisonment.

Status: this program became effective on January 13, 2021.


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