You’re Getting Hosed By the Big Airlines In the New FAA Bill and You Don’t Even Know It

I wrote the other day that the draft FAA bill being debate by the House included criminalizing passenger speech. If you ‘verbally assault’ an airline employee, you probably shouldn’t be allowed to fly, but this law will raise the stakes with law enforcement too.

That’s not all that’s in the bill that passed the House and now moves on to the Senate.

American Airlines ‘Project Oasis’ Economy

The airlines snuck in a provision to require the government to set minimum seat sizes. That sounds customer-friendly, that you aren’t going to have to be crushed in coach. But that’s meant to trick you. This is really all about raising prices on tickets and giving you the same seats you get today.

  • As long as the airlines’ chief lobbyist, Representative Bill Shuster, is still Chairman of the House Transportation Committee nothing gets through that’s actually bad for the big airlines. They haven’t just filled him with cash, airline lobbyists have literally slept with him and his Chief of Staff.

  • The tightest seating doesn’t belong to Delta, United, and American. Any size rules aren’t going to make them give you more space (leaving aside whether more space would come at a higher price). If any airlines have to change their seat sizes it would be Spirit and Allegiant.

  • That’s what the big airlines want. They want higher costs for their competitors who offer low prices.

  • Today the big airlines match the prices of the ultra low cost carriers, while giving you more room. The goal here is to let them charge more for their current seats, by taking out their competitors that drive down fares.

United Airlines Economy

The whole bill, which passed the House 393-13, is loaded down with populist measures that won’t change the status quo of travel. It bans inflight cell phone use, which is already illegal. It bans involuntarily denying boarding to passengers already on the plane, something airlines learned not to do already post-David Dao.

There’s one item where airlines actually lost: the bill requires flight attendants to have 10 hours of rest after overnighting, which is a measure meant to increase flight attendant hiring and increase union rolls.

Airlines have to post messages on their website explaining if their computers go down flights aren’t going to operate (and putting this up with a computer may not be helpful when computers.. go down). It states the obvious, it doesn’t help airlines avoid IT problems.

They’ll also add new ways to complaint to the Department of Transportation, but that doesn’t change the outcome of complaints in any way.

But the seat size rules are the wolf in sheep’s clothing. You’re supposed to think your Members of Congress are looking out for you, when really they’re attacking United’s, Delta’s, and American’s competition.

(HT: Emily McNutt)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. One could argue that ultra tight seat pitch is a deceptive sales practice because it’s not prominently disclosed with the fares.

  2. This is an interesting perspective. I always assumed that any seat pitch and width regulations would encompass any configurations currently in existence. I would be extremely disappointed if Frontier, Spirit, etc. had to reconfigure and increase prices. Customers should have the option of trading pitch/width for lower fares as long the planes could be evacuated safely.

  3. And what about my 1st Amendment rights to free speech? If it is not defamatory or slanderous, why can’t I say it?

    And just what is the definition of verbal abuse? Is it like the judge who famously quoted “I know what is pornography when I see it?”

  4. Do you, like, have anything good to say about the industry at this point? Like every post here is the same story over and over.

    We get it. Change it up once in a while.

  5. Here’s the point I’ve come to now. The faster the greedy airlines go nuts on rules, the faster a disruptor will come in and force them out of business. It’s like oil vs electric cars. If Oil had been consistently $200 a barrel for the last 20 years, cars would be very different right now (and places like Houston but I digress). While there are airlines I hate less than others, I still hate them all and am always searching for (somewhat) ecomonical alternatives like coordinating a charter with others or hell there are tons of upper middle retirees that own a plane and love to fly but don’t wanna just burn fuel doing circles so if you’re friendly, they’re happy to get paid enough to cover their variable costs of ownership.

  6. I think I agree that the seat size issue is meant as a weapon to the LCCs. And I also agree that the LCCs help drive down ticket prices. But there is another side to that LCC sword. They also help drive down service quality. The LCCs are one reason why the airlines have raced so hard to the bottom in Coach. Would we still be looking today at American’s ridiculous new 737 coach configurations with the inhuman lavoratories if the LCCs weren’t applying so much pressure on the legacy carriers? I do wonder about that.

  7. @D.A. – there is more than just defamatory statements that you are currently not allowed to say under 1st Amendment case law. For example, you can’t yell “fire!” In a crowded theater if you know there is no fire. You cannot incite others to violence. And if with your words you put someone in reasonable fear for their physical safety, you have committed assault.

    I think @Penny’s comment is more apropos – does this new law change the rules on what is impermissible or who gets to decide where to draw the line, and even if not, will cabin crew be trained well enough to keep abuses of the power to an acceptable minimum?

  8. @D.A. – whoops – Penny’s comment AND your second question. Sorry. Trying to remember back to two semesters of ConLaw refried my brain.

  9. Thanks for the analysis Gary. I think your premise is on target that if Shuster is pushing something and the legacy airlines aren’t howling, it’s going to be bad for the public. I think Andre may turn out to be correct though, because the legislation does not say what the controlled seat size would be. My own view is that it would only be restricted for safety reasons, and realistically the LCC seat space is not unsafe, just uncomfortable.

    Of course the criminalization of criticizing employees is a violation of the First Amendment and illegally vague to boot, and another move that promotes the enhancement of the security state in general. That needs to be stopped by the courts if not Congress.

  10. Sounds like a great bill to me! Seats should be min31” pitch and width needs to be expanded too. And FAs need more rest so they can respond well in event of emergency. I don’t care if prices go up. They are already super low.

  11. How is a lobbyist allowed to be in, let alone chair, a House committee?
    That should be illegal!

  12. Where in the First Amendment are any restrictions whatsoever allowed on speech? Yes, court decisions have permitted them, but it is not there. There is no provision for “well regulated” speech in the First Amendment (see the Second Amendment). Now if Congress tried to regulate the Second Amendment there would be an uproar. Regardless, it seems as if these new restrictions are just too vague.

  13. Yep, let’s not forget the first amendment here. But as far as I’m concerned, there really are only a few words and phrases anyone needs to say aboard an airplane. Hello, Coke please or whatever you are drinking, I’m having a heart attack, and Thank you (considering you made it safely to your destination. Get on, sit down and enjoy the miracle of being a thousand miles away in two hours.

    All I want is a seat with room enough so my knees aren’t rubbing against the seat in front of me, a decent price, and no turbulence.

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