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New Air Travel Legislation Favors Consumers

After months of debate, Congress has come to a compromise on the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that will levy advantages to the average air traveler. In addition to extending the agency's programs and policies at current levels through September 2017, the bill requires airlines to seat families with children together without additional costs, accelerate the security screening process, and issue refunds for baggage fees when luggage is lost.

Under the new extension, airlines must allow children under the age of 13 to be seated adjacent to an accompanying family member over the age of 13, at no additional cost. There are exceptions for when a seat assignment would require an upgrade where additional fees are generally required, such as an upgrade to another cabin class or a seat with extra legroom or seat pitch. The new bill, however, is expected to save families traveling costs and chip away at the billions of dollars in seat reservation fees the airline industry collects from passengers annually.

The bill also addresses long airport screening lines by offering several measures to expedite the process. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) PreCheck program screening lines must be open and available during peak and high-volume travel times at participating airports. During times when PreCheck is closed, the agency must ensure every practicable effort to provide expedited screening at standard lines.

Additionally, the bill requires that the TSA deploy private sector solutions to increase PreCheck program enrollment. The government must offer secure online and mobile enrollment opportunities and partnerships to collect biographic information, to increase enrollment flexibility.

Another rule saves air travelers costs on baggage fees. Under current policy, luggage fees must be refunded only if a bag is lost. The passed extension requires airlines to refund baggage fees to passengers whose luggage is lost or delayed 12 hours or more for domestic flights and 15 hours or more for overseas flights.

Congress also considered legislation that would have required airlines to notify passengers of their consumer rights, prevented airlines from imposing fees that were not reasonable, and proportional to the costs incurred and established minimum seat standards. All three measures have been shelved until the current extension expires.

Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for Groups Today.

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