Alexandria, Va. – The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) commends the House of Representatives today for passage of legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act (H.R. 3935) – which included several provisions elevating the voice of travel advisors as vital travel distribution stakeholders and consumer advocates.
“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,” said Zane Kerby, ASTA President & CEO, upon passage of the bill. “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.
“While comprehensive in scope, the bill recognizes the invaluable role travel advisors play in the larger travel and tourism ecosystem while serving as a key voice for consumers. 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,” Kerby concluded.
By way of background, the legislation contains the following policies:
Clarifies Travel Agency Refund Obligations – The bill makes clear that the travel agency’s obligation to issue a client refund is limited to scenarios where it is in possession of the funds in question, stating: “a ticket agent shall provide a refund only when such ticket agent possesses, or has access to, the funds of a passenger.” This is responsive to ASTA’s main concern with regard to a separate, pending U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) rulemaking on airline refunds – that under certain circumstances travel agencies will be required to pay refunds to clients for cancelled or significantly changed flights out of pocket, regardless of whether or not the agency is in possession of the client’s funds.
Adds a Travel Agency Seat to DOT Consumer Protection Advisory Committee – The bill incorporates the text of the Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee (ACPAC) Modernization Act (H.R. 3780), a bipartisan bill introduced by Reps. Dina Titus (D-NV), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), John Garamendi (D-CA), Marc Molinaro (R-NY) and Julia Brownley (D-CA) and strongly supported by ASTA. It will expand the ACPAC’s membership by adding a dedicated travel agency seat on this key advisory body within DOT, bringing valuable insights that are missing today and helping the Department meet its consumer protection mission.
Streamlines Disclosures in Offline Ticket Transactions – The bill requires 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. Helping advisors manage the impact of the up to seven disclosures per transaction advisors are required by law and regulation to make today when selling air tickets is an issue ASTA has been working on since at least 2017 and this streamlined system was identified as a priority in our request to Congress earlier this year. As we stated, “The goal of such a system would be to accommodate both existing and new disclosure requirements implemented by DOT or Congress without unduly affecting our members’ business operations or undermining the Department’s consumer protection mandate.”
Creates New Consumer Advisory Committee, including Travel Agencies – In addition to changes made to the membership of the ACPAC, the bill would create a new “Passenger Experience Advisory Committee” at DOT, with a seat set aside for ticket agents among its membership. The goal of the committee would be to advise the Secretary of Transportation on ways to improve the passenger experience in air transportation customer service, via biennial reports.