Last week, millions of Americans celebrated Thanksgiving Day, marking the unofficial start of the holiday travel season. AAA estimated over 4.5 million people traveled by air this past Thanksgiving, making it the busiest travel time of the year. As a result, the federal government took steps to help ease air traffic congestion and make traveling more efficient.
While the government has worked to limit air traffic congestion, problems can still occur. Severe weather or mechanical difficulties can clog our busiest airports, creating a ripple effect of delays across the country. When these situations arise, I believe airlines need to be responsive to passenger needs. The federal government has created new passenger-friendly regulations aimed at improving the air travel experience. While the last seven years have been the safest period in commercial aviation history, the federal government continues working to improve air travel.
Too many Americans who take to the skies over the holidays run into long flight delays and cancellations. To help remedy this problem, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense recently made restricted military airspace available for commercial airline use during the holiday season. While the government opened similar space last year, this year they opened more airspace and plan to keep it open for a longer period of time.
The government has also worked to reduce air congestion by increasing flight capacity at some of our nation’s busiest airports. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has completed 16 major airport improvement projects since 2001, including the opening of 14 new runways – three of which were opened this month. These new runways, along with the use of additional military airspace for commercial use, will ease air traffic across the country and should help minimize flight delays.
To increase passenger protections for air travelers, the federal government has completed new regulations – and continues to work on others – that hold airlines accountable for how they treat passengers.
For example, the DOT recently doubled the compensation for passengers who are involuntarily bumped from their flights. Passengers can now receive up to $800 if they are not rerouted to their destinations within two hours of their original arrival time for domestic flights and four hours for international flights. The DOT has also worked to increase passenger compensation for lost luggage. Effective next month, airlines will be required to pay travelers as much as 3,300 per lost bag, up from $3,000.
Additionally, the DOT is working on a regulation to ensure that all airline passengers are treated appropriately during situations when they are delayed aboard a plane for long periods of time on the airport tarmac.
The holiday season is a busy travel time for all citizens, but Mississippians can rest knowing that the federal government is using all the tools available to help ease the air travel burden. While it is difficult to compensate for frustrating delays, missed events, or lost luggage, steps are being taken to ensure passengers are treated better and are more fairly compensated for their inconvenience.