Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Will Congress Save You From the Airline Fees?

A long-shot Senate bill would limit carriers’ hefty charges for bags, ticket changes and cancellations.

Outraged by the $200 fee the airline charged you to change your ticket, or the $100 for that second suitcase to Europe? Two senators are out to stanch the avalanche of fees with the Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous Fees Act.

The bill, nicknamed FAIR, would ban “fees that are not reasonable and proportional to the costs incurred.” It was introduced Wednesday by Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. 

“Airlines should not be allowed to overcharge captive passengers just because they need to change their flight or have to check a couple of bags,” Markey said in a statement. “There is no justification for charging consumers a $200 fee to resell a $150 ticket that was cancelled well in advance.” The senators plan to attach their bill to legislation in the Senate reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration, Markey spokeswoman Giselle Barry said.

The bill’s chances aren't great. Congress hasn't been involved in airline pricing since it deregulated the industry, in 1978. “Most companies, whether it be an auto maker, an oil company, or an airline, they don’t welcome regulation,” Barry said. The bill will help to start “an important debate on who’s on the side of consumers and who’s on the side of the airlines,” she said. 

Airlines for America, the industry’s trade group, called the legislation “nothing more than an effort to re-regulate an industry that was deregulated to the consumer benefit,” making flying “affordable and accessible,” and said the fares “help to reduce passenger 'no-shows' and the need for airlines to overbook.” Separately, the trade group said Wednesday that it expects a 3 percent jump in spring travel on U.S. carriers, to a record 140 million passengers this month and next, from last year, or 63,000 more passengers a day.

Delta Air Lines, which quit the group last year, didn’t immediately return emails and a call seeking comment.

Fees have become a crucial component of airlines’ record profits. U.S. airlines, led by American Airlines Group and Delta, collected $5.1 billion in the first three quarters of 2015 for bags, changes, and canceled tickets, according to government data; the full-year total will be released in May. Three of eight airlines Senate Transportation Committee staff studied increased checked-bag fees by 67 percent between 2009 and 2014. Four boosted domestic cancellation fees by 33 percent, one imposed a 50 percent increase and one increased the cancellation fee by 66 percent. 

There is no companion legislation for the Markey-Blumenthal bill in the House, where the chairman of the Transportation Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., supports the airlines’ biggest policy effort in years, the privatization of the air traffic control system. 

Politico reported in February that Shuster and Nicholas Calio, the president of Airlines for America, socialized during a long weekend in Miami Beach last month with Shuster’s girlfriend, Shelley Rubino, a vice president for the airline lobby group. At a National Journal forum last April, after Politico reported on his relationship with Rubino, Shuster said he had “gone above and beyond what the law requires,” and what House rules mandate, in disclosing it.

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