WASHINGTON — The Biden administration wants to make airlines refund fees to passengers if their bags are delivered late or the Wi-Fi on their flights doesn’t work, an adviser to the president said Friday.
Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, said at a White House news briefing the Department of Transportation will be directed to begin writing new airline rules to promote “fair competition.”
“These rulemakings will specifically ensure that if a passenger pays to check a bag, they should get that fee back if the bag doesn’t arrive on time,” Deese said. “Also, if the passenger pays for a service like Wi-Fi and it doesn’t actually work, that you will get that feedback quickly.”
The Transportation Department has disclosed plans to issue several new airline rules over the next year. A person familiar with the plans said it would launch the public phase of writing the new refund regulations in the coming days. It would likely be months before any changes are finalized and airlines could seek to raise objections or water down the proposed rules.
The Obama administration issued several rounds of new airline rules, including one in 2011 that required airlines to refund checked bag fees when a bag is lost, but it rejected the idea of requiring refunds for bags delivered late.
In 2016, Congress ordered the department to adopt the idea, and it began the process but never completed it. In 2018, Congress also said airlines should be required to refund other fees, like for Wi-Fi or in-flight entertainment, if the services don’t work.
The person familiar with the plans said the department will propose that “late” means 12 hours after a domestic flight arrives and 25 hours for an international flight. The airline industry has previously argued the clock should only begin once the passenger reports the bag as late.
The president is also expected to direct the Transportation Department to look into requiring disclosure of all airline fees at the time of booking.
Extra fees on top of tickets have grown in recent years to become a big source of airline revenue. Before the pandemic hit, airlines collected almost $5.8 billion in baggage fees, up from less than $500 million in 2007, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
After the Obama administration issued new rules — like one requiring full disclosure of ticket costs and another allowing passengers to get a refund within 24 hours of a booking a flight — the airline industry appealed to the Trump administration for help. In November, the Transportation Department changed how it would investigate allegations that airlines were involved in unfair or deceptive practices, a shift that consumer groups said would make it harder to hold airlines accountable.
Current Transportation Department leadership is proposing to revisit the issue later this year.
Another idea proposed by the department appears to be a response to complaints it received during the early stages of the pandemic about airlines not providing refunds. The department says it plans to clarify airlines’ responsibilities to issue refunds promptly if they significantly change or cancel a flight, and address protections for travelers “unable to travel due to government restrictions.”
John Breyault, a vice president at the National Consumers League, said the proposed pipeline of consumer-friendly rule changes was encouraging.
“What it shows me is that the DOT under President Biden is more interested in consumer protection than it was under the past four years,” Breyault said. “I called the last four years, at best, benign neglect and, at worst, active sabotage when it comes to consumer protection.”