Everything You Need to Know About the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights

Updated: Feb. 14, 2023

A new piece of legislation could make air travel infinitely less stressful.

We all know about the U.S. Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to our constitution. But did you know that a group of senators is now fighting to codify protections for fliers under an Airplane Passengers’ Bill of Rights? In light of the recent delays and cancellations on Southwest and other major airlines this past holiday season, two senators—Edward Markey (Dem., MA) and Richard Blumenthal (Dem., CT)—are hoping to make flying less stressful and more “humane” through the introduction of the Airplane Passengers’ Bill of Rights.

What is the Passengers’ Bill of Rights legislation?

In short, the Passengers’ Bill of Rights is a piece of legislation that would provide legal protection for fliers in the cases of delays, cancellations, lost baggage, and “junk fees” (in the words of President Joe Biden).

As Blumenthal explains: “This legislation will ensure fliers have the essential consumer protections they deserve…[It] will establish clear, enforceable rules for airlines to follow, putting consumers first and restoring sanity to the skies.”

What are the three main rights in the Passengers’ Bill of Rights?

The three most notable facets of the Passengers’ Bill of Rights are the following:

  1. Airplane companies would have to give a minimum of $1,350 to customers who booked a flight but were denied boarding as a result of the company’s overbooking.
  2. Airline companies would need to compensate and/or refund tickets to customers in the event of airline-caused flight delays and cancellations.
  3. If and when an airline company loses a customer’s baggage, they must immediately refund paid baggage fees.

How else are airline companies held responsible in the Passengers’ Bill of Rights?

Themis statue, judge hammer and books on judge's deskNiseriN/Getty Images

This legislation also proposes a slew of other regulations and responsibilities for airline companies, including the following:

  1. Airline companies must refund tickets for flights delayed one to four hours and provide alternate transportation.
  2. Airline companies must refund tickets for flights delayed more than four hours, as well as provide alternate transportation and compensation, and cover the costs of food and lodging, as applicable.
  3. Airline companies cannot use weather as an excuse for delays or cancellations that are actually their fault.

Additionally, the legislation could potentially limit the decrease in seat sizes until the Department of Transportation sets a minimum seat size requirement, and parents would not be charged extra to sit next to their children.

How is the Department of Transportation held responsible in the Passengers’ Bill of Rights?

Lastly, the legislation outlines a few key responsibilities for the Department of Transportation (DOT), currently led by Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. Those include:

  1. The DOT must explain why it has failed to penalize airline companies that have violated passenger rights.
  2. The DOT must organize a study with consumer groups on the efficacy of a system of providing fines on airlines directly to their fliers.
  3. The DOT must eliminate the cap on fines it charges airlines for violating the rights of passengers.
  4. The DOT cannot allow airline companies to negotiate unreasonably low fines for particularly heinous practices.

When might the Passengers’ Bill of Rights be passed?

House Of Representatives meet to pass new billJunko Kimura/Getty Images

All of this is wonderful news for airplane passengers, but it’s important to remember that this legislation has not been passed (made into law) just yet.

Understandably, representatives of the airline industry are pushing back against this proposal. The trade group representing most U.S. flight companies, Airlines for America, released a statement calling the legislation “short-sighted,” claiming it would “inevitably drive up costs and reduce choices for the consumer.”

Still, the U.S. Senate is moving forward with its hearings on the “customer service meltdown” of Southwest Airlines. We can expect more information in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if this issue is especially important to you, be sure to contact your state’s representatives to voice your support.