A ban on voice calls during flights, prompt refunds for airline fees and better information about flight delays blamed on weather were among a grab bag of consumer provisions a Senate panel adopted Thursday.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said the Federal Aviation Administration legislation approved by voice vote in the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee would “enhance safety and improve the flying experience for American travelers.”
• banning voice calls during flights by Transportation Department regulation. Airlines prohibit calls, but some travelers are concerned the Federal Communications Commission could drop a ban on cell calls during flights.
• forcing airlines within a year to promptly provide an automated refund of fees for services that the passenger doesn’t receive.
• creating a standardized format within a year for airlines to disclose fees for checked luggage, flight cancellations or changes and seat selection.
• reviewing airline policies within six months for offering pregnant passengers early boarding.
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• studying airline policies within a year about weather delays, whether they were avoidable and whether any attempts were made to disrupt the fewest travelers.
• reviewing within one year whether airlines are being unfair or deceptive in changing flight plans within 24 hours of departure or with new connections.
• studying within 18 months of the minimum space between rows of airline seats required to assure the safety of passengers, including those with disabilities.
“What this bill does, it increases the transparency and provides common-sense reforms that our constituents deserve and demand,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
The bill must still be considered by the full Senate and House. A contentious provision dealing with pilot training could prevent swift passage of any FAA legislation.
Also, the Senate version doesn’t deal with the heart of a companion measure in the House, which would move air-traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration to a non-profit corporation.
Thune said he is open-minded about the idea, but that “sincerely held concerns exist” among others. The proposal will be debated as lawmakers negotiate compromise legislation before current FAA legislation expires Sept. 30, he said.