Lipinski Introduces Bill to Provide Needed Airline Passenger Protections

In the wake of the recent intolerable treatment of a United Airlines passenger and other unacceptable incidents on commercial flights, Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3) is introducing the Airline Consumer Protection Act (ACPA).  The bill requires airlines to provide better service, accommodations, and guarantees of timely arrival for all airline passengers. 

“Flying commercial airlines has become an all-too-often unpleasant experience,” said Rep. Lipinski.  “While United and other airlines recently have taken some laudable steps to improve their treatment of passengers, we must do more to provide the flying public with greater protections and service guarantees.  When flights are overbooked, computer systems crash, or other problems occur where the airline is at fault, passengers are left with little recourse and few options to get to their destination.  This bill would make the overall flying experience less worrisome, and would result in greater certainty for passengers arriving at their destinations in a timely manner and how they will be treated when there are delays.”

The main provisions of the Airline Consumer Protection Act are:

  • First, mandatory procedures for airlines to follow to accommodate passengers on another airline's flight should their scheduled flight be delayed for reasons within the airline's control.  If the delay exceeds four hours and the airline cannot rebook the passenger on their airline, they must seek flights on another airline to get the passenger to their destination, a process called “interlining.”  Some airlines already do this, but it is not universally used by all commercial airlines and some will only do it if a passenger makes a special request.
  • Second, in the case of significant delays that are the fault of the airline, the ACPA would require airlines to provide meal vouchers, and - for overnight delays - hotel accommodations or cash equivalents.  This provision would also stipulate that airlines assure access to restrooms and medical support should passengers be delayed in nighttime, diminished-service settings.
  • Third, as we have witnessed multiple times in recent years, the failure of an airline’s computer system can bring down their entire national network and render passengers across the nation stuck at airports for prolonged delays until the computer networks are restored.  Over the last two years, network disruptions have occurred no less than 35 times, stranding millions.  In order to spur airlines to solve this problem, the ACPA takes three steps:
  1. Requires each airline to submit a plan to the FAA detailing how they will manage their passengers in the case of network failure and their efforts to assure redundancy and resilience of their networks to prevent any failures or disruptions from occurring.
  2. Requires a Government Accountability Office audit of airline computer networks and an examination of the most common causes of failures or disruptions.
  3. Establishes a government-industry working group to create best practices for the management of airline computer networks and disruption/failure mitigation and response.
  • Finally, the ACPA includes language from a bill Lipinski introduced last Congress that prevents airlines from charging a fee to change flights if an aircraft’s bathroom isn’t working.  

“As three million Americans take to the skies this Memorial Day Weekend, they should not have a sense of anxiety as they head to the airport, worried about their flight,” said Lipinski.  “Airlines move millions of Americans daily in a safe fashion and mostly on time, but problems continue to occur.  The measures of the ACPA – if enacted into law – will help protect airline passengers and hopefully give them more peace of mind as they travel.”    

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