When Congress deregulated airline prices, routes, and schedules in 1978, Congress preserved the DOT’s responsibility to ensure that international prices and fees remained “reasonable.” This little-known provision of U.S. law means that the FAA should strike down any change fees that are unreasonable and have no relation to cost. See 49 U.S.C. § 41501, DOT-OST-2015-0031 at regulations.gov.
FlyersRights.org has filed a notice of appeal against the US Department of Transportation (DOT) in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals over its refusal to regulate international change fees – Flyers Rights Education Fund v. U.S. Department of Transportation (CADC).
Passengers are helpless when it comes these exorbitant change fees that can range up to $500 or more. Domestic consolidation and international alliances in the airline industry have combined to give passengers fewer options when travelling. As airline profits soar, the airlines continue to increase change fees by hundreds of dollars while publicly declaring that these fees are a major profit generator.
In 2015, FlyersRights.org filed a rulemaking petition demanding that the DOT enforce the Reasonableness Law for change fees on international flights. On February 1, 2019, the DOT denied this petition. In refusing to regulate despite the Reasonableness Law, the DOT said it relied on “market forces” to handle all air travel pricing and policy. See DOT-OST-2015-0031-0035. FlyersRights.org is represented in the court appeal by Joseph Sandler, Esq. of Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock P.C. of Washington, D.C.
Paul Hudson, President of FlyersRights.org, reflected on the past few years, “The DOT has demonstrated a tremendous ability to allow the airlines and airplane manufacturers to dictate enforcement policies. The DOT has ignored the law by failing to guarantee that international change fees are reasonable and related to cost. At a time when flights are routinely filled to capacity, airlines extort passengers into paying hundreds of dollars to change flights so that the airline can go back and sell the same ticket, usually at a higher price. The airlines reach into passengers’ checkbooks because the DOT refuses to follow the law.”
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FlyersRights.org most recently took the FAA to federal court over the denial of its 2015 seat size rulemaking petition. The seat litigation has increased scrutiny on the FAA’s relationship with Boeing and other airplane manufacturers, has led to Congressional mandates to establish seat size standards and to review certification procedures, and has prompted a DOT Inspector General Investigation into the FAA’s oversight of emergency evacuation testing and certification.
Paul Hudson, member of the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee since 1993, noted “The DOT and FAA keep proving, time and time again, that they will allow Boeing and the airlines to dictate policy both in the safety and consumer protection realms. From ignoring concerns over the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 787 Dreamliner, to rubber stamping manufacturers’ emergency evacuation testing, to decreasing enforcement of consumer protections to historical lows, the DOT has surrendered its duty to ensure safe air travel and reasonable protections for passengers.”