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Senators push for "passenger bill of rights" that would give travelers at least $1,350 if bumped due to oversold flight

Airline passenger bill of rights
Senators introduce airline passenger bill of rights following Southwest meltdown 03:39

A group of senators is pushing for airline passenger protections after severe travel disruptions ruined the holidays for tens of thousands of Americans. Under the new rules, airlines would be forced to compensate flyers during airline-caused delays and cancellations.  

Democratic Senators Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced the "passenger bill of rights," which would require airlines to pay passengers at least $1,350 if they're denied boarding because of an oversold flight. 

"If passengers could receive 1,350 bucks whenever their flight is delayed by four hours, I am guaranteeing you there'd be a lot fewer delays," Blumenthal said. 

Markey said people are "being ripped off," and that "the goal is to level the playing field for our consumers."

The bill would help flyers like Christine Pastore and her husband, who were among those stranded in Dec. after a scheduling and staffing meltdown led to the cancellation of more than 16,700 Southwest flights. They had plans to travel on Dec. 26 to see their daughter Emily — who was in the hospital — on her birthday. At the airport, they learned their flight was canceled and that it would be days before Southwest could find them another flight. 

"We were devastated," Pastore said. "We were planning this trip for quite a while and the most frustrating part is that it was blue skies, all the other airlines were flying and there were seats available — and we just could not get there."

The Pastores said they're still waiting to hear if Southwest will reimburse them more than $800 in expenses from their canceled trip. Southwest's cancellations cost the airline about $800 million, and said it is still processing some requests. The airline has apologized to customers and said it is investing $1 billion in IT upgrades to prevent situations like this from happening again.

The proposed legislation also includes a limit on fees for baggage and seating, as well as for flight changes or cancellations. 

Separately, the Department of Transportation is planning new regulations to prohibit charging for families to sit next to children.  

But the bill is seeing pushback from some. Airlines for America, the trade group representing most of the nation's carriers, said it is "in the interest of all U.S. airlines to provide a positive flight experience for all passengers," but that the proposed policies in the bill "would drastically decrease competition, leading to a subsequent increase in airfare prices."

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said last month, before the new legislation was announced, that United is already changing how it operates — leaving more crews and planes in reserve while investing in technology upgrades, in an effort to prevent a disruption from becoming a crisis. 

"We flew a lot less in 2022 than we would have liked to because we had to give ourselves breathing room to invest, to build up staffing buffers, to get everyone through training, and just to be prepared for growing for the future," Kirby said.

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