By Amber Pavucsko, Staff Writer
At the end of 2022, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) stated that there would be greater protections surrounding airliner “junk fees.” This would include disclosing fees such as charging to seat a young child next to a parent, traveling with a first checked bag, and a second checked bag. However, this is not the first time that the USDOT has tried to implement this rule. In 2014, the USDOT wanted airlines to disclose these same fees to customers as a consumer protection measure. The proposal was eventually abandoned, partly because of airline opposition. One criticism of the rule was that the USDOT did not indicate evidence of specific financial harm to passengers from not knowing which fees were being added into their overall ticket price. Now there are concerns that the recent rule proposal will eventually be abandoned in the same way.
Nevertheless, there are some key differences this time. First, ticket prices have been increasing. Prices have increased due to production issues, rising inflation rates, a pilot shortage accompanied by a salary increase, and airlines wanting to balance their books after low profits caused by the pandemic. Airlines are also facing pressure from states to better deal with passengers whose flights were canceled at the last minute or were significantly delayed. The call for more protections were echoed by many state attorney generals, including former Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who signed a letter urging the USDOT to strengthen rules for airline consumer protections. Although the recommendations were directed more towards reimbursement for and prevention of flight cancellations and delays, there has been more pressure on airlines to conduct fair consumer practices after last year’s turbulent travel season.
President Joe Biden has also endorsed the USDOT’s rule proposals. Just last month, Biden has turned the focus on the need for airlines to be transparent about charging extra to seat children next to their parents. Biden has asked Congress to create legislation that prevents airliners from creating costly fees for assigning families to sit next to each other. USDOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg has sent lawmakers a draft of the legislation. In the meantime, the USDOT has created an Airline Customer Service Dashboard that details which airlines guarantee “adjacent seats for children 13 or under and an accompanying adult at no additional cost.” Right now, only Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and Frontier Airlines make this guarantee. Other notable airlines like Delta, United, Spirit, and Southwest still charge extra for seating families together. Southwest has indicated that they are in discussions on how to implement this change, while United will not charge extra for families with children under 12 starting in early March. These are certainly steps in the right direction but it’s likely that the law will still take years to be implemented passed.
 Mentour Now!, What’s Happening with the Airline Ticket Prices?!, (Mar. 4, 2023), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emsiKkShGQA
 See https://www.cnbc.com/2022/09/26/biden-seeks-stricter-rules-requiring-more-transparency-of-airline-fees.html
 https://fortune.com/2023/03/06/airline-junk-fees-transportation-secretary-pete-buttigieg-dashboard-family-separations/; https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/airline-customer-service-dashboard; https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/biden-administration-wants-congress-bar-airlines-charging-family-seating-fees-2023-03-13/.
 https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/airline-customer-service-dashboard (emphasis removed).
 See https://www.wsj.com/articles/biden-airline-fees-buttigieg-dot-11664306755; https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/biden-administration-wants-congress-bar-airlines-charging-family-seating-fees-2023-03-13/