U.S. Air Travel Has Been a Disaster This Summer, but Help Is on the Way

Legislation that will fundamentally improve the air travel experience is making its way through Congress. Here’s what to know.

Interior of Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., with a few air travelers walking below soaring ceiling and an oversized U.S. flag hanging from above

When it comes to air travel in the USA, change is long overdue.

Photo by Shutterstock

Earlier this month, government leaders made an important step toward fixing a lot of the problems with air travel today.

On July 20, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the next five years. If approved, the renewed legislation will improve “the safety of our system, our airport infrastructure, and the quality of service for passengers,” stated Sam Graves, chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which introduced the bill on June 9. The bill is now on its way to the Senate floor, where it awaits approval by September, when the FAA’s current authorization is set to expire.

The FAA reauthorization bill—what travelers should know

For air travelers, there are several main takeaways from the FAA reauthorization bill that stand to fundamentally improve the air travel experience. Here’s what fliers should be watching for.

Expanding the aviation workforce

Most air travelers are well aware that in the aftermath of the pandemic, the air travel industry has struggled in the face of pilot and air traffic controller shortages. In fact, according to the U.S. Travel Association, due to “years of federal underinvestment,” the U.S. aviation system currently has 1,200 fewer air traffic controllers than a decade ago.

These critical shortfalls often result in airlines and airports being unable to execute their flight schedules to their full capacity and on time. In other words, they are often the root cause of the numerous canceled and delayed flights that have plagued the industry in recent months, often exacerbated by weather-related strains on the system.

The proposed bill addresses these challenges by “removing barriers to pursuing aviation careers, expanding the aviation workforce pipeline, [and] improving training standards,” according to a statement from the Transportation Committee.

Better airports

U.S. airports get a bad rap when compared to their global counterparts. “Half of the world’s 10 busiest airports are in the United States, but only one U.S. airport—Seattle—cracks the top 20 in world’s best airport rankings,” notes the U.S. Travel Association.

In order to better compete on the international stage and enhance the air travel experience from where it begins—at the airport—the FAA reauthorization bill “provides more funding for airport infrastructure grants and directs a larger share to medium and large hubs,” states U.S. Travel.

Improving the passenger experience

The air travel recovery process, and thus the customer experience, has been rough these past couple of years. The bill’s authors promise that it “delivers reforms that will enhance the experience for the traveling public,” including:

  • A more robust system for providing passengers with refunds and reimbursements for flight cancellations and delays—airlines will need to submit a document summarizing the rights of their passengers and what kinds of compensation is due when flight delays, cancellations, and disruptions occur (including rebooking options, refunds, meals, and accommodations)
  • Ensuring that airlines and online travel agencies (OTAs) provide transparent airfare pricing that includes government-imposed taxes and fees and displays the total cost of the airfare upfront
  • An easy way for air travelers to submit their complaints to the Office of Aviation Consumer Protection’s website regarding air travel service problems
  • The Secretary of Transportation will be charged with creating an “Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights,” ensuring that passengers with disabilities are “treated with dignity and respect,” according to the bill, and receive timely assistance, can travel with wheelchairs, and can obtain announcements in an accessible format, among other guarantees

The bottom line: “Over half of Americans say they would travel more for leisure if the travel experience were less of a hassle,” according to U.S. Travel.

Investing in air travel safety and innovation

“America’s aviation system is safe, but the system is not immune to stress and must continually be made safer,” write the bill’s authors. And responding to the recent influx in runway close calls, the authors added that the FAA reauthorization bill “addresses several safety issues, including the recent uptick in runway incursions.”

As the air travel industry adapts to a changing climate, complete with its challenges in terms of more erratic weather patterns and opportunities for developing new and evolving emission-reducing air transport technologies, the FAA reauthorization bill aims to encourage new technology and innovations in the air travel sector.

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at Afar where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined Afar in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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