Literally in the middle of the night this weekend, Congress released a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, which has to be passed by September 30. The bill is 1,200 pages long and packed with things, including some truly radical changes for airline passengers and flight attendants.
The timing is striking: 2:52 a.m. on a Saturday. Nobody outside the airline industry was paying attention. Even in Washington, most political people are focused on the Supreme Court nomination fight.
I wrote earlier today about one controversial thing that was stripped from an earlier version of the bill: After senators pushed to limit the change fees and baggage fees to "reasonable and proportional" levels, this new version drops that provision. Change fees and baggage fees are here to stay.
Having had more time to pore over the coverage, it's clear this bill has a ton of other changes that will affect anyone who flies, plus a few things that frankly aren't related to airlines. Some will be welcome, some not so much.
Here are the 17 biggest items people are talking about.
1. No more "Dr. Dao incidents."
The CEO of United Airlines says he wants to be reminded every day of how a passenger was roughly removed from a flight to make room for a United employee in 2017. The new bill should make sure it can't happen again, as it "prohibits involuntary bumping of passengers who have boarded a plane," according to The Washington Post.
2. Minimum legroom and seat width.
Airline passengers will welcome this one. The FAA will be "required to set new minimum requirements for seats on airplanes ... possibly giving passengers a break from ever-shrinking legroom and cramped quarters," as The Detroit News puts it.
3. More rest time for flight attendants.
This one is something the flight attendants' unions have wanted for some time: "For the first time in more than two decades the legislation mandates longer rest periods for flight attendants between duty days," according to The Wall Street Journal. (Update: More on this here.)
4. No dogs in overhead bins.
The bill "makes it unlawful for any person to place a live animal in an overhead storage compartment," according to Reuters. Of course this is in response to the outcry after a dog died on a United flight in March.
5. No mobile phone calls during flight.
You can't do this now anyway, but this bill would make using your cell phone to make a call during flight a violation of federal law.
6. No e-cigarettes.
Similarly: this would take an existing prohibition, and make it federal law.
7. Required refunds.
Airlines would be required to "refund passengers for services they paid for but did not receive," according to Reuters. This sounds like it could be far-reaching, like if your in-flight entertainment system doesn't work, or the premium seat you booked isn't available, you might be entitled to at least a partial refund.
8. Check your stroller.
"The bill requires airlines to allow passengers to check strollers if they are traveling with a small child," Reuters says.
9. No more deceptions.
This one is amazing. From Reuters again: "The bill will require regulators to determine if it is unfair or deceptive for airlines to tell passengers 'that a flight is delayed or canceled due to weather alone when other factors are involved.'"
10. Pregnant women first.
The Department of Transportation will now have authority to require airlines to let pregnant women board planes early.
11. Clamping down on sexual misconduct.
Doesn't sound like a lot of teeth to this one, but at least it's mentioned. The law will "creat[e] a task force to review practices," according to the Journal, regarding sexual harassment and misconduct among airline employees.
12. Tougher penalties.
The bill "increases civil penalties for interfering with cabin or flight crew members." (The Journal, again.)
13. Supersonic booms.
More than 15 years after the last flight of the Concorde, the bill will require the FAA to consider whether supersonic airplanes should be able to fly over the continental U.S.
There are all kinds of provisions for commercial drones included, among them a provision that requires the FAA to "broaden existing rules to accommodate regular flights of package-delivery drones."
15. Hurricane Florence relief.
It's not clear what this has to do with the FAA per se, but the bill apparently contains a $1.68 billion immediate allocation for disaster relief in the wake of the hurricane earlier this month.
It requires the FAA to set up an "Office of Spaceports," according to Reuters, which will "provide guidance, support licensing for spaceports, and promote infrastructure improvements for future space travel."
17. A complaints department.
Finally, the bill "requires the DOT to establish an aviation consumer advocate to help consumers resolve air travel complaints," according to the Post.