RELEASE: Gottheimer Announces New “ETA Act” Legislation to Promote Airline Transparency and Protect Passengers

Apr 29, 2024
Press

Builds on DOT Rules & Gottheimer’s Clear and Simple Airline Agenda

Helping passengers get their hard-earned money back

Above: Gottheimer announces new action to promote airline transparency.

NEWARK, NJ — Today, April 29, 2024, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced new legislation — the Enhancing Transparency from Airlines or “ETA Act” —  to promote airline transparency and protect passengers.

  1. This new legislation expands on Gottheimer’s Clear and Simple Airline Agenda, which aims to eliminate surprise costs and prevent families from having to read endless pages of wonky, small type legalese and fare rules just to try to understand what they are buying and the fees that come with their plane ticket.
  2. Gottheimer‘s bill also sures that when a long delay or cancellation does strike, families get their hard-earned money back — in cash, not vouchers.

The ETA Act codifies important recent rule changes from the Department of Transportation (DOT), so they can’t be changed on a whim by a future Administration.  

Video of today’s announcement can be found here.

Unclear Junk Fees and Flight Cancellations Have Led to:

Gottheimer’s ETA Act:

  • First, it requires airlines to provide direct refunds rather than vouchers following a significant diversion in flight plans including a major delay (3 hours for a domestic flight and six hours for international) or cancellation. The bill will also require refunds for baggage, Wi-Fi, and seat selection fees when airlines do not follow through with these services.
    • Significant diversions include a three-hour delay for domestic flights and a six-hour delay for international trips. 
  • Second, it will protect customers from surprise fees when purchasing a ticket, requiring airlines to communicate all fees upfront.
    • The legislation will require airlines to disclose extra fees critical to a passenger’s travel along with the full fare.

By codifying these rules, which were announced by the DOT last week, Gottheimer will ensure that they endure even in the case of an administration change.

“My new legislation, the Enhancing Transparency from Airlines Act or ETA Act is all about protecting consumers and families. Starting next year, all airlines that operate in the U.S. will be required to promptly issue cash or credit card refunds, not just vouchers, to passengers when their flights are cancelled or significantly changed — or when they face other travel issues like significantly delayed baggage. Instead of airlines making up refund rules on the fly, pun intended, refunds will be automatic, prompt, and standardized,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5).

Gottheimer added, “To help address the hide-and-seek game surrounding those hidden or surprise extra fees that get added on to the original price, airlines will now be required to make them clear and transparent up front — they can’t them in fine print or on some hard-to-find place on the website. These fees also have to be shown up front, when you search for the fare – not on that last screen right before you check out. This is all about promoting ‘fare transparency.’”

Below: Gottheimer announces new action to promote airline transparency.

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery: 

Good morning. It’s great to join you here at Newark Airport. First, congratulations are in order. Newark’s Terminal A, which recently underwent a major renovation, received the World’s Best New Airport Terminal Award from Skytrax, an industry group that rates airports around the world. Hat’s off to the Port Authority leadership and state leaders that oversaw this successful renovation and to all of the hardworking women and men here who help make this terminal and airport run every day. It’s yet another reminder that no one does it better than Jersey.

Before I dive in, I want to take a moment to discuss some of the disturbing Jew hatred and violence that we’re seeing on college campuses around the country. Last week, at the start of Passover, I joined three of my colleagues on a visit to Columbia University, where protesters — many of whom were not even affiliated with Columbia — have established an encampment right in the center of campus. 

These protesters weren’t just camping out. They have directly targeted, physically, and verbally harassed Jewish students, haranguing them with awful Jew-hating insults and cheering on and supporting the acts of Hamas — a foreign terrorist organization that hates Americans as much as they hate Israel. 

These students, supported by members of the faculty, have blocked students, and not only Jewish students, from going to class, getting into the library, and leaving their dorm rooms. Classes and finals have been forced online. The hate has only intensified since my visit. On Thursday, a video surfaced of a Columbia encampment organizer saying, “Zionists don’t deserve to live.” They compared Zionists to Nazis. 

Let me be crystal clear: this kind of hatred has no place in our country. Full stop. The university has affirmatively allowed the protestors to create an environment that violates the rights of all students – that’s unacceptable. I’ve heard that the University may take action to dissolve the encampment, but I’m sure we will learn more as the day goes on.

As long as I’m in Congress, you can be assured that I will use every legislative tool at my disposal to end campus hate and protect all of our students. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and assembly, not the freedom to harass and intimidate other students, and prevent them from getting an education. 

Now, to what brings us here this morning. I am excited to announce new action that I’m taking, as part of my Clear and Simple Airline Agenda, to give customers more money-saving tools and greater transparency when they fly.

As a Member of Congress, I spend a lot of time in the air. Probably like you, every time I book a flight, I feel like I’m reading through an endless legal document that would require twelve lawyers to understand. I have to scroll through pages of legalese and liability warnings just to book a ticket – and most of the important stuff – like how much everything actually costs – is often a big surprise on the last page. 

