Airlines

Sen. Markey Wants to See an End to ‘Ridiculous' US Airline Fees

“If there’s one thing that really ticks people off, it’s how they’re abused by the airline industry,” Ed Markey said during a press conference at Boston Logan Airport on Saturday.

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Airline issues have been a hot topic recently, with flight troubles across the country prompting senators like Ed Markey to speak out in recent weeks in support of tougher penalties for for U.S. airlines.

Sen. Markey, of Massachusetts, was at Boston Logan International Airport on Saturday to announce several pieces of legislation in the works, including his "Families Fly Together Act" that he plans to reintroduce in the coming days and calls on airlines to stop charging "ridiculous" fees so parents can sit with their children.

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"Anyone who took a flight in 2022, especially over the holidays, knows exactly why we are here. Air travel has become an absolute disaster,” the senator said during presser that was streamed live to his Facebook page. "Passengers need an airline bill of rights because airline executives have continually turned a deaf ear to the complaints of the flying public in our country. The day of reckoning has arrived.”

According to Department of Transportation data, more than 150,000 flights were cancelled through November 2022, with 1.2 million flights delayed during that time. Overall, only 77% of flights were on time -- leaving nearly 1 in 4 passengers waiting, Markey said.

"This turbulent year concluded with a crash landing," Markey said. "Southwest Airlines' meltdown over the holidays resulted in over 16,000 cancelled flights and thousands upon thousands of ruined holidays."

The senator recalled how on Thursday, the airline's chief operating officer appeared before a senate commerce subcommittee where he was grilled over "the massive meltdown and Southwest's insufficient response."

"Here's what's unbelievable. The COO said that Southwest lacked the necessary winter weather equipment to handle winter storm Elliott in Denver and in Chicago," Markey mused. "That's like running out of baseballs in Fenway Park, or forgetting to bring the Zamboni to Boston Garden. How do you not have enough snow equipment at airports during the winter? It is absolutely unacceptable."

The federal government is investigating after flight cancellations have left Southwest Airlines passengers stranded across the country.

The senator went on to note that passengers were rightly furious at Southwest for the mass cancelations, but said the truth is that the airline industry has been "broken for years."

Some of the issues Markey touched upon Saturday were addressed by President Joe Biden during his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

"I was thrilled to hear President Biden call on Congress to ban family seating fees during his state of the union address this week," Markey said. "Flying with children can be hard enough without airlines emptying parents' pockets, charging extra fees so that there's a guarantee that their children can sit next to them."

"Children and parents shouldn't have to choose between unaffordable fees or separation anxiety of flying alone," the senator added.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged Congress to pass reform measures to address junk fees like resort fees at hotels and airline baggage fees.

Markey's soon-to-be introduced legislation includes the Families Fly Together Act, which would prohibit airlines from charging families in order to sit together; the Fair Fees Act, which would put an end to bag, seating and cancelation fees, and a Passenger Bill of Rights, which would require airlines to refund tickets and compensate passengers for delays and cancellations.

“From my perspective, the airlines have a responsibility to the country,” Markey said.

"It's past time that [the airlines] prioritize the passengers and the workers over profit. Airline executives have been taking consumers for a ride, charging exorbitant fees, as they provide lackluster service," he added. "My legislative sends a strong message to the airline industry that business as usual will not fly any longer with the American public."

Saturday's press conference came less than two weeks after Markey and fellow Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said they would again offer a “passenger bill of rights” that would, among other things, allow customers to file class-action lawsuits against airlines, and legislation to limit airline fees.

“If there’s one thing that really ticks people off, it’s how they’re abused by the airline industry,” Markey said.

Travelers who spoke to NBC10 Boston on Saturday night said they supported Markey's proposed legislation.

“Flying is expensive. Anything to reduce fees is wonderful because it costs a lot of money to travel," one woman said. We’re a family of five so anytime we can save money that would be an awesome thing.”

“I am 100% in favor," another woman said. "I think it should just be part of the ticket fare and If somebody really wants first class or something, they can pay for that but if it’s just a seat selection, I don’t think that’s anything special.”

Proposals by Markey and Blumenthal have failed to gain traction in previous years, but the senators say things are different now because of outrage over debacles specifically like the one at Southwest Airlines in December, and the increase in overall disruptions by airlines that received tens of billions of dollars in pandemic relief from taxpayers.

The lawmakers have argued that they can succeed this time by attaching their ideas to must-pass legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.

There is precedent for attaching passenger provisions to FAA reauthorization bills. The last one, in 2018, included a directive for the government to set minimum standards for airline seats, although there has been little progress on that front.

And airlines have prevailed in other fights. Also in 2018, they successfully lobbied Congress to drop a provision that would have let the government decide whether airline fees for things like checking bags and assigning seats are reasonable.

Markey said on Saturday that he hopes his Republican colleagues will support banning these "outrageous" fees.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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