WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Joe Biden pushed for an end to so-called junk fees in the State of the Union address Tuesday night and called out airlines for charging families looking to sit together on a flight.
“We’ll prohibit airlines from charging up to $50 roundtrip for families just to sit together,” said President Biden. “Baggage fees are bad enough. They can’t just treat your child like a piece of luggage.”
Washington Correspondent Samantha Manning spoke one-on-one with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about this issue and other concerns for passengers on Wednesday.
“The idea that some people have to pay in order to sit next to their kids on a flight, this is just common sense and I feel even more strongly about this now that we’re parents to twins,” said Buttigieg about President Biden’s push to end the fees.
Buttigieg said the federal government is looking into creating a federal rule stopping airlines from imposing this extra fee.
“My department has been working with the White House to make sure that we have the authority to create a rule requiring airlines to do this,” said Buttigieg. “I’m calling on the airlines to do this anyway. We shouldn’t have to go through all the process of creating a federal rule. But we will and we are because one way or another, we’ve got to make sure things like that aren’t standing in the way of families having a good experience when they take a trip.”
It comes as passengers around the country have faced high prices and experienced widespread delays and cancelations.
Manning asked Buttigieg how he responds to critics who argue the DOT isn’t doing enough to crack down on alleged unfair practices by airlines, particularly in light of the December Southwest Airlines meltdown.
“We have set records for the toughest civil penalties ever assessed in the history of the Department of Transportation’s consumer protection program and we’re not stopping there,” said Buttigieg. “Because of the actions we took last year, including getting the stepped-up commitments in writing about customer service, we’re now able to go back and enforce that with regard to what happened with Southwest passengers.”
There are several proposals now in Congress aimed at expanding passenger protections. That includes the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights and the FAIR Fees Act.
But since we are dealing with a divided Congress, passing any legislation will be an uphill battle this session.
“I think we could get some good things done with Congress but we’re not waiting on that in order to get results,” said Buttigieg. “One of the things we’re doing right now is processing what we’re hearing from passengers.”
Manning asked Buttigieg if passengers can have peace of mind right now that another meltdown won’t happen.
“Well, we’ve seen a lot of improvements, but I don’t think we’re out of the woods,” said Buttigieg. “There’s a lot more work that airlines need to do and there’s a modernization that needs to go on in the system as a whole including at the FAA.”
Members of a Senate committee will question the Chief Operating Officer for Southwest Airlines on Thursday about the December meltdown.
Buttigieg said he wants to hear the company be specific about steps they have taken to improve their systems to make sure the widespread cancellations that passengers faced never happens again.
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