Senate Democrats have been trying to push pro-consumer legislation that would rein in what some see as abusive practices by U.S. airlines, but they knew it would be a tough sell in a Republican-dominated Congress –and they were right.
The Senate this week voted down an amendment from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would have compelled airlines to stop reducing the width of their seats and the distance between seat rows (i.e. pitch), and would have empowered the Federal Aviation Administration to set new minimum standards for seat size.
The latest rejection of a new airline rule came on the heels of a vote last month when a Senate committee dumped another proposed amendment that would have let the Transportation Department take action to stop carriers from imposing unreasonable fees on passengers – i.e., fees that bore no relation to the actual cost to provide the service or amenity involved.
The failure of the two measures should come as no surprise in a Republican-dominated Congress that abhors regulation of the private sector. And it is also testimony to the strength of the airline industry’s lobbying group, Airlines For America (A4A), which almost always gets its way in Congress.
Almost, but not always. Earlier this year, A4A was behind a measure to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system, taking it out of the hands of the FAA – but that bill was scrapped by House Republican leaders. It may have been overreach on the part of A4A, or maybe it was overreach on the part of its sponsor, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who admitted last year that he was romantically involved with Shelley Rubino, A4A’s vice president for global government affairs.
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