The Senate on Wednesday approved a five-year reauthorization for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), sending the bill to the White House for President Trump’s signature.
The bill passed the Senate by a 93-6 vote and is the first five-year FAA funding bill since the 1980s.
“This is something we’ve been trying to do for many years,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) told reporters this week. “It’s really a big, major deal.”
The legislation makes needed investments in airport infrastructure, supports the general aviation community, improves commercial airline service, streamlines the FAA’s regulatory processes, enhances aviation security and promotes the safe integration of drone aircraft, Inhofe said.
The bill also includes a number of provisions designed to make flying more pleasant for passengers, including requiring the FAA to set minimums for seat width and the distance between rows of seats; requiring airlines to refund fees to passengers for things they do not receive; giving flight attendants a longer rest period between flights; and prohibiting cell phone calls on commercial flights.
A provision that could have curbed airline fees was cut from the bill in the House-Senate conference committee. The provision would have directed the FAA to establish standards for assessing whether baggage, seat selection, same day change, and other fees are reasonable and proportional to the costs of the services provided. The airline industry collects almost $2.9 billion in ticket change fees and almost $4.6 billion in baggage fees per year.
“Congress has missed an historic, once in a generation opportunity to stop gargantuan airlines from gouging Americans with exorbitant fees every time they fly,” said Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), the provision’s author. “I vow to the flying public that this fight will not die with this bill. As airlines continue to raise fees, pressure will mount on Congress to put a stop to this fee gouging once and for all.”