It is often said that the devil is in the details. When it comes to creating U.S. laws, the details of a bill often contain small measures that can actually have a big impact. Such is the case with the latest aviation bill that became law recently which reauthorizes funding and operations for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The bill also adds some passenger-friendly provisions regarding delayed baggage. Maybe the details aren't so devilish after all.
The FAA has its funds and its mandate to continue operating through at least September, 2017. The U.S. Congress has reauthorized the agency's operations and in the process has added some provisions dealing with airline safety, the oversight of maintenance and repair stations and baggage service among many others. The authorization bill, now signed into law, requires that the Secretary of Transportation develop within one year, policies and rules that would allow passengers to obtain refunds for fees on checked luggage. The law states that if luggage is delayed more than 12 hours domestically or 15 hours from an international flight, the airline would have to refund the checked luggage fee. While some airlines might offer refunds on checked luggage as a gesture of goodwill, this is the first time that such refunds would be mandated under law. The airline trade group in the U.S., Airlines for America (A4A), rejects what it calls "the re-regulation of airline pricing and services." A4A opposes regulatory burdens on the industry which it feels hinders airline and economic growth.
The new law does provide an exception. The Secretary could determine that the 12 hour domestic and 15 hour international thresholds are not feasible or could adversely affect customers in certain cases. The baggage delay windows could be widened to be as high as 18 hours and 30 hours, respectively.
Checked baggage fees are among the most hated fees that airline that passengers pay. When airlines began charging them in the wake of the financial crisis 8 years ago, a wave of fees took over the industry, perhaps forever changing the service landscape of the industry. At first the fees sustained the airlines' bottom lines and kept them from great losses, especially since fuel prices had skyrocketed. Then when fuel prices tumbled, the fees went from a lifeline to a profit line, shoring up the finances of many carriers who have recently boasted record profits. For an airline passenger, getting what you paid for is the fairest of outcomes. At least a refund for a promise not met might ease one of the many frustrations with air travel today.