What the F.A.A. Bill Means for Travelers

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Automatic refunds for significant flight disruptions, fee-free family seating and accessibility improvements.

Those are among the benefits for travelers in the bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration for five more years, which Congress is expected to pass. After months of back and forth, and several short-term extensions, it will then head to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

The F.A.A. oversees all plane traffic in the United States, and the bill, which Mr. Biden has signaled he will sign, grants $105 billion to the agency and $738 million to the National Transportation Safety Board. In addition to strengthening passenger protections, it will pay for airport infrastructure, salaries and safety programs, and take aim at the air traffic controller shortage.

Geoff Freeman, the president and chief executive of the U.S. Travel Association, called the renewal “a big step toward vastly improving the travel experience.”

“Measures in the bill will address delays and cancellations and other travel hassles by modernizing airport technology, boosting the air traffic control work force and investing in additional improvements to our nation’s airports and air travel system,” he added.

Here are some of the bill’s highlights for travelers.

  • Automatic refunds: The bill codifies the Department of Transportation’s rule on automatic refunds for passengers when a flight is significantly delayed or canceled (beyond three hours for a domestic flight and six hours for an international flight). Customers will not need to request these refunds. And airline credits must be valid for five years.

  • Biometrics at airport security: Despite efforts in the Senate to pause the Transportation Security Administration’s facial recognition program, the amendment didn’t make it into the final bill. The T.S.A. plans to expand the use of facial recognition technology at hundreds of airports throughout the United States.

  • More round-trip flights from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport: There will be an additional five long-haul round-trip flights a day at Reagan National Airport, a topic of intense debate during the bill’s negotiation. Opponents said the already busy airport could not support additional flights.

  • Fee-free family seating: Airlines cannot charge families extra fees so that they can sit together. The bill also says the Transportation Department must create a dashboard comparing minimum seat sizes on U.S. carriers.

  • Penalties for airline violations: The Transportation Department’s civil penalty for consumer violations will triple to $75,000, from $25,000, per violation.

  • Accessibility for travelers with disabilities: The bill requires airline personnel to be trained in handling motorized wheelchairs, allows travelers to request seating to better accommodate their disabilities and will establish a new F.A.A. program dedicated to accessibility upgrades at commercial airports.

  • Air traffic control: Amid an ongoing shortage of air traffic controllers there has been an increase in near collisions and other safety incidents. The bill includes measures such as setting goals to maximize the hiring of new controllers and increasing access to advanced air traffic control tower simulation training.

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