Inevitably, when you land on that checkout screen, you’re whacked with a host of fees: baggage fees, cancellation and ticket charges, seat fees, and so much more. You get excited about the original price and depressed when you actually go to pay. 

My wife and I are both lawyers, and, I’ll tell you, we couldn’t decrypt the fine print — the fare classes, the change fees, what’s actually refundable, and if you’ll be penalized for canceling. 

And I’m constantly hearing the same thing from constituents across North Jersey.

That’s only half the battle. Then you get to the airport. When travelers arrive here, they are often left crossing their fingers, hoping that they won’t hit a delay or cancellation. The worst part is that when you get hit with a delay or cancellation, you never know what’s going to happen next. Will you be forced to get on another flight, if they can find you a seat? When will it be? Can you get your money back, or just a travel voucher for a future flight, that you may not even want? What about all of those extra fees you paid for your seat, bags, Wi-Fi, or early boarding? Every airline is different.  

I get it. The airlines don’t want to rush to refund your money, especially for all of those extras. According to the Department of Transportation, airlines made more than $130 billion in extra fees like baggage costs and early boarding during the first nine months of 2023. Just last year, baggage fees alone raked in an estimated $33.3 billion to airlines. The Department of Transportation reports that revenue from baggage fees increased by more than thirty percent between 2018 and 2022, more than double as fast as operating revenue.

Here’s the other reality that travelers have to deal with: So far this year, 126,000 flights in the U.S. — nearly a quarter of America’s flights — have been delayed and another 1,500 were cancelled. That’s the worst performance by our country’s airlines in at least a decade. 

Airlines are giving out vouchers hand over fist to compensate for these delays. A lot of these vouchers, just like gift cards, are never claimed – either people lose them, they expire, or they’re not traveling again on that airline anytime soon. During the pandemic, major U.S. airlines reported that travelers were sitting on more than $10 billion in unused credits. That’s not right. If an airline cancels or massively delays your flight, you should be able to get your money back – not a voucher card. You can’t pay for your groceries or rent with an airline voucher. 

American families deserve true travel transparency on what it costs to buy a ticket and fly, and actual cash refunds in the case of a delay or cancellation.

I called for airline transparency just over a year ago, right here at Newark Airport, when I launched my Clear and Simple Airline Agenda. I urged the Department of Transportation to implement rules that require airlines to show the full cost of a flight up front and institute something I called the “Airline Transparency Box.” That box would give travelers a bird’s eye view of everything that they’re paying for and what exactly would happen to their ticket in the case of a delay or cancellation. No surprises. No tricks. No gotchas. Airlines shouldn’t be able to hide the extras on the last page, as a surprise, right before you check out. 

I’m proud to say that earlier this month, Secretary Buttigieg and the Department of Transportation answered my calls. They announced two important rules to promote travel transparency for customers across America. That’s why I’m proud to announce the Enhancing Transparency from Airlines Act or ETA Act, which will permanently codify these new rules of the sky – so that a future Transportation Secretary or White House can’t reverse or undo them.

First, starting next year, all airlines that operate in the U.S. will be required to promptly issue cash or credit card refunds, not just vouchers, to passengers when their flights are cancelled or significantly changed — or when they face other travel issues like significantly delayed baggage. Instead of airlines making up refund rules on the fly, pun intended, refunds will be automatic, prompt, and standardized. For example, all customers will receive a refund for delays of more than three hours on a domestic flight and six hours on an international trip. They can also get full cash refunds for all of the extras, too – the extra bags, extra leg room, early boarding, and the like. 

Second, to help address the hide-and-seek game surrounding those hidden or surprise extra fees that get added on to the original price, airlines will now be required to make them clear and transparent up front — they can’t them in fine print or on some hard-to-find place on the website. These fees also have to be shown up front, when you search for the fare – not on that last screen right before you check out. This is all about promoting “fare transparency.”

I want to applaud Secretary Buttigiegand the Department of Transportation for their leadership, instituting these important rules of the sky. They will give customers more clarity and confidence when traveling. But, we want to make sure these new consumer protections aren’t just a passing fad. We can’t let a future presidential administration betray our commitment to families. 

That’s why my legislation, the Enhancing Transparency from Airlines Act or ETA Act will make these rules permanent. With the full force of Congress behind them, we will prevent any funny business from future presidents looking to roll back these key consumer protections. The ETA Act will help ensure that we put an end to gotcha games when you travel. 

More transparency is a win-win. It’ll give consumers important peace of mind, and it’ll help reduce the number of complaints that airlines get from consumers. In the first nine months of 2023, consumers filed more than 37,000 complaints with the DOT. With these new consumer protecting measures, I’m confident that we’ll see less frustration when flying in the friendly skies this year. 

Thank you all again for joining me here today to demand an end to travel turbulence.

By working together to stand up for consumers, here in the greatest country in the world, I know that our best days will always be ahead of us. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

If you’ll excuse me, I have a flight to catch!

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