What the election really means for travelers
In a closely divided Congress, travelers may be the winners. Here's why.
Can you believe this? It's six days after the American midterm election and everything still feels so up in the air, to use a travel term. No one knows which party controls the House. Some key races remain undecided or are headed for a runoff.
No red wave, no blue surprise — just uncertainty.
And what about travelers? We have certain interests, which include new legislation that will protect the rights of airline passengers. The government is also eyeing some hotel fees and questionable credit card practices. And there are high fuel costs and inflation, which our elected representatives could certainly help with.
What does an almost evenly divided Congress mean to travelers? Most readers of this newsletter don't think it will have much effect, but I disagree.
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Air travelers' rights are on the agenda
Congress is about to take up the next Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Bill, which funds the FAA. Typically, this is where most new airline rules get passed.
Consumer advocates have an ambitious agenda for the FAA bill. One proposed law would terminate federal preemption for the airline industry. That would allow states to regulate some aspects of airline service.
Imagine California requiring minimum legroom on flights to and from the state. Or New York passing a law that requires airlines to issue refunds if passengers can't fly because they're sick.
At the very least, ending federal preemption would mean passengers could sue an airline in state court — instead of federal court — for a problem with airline service.
Airlines will fight every new law, especially this one. In a red-majority, business-friendly Congress, it's likely the airlines would quickly get what they wanted. But in a 50/50 legislature, the fate of a federal preemption removal bill is less clear. If I had to guess, I'd say it would stand a better chance of passing.
What won't change? Several new federal rulemakings now on the agenda that would strengthen passenger rights will stay on track. The process is painfully slow, and if it takes longer than two years to enact the rules, they might bump up against a less consumer-friendly administration. During the Trump presidency, for example, virtually all federal rulemakings