Balancing The Scales To Ensure Relief, Stimulus And The Future Of Travel Reflects The Needs Of Consumers

Only through leveling the playing field will the American people get the government they deserve and want, and the health of the entire travel ecosystem be restored. While the views of all stakeholders must be considered, American taxpayers pay the cost of DOT and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and expect those government agencies to be looking out for them, first and foremost. Americans are rightfully upset to be hit with surprise fees and inflexible policies from the same companies that their tax dollars are helping with billions in aid.

There are a wealth of opportunities for the new administration to begin to restore balance, make consumers the priority, and equalize the scales among stakeholders. We’ve outlined some below.


  1. Implement a science- and health expert-based plan to protect travelers from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as its impact on the entire travel ecosystem.
    • Common, national standards for travel suppliers and government facilities.
      Today travelers face a patchwork of policies that vary from supplier to supplier, and in some areas, from airport to airport. The Biden Administration’s mask mandate, which we applaud and embrace, has been long overdue, but there is more to be done. If travelers have a set of protection measures being equally implemented across all parts of the travel ecosystem that they can depend on, it will not only reduce the likelihood of them contracting COVID, but it will help restore confidence in travel, which will rebuild the travel industry. National, health expert-based standards are needed regarding pre-travel COVID screening, airport and aircraft cleaning procedures and cabin air.
    • Flexible change, cancellation and refund policies.
      COVID is an extraordinary crisis calling for an extraordinary response. No consumer should have to decide between losing money they can ill afford to lose or defying medical advice to cancel or postpone traveling and taking a trip.When airlines cancel flights or substantially change schedules, they are required to issue refunds to passengers. With the arrival of COVID, airlines began to unilaterally and illegally deny refunds, mislead consumers about them or insist that consumers accept credits for future travel instead, something many could not afford as an alternative in light of COVID job losses and reduced earnings. While the previous DOT made statements encouraging better airline behavior, the practice continues and the airlines have not been held accountable for violations. DOT enforcement is needed.
  2. Give consumers true transparency and access to public information so they can see what they’ve always wanted – the total, bottom line, all-in cost of a trip and all of the options they have.
    • End airline manipulation of independent displays of public schedule and price information that denies consumers access to lower fares and better flight options.
      This would address the Trump Administration’s December 23, 2020 termination of the request for information initiated in October 2016 that received the overwhelming support of nearly 60,000 from a variety of stakeholders that filed comments on the DOT docket.
    • Protect pricing transparency for consumers in travel.
      We applaud DOT’s recent suspension of the previous administration’s proposed rulemaking on the full-fare advertising rule, yet another DOT action taken at the behest of the powerful airline lobby. The existing, highly effective rule allows consumers to easily see what they want most – the total, bottom-line, all-in cost of a plane ticket.
  3. Address issues that fail to meet a reasonable, common sense threshold that severely degrade the travel experience or have a significant economic impact on consumers.
    • Establish a policy to enable families traveling with small children to sit together at no additional cost.
      As part of Section 2309 of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016, DOT was instructed to review the issue of the rising costs – sometimes nearly as much as the ticket itself – of families being forced to pay premium seating fees if they want to sit together. When this legislation was about to be passed, the airline lobby inserted the word “if appropriate” into the bill, and the previous administration’s Secretary of Transportation did not think action in this area was necessary.
    • Complete unfinished implementing rules and increase enforcement of existing regulations, such as requiring airlines to refund baggage fees when baggage doesn’t arrive on the same flight as the passenger.
      This is one of many areas where legislation passed with large bi-partisan majorities, some as long as five years ago and is still awaiting DOT implementation.
  4. Appoint a genuine consumer advocate on any travel-related committee or commission.
    • Replace the current consumer representative on the Aviation Consumer Protection and Advisory Committee (ACPAC).
      Previous administrations have appointed a well-respected, experienced and genuine consumer advocate from the advocacy community to serve as the consumer representative on this four-person committee.
    • Ensure consumer and overall balanced representation on any administration, DOT or FAA committee involving the travel industry.


  1. Address consumer issues in other parts of the travel experience.
    • Ban deceptive hotel resort, cleaning and COVID cleaning fees that are a hidden price increase that surprise travelers after they are lured into choosing a hotel thinking that the cost of staying there is lower than it actually is.
      Bipartisan legislation was been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on “the most hated fee in travel” in 2019. That same year, Attorneys General for the District of Columbia and the state of Nebraska filed lawsuits against Marriott International and Hilton Worldwide, respectively, for hiding the true price of hotel rooms from consumers and charging hidden resort fees to increase profits. In November 2012 and April 2013, the Federal Trade Commission warned 35 hotels that resort fees were not adequately disclosed on their hotel reservation websites, and that such practices may violate the law by misrepresenting the price consumers expected to pay for their hotel rooms.
  2. Level the playing field and address structural imbalances that exist today.
    • Give consumers of air travel the same access to state courts that consumers of every other industry have.
      Restoring private right of action to airline consumers would help restore balance to a scale heavily tipped on the side of big business and serve as a structural solution that would curb the airlines from trampling on their customers’ rights. Access to the courts when harmed is fundamental. Congress never intended to have access to state courts stripped from travelers when the industry was deregulated in 1978. The absence of private right of action – a legal shield that only the airline industry receives – has been detrimental to travelers as powerful market participants use its absence to their advantage. To that same end, we should also consider empowering attorneys general to address consumer issues as U.S. DOT is overwhelmed and understaffed to effectively protect the flying public.
  3. Prevent further industry consolidation and competitive erosion.
    • Move responsibility for approving airline requests for immunity from antitrust laws, which are essentially an equity-free merger, to the U.S. Department of Justice where all of the other transactions most similar to them are evaluated and approved.By being the decider of these transactions, DOT has presided over massive consolidation in travel markets between the U.S. and international destinations. There is now less competition on these routes than at any other time since the airlines were deregulated, with the most powerful airlines organized into three cartel-like groups – OneWorld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance, each dominated by one of the three largest airlines in the U.S. For consumers, these alliances have resulted in higher fares on many routes and fewer flight options. For some American workers, they have resulted in fewer jobs.