In light of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial Supreme Court hearings before his ultimate confirmation, US President Donald Trump signed massive changes in the day-to-day operations of airlines and the wider lives of flight attendants and passengers – seemingly without many noticing.
Literally in the middle of the Supreme Court fight in Washington, Trump held a ceremony for the new 1,200-page bill on Friday, October 6 – the H.R. 302 bill, also known as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018.
By some standards, for the bill to be signed into law in “near obscurity” underscores how consequential these radical changes, that immediately come into effect and last up until September 30, 2023, affect the lives the regular commuter.
The main focus in analyzing the law, arguably a direct result of several viral incidents on airplanes in the last two years, the general consensus is that the newly passed bill changes much of the American aviation landscape.
Dominated largely by what isn’t in H.R. 302, i.e. no restrictions on what airlines can charge for baggage or change fees, included in the new law are:
· prohibitions on airlines from “bumping” passengers who’ve already boarded a plane;
· the explicit requirement of the FAA to set minimum standards for seat width and seat pitch;
· an establishment of minimum standards for how much rest time flight attendants get between shifts;
· the now illegal offence to store a dog or other animal in an overhead bin;
· passenger bans from using mobile phones to make voice calls during flight;
· e-cigarettes ban on planes;
· airline mandates to refund passengers for “services they paid for but did not receive”;
· requirements for airlines to allow passengers to check strollers if they are traveling with small children;
· a requirement on the part of the government to look into whether it’s “unfair or deceptive” when airlines say flights are delayed due to weather, if there are actually other factors involved.
· letting the FAA require airlines to let pregnant women board airplanes first;
· the creation of a task force to study sexual harassment and misconduct among airline employees;
· increases in penalties for interfering with cabin crew or flight crew;
the FAA now has to consider whether to allow supersonic airplanes over the continental U.S.;
tolerating the hack or shoot-down of privately owned drones by the Justice Department, Homeland Security, and other federal law enforcement agencies, if they deem them a threat;
a requirement of the FAA to work on regulations to allow “regular flights of package-delivery drones,” as Amazon wants to do;
the authorization of US$1.68 billion for relief for Hurricane Florence, which hit the Carolinas last month;
a mandate for the FAA to set up an “Office of Spaceports”; and
instructions to the FAA to set up an “aviation consumer advocate,” so that when you have something bad happen to you on an airplane, and you don’t know who to tell, you’ll have at least someone to complain to.
It will be interesting to see how the airlines, industry players and other lobbyists, who have been among groups feverishly watching this bill in Congress for some time, react to these changes – and more so, what the perception from the general public will reflect in the coming weeks and months of this law.