TRAVEL WEEKLY

BY ROBERT SILK

AUGUST 15, 2019

Under a bipartisan FAA funding bill passed in 2016, the DOT was mandated to require airlines to promptly refund checked baggage fees to passengers in cases of late bag delivery.

Yet today, more than two years after the deadline Congress set for the issuance of that regulation, the department has implemented no such rule. 

And according to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs website, the DOT has taken no formal action toward developing the regulation since late 2016.

The DOT’s intransigence on the mandate shouldn’t come as a surprise. Indeed, shortly after taking office in January 2017, President Trump issued an executive order requiring that federal agencies eliminate two regulations for every one that they add.

Nevertheless, the mandate relating to baggage refunds is just one of the Congressional directives related to consumer protection and safety in the airline industry for which the DOT has already missed the deadline. Another, which also was written into that FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016, called upon the DOT to propose new rules governing lavatory access for disabled passengers on single-aisle aircraft by that same July 2017 deadline. But with the DOT having taken no action, the advocacy group Paralyzed Veterans of America found itself compelled to sue the department in July 2018. In turn, in April, the DOT informed the court that it would make the required proposal by Dec. 2 of this year.

The DOT has also failed to comply with a mandate from last October’s FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 that it and the FAA increase the minimum amount of rest airlines must give flight attendants between scheduled shifts to 10 hours from the current eight.

The bill gave the DOT 30 days to write the change into federal code. With that deadline already more than eight months past, the DOT has set next April as the targeted compliance date, the Information and Regulatory Affairs website shows.

Other than referring me to that site, the DOT declined comment for this column. But in its court briefing related to the lavatory mandate, the department blamed a number of factors for the slow progress, including a lack of resources and the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration. 

I don’t dismiss these explanations outright. Resources are always limited, and government agencies must constantly prioritize. Further, Congress is more than capable of setting timelines without giving proper consideration to an agency’s staffing resources.

Still, given the Trump administration’s clear aversion to regulations, it’s easy to wonder if these delays by the DOT are really more about policy than about practicality. After all, this is the same DOT that appointed an adjunct from the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute to fill the seat representing consumer interests on its Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee.

Moreover, the DOT oversees the same FAA that waited nearly a year to comply with a federal court order to review aircraft cabin configurations in order to ensure evacuations could be accomplished within the required 90 seconds. The agency ultimately came to a conclusion of yes, supporting that finding rather dubiously with truncated videos of safety evacuations conducted by Airbus and Boeing while not releasing actual evacuation test results.

Congress passed both the 2016 and 2018 FAA reauthorization bills by overwhelming margins, and Trump himself signed that second bill into law. 

Let’s hope the DOT faithfully intends to fulfill its mandates as expeditiously as is reasonable.

https://www.travelweekly.com/Robert-Silk/Are-DOT-delays-more-about-policy-than-practicality