The House on Thursday voted overwhelmingly (351-69) to approve the bill that would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for another five years.
The bill now heads to the Senate, which is already considering its bill to reauthorize the FAA. The two will have to approve a final bill by the end of September when the current FAA authorization ends.
The House’s bill includes $4 billion per year for airport infrastructure improvements and directs the FAA to boost the hiring of 1,800 air traffic controllers (ATC) annually. It also raises the retirement age for commercial airline pilots to 67 (from 65) and sets up development programs to improve hiring and retention in the industry.
The ATC hiring, in particular, has been called out by industry groups including the U.S. Travel Association, which last week, along with United Airlines, called out how the lack of ATC was failing travelers.
“Having [air traffic controllers] in the place that they need to be is a big challenge,” said Tori Emerson Barnes. “Even the DOT’s IG said their own staffing models were confusing and inadequate.”
For travel advisors, the bill includes four main points that recognize their role in the larger travel ecosystem.
The first is that it clarifies travel agency refund obligations, making it clear that an agency must issue a refund only in limited scenarios where it is in the possession of the funds in question.
The second is that it adds a travel agency seat to the DOT Consumer Protection Advisory Committee, a key advisory body within the DOT that is there to help the Department meet its consumer protection mission.
The third is that it streamlines disclosures in offline ticket transactions, requiring the DOT to implement a streamlined system for fulfilling consumer disclosure requirements during “offline” transactions (over-the-phone, face-to-face) within 18 months of the bill’s enactment.
The last is that it creates a new consumer advisory committee that includes travel agencies, the goal would be to advise the Secretary of Transportation on ways to improve the passenger experience in air transportation customer service, via biennial reports.
All four points are ones that the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) has fought for, including at its Legislative Day with lawmakers last month. In a statement on Thursday, ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby applauded the bill’s passage and its recognition of the trade in the health of the American travel industry.
“Today, the House of Representatives recognized what consumers have long known – travel advisors serve as a crucial voice for the traveling public and, as sellers of nearly half of all air tickets, an indispensable contributor to our nation’s economy,” she said. “Consumer research shows that not only are more people traveling more often, but more are also using travel advisors to make the most of their trips. ASTA members took that message to Capitol Hill during ASTA’s Legislative Day in June, and this legislation clearly shows that it resonated with lawmakers.
“I applaud the bipartisan hard work of Chairman Sam Graves, Ranking Member Larsen, the Transportation Committee, and the full House in approving this bill. We urge the Senate to quickly follow suit and get this bill over the finish line before the September 30 deadline,” he added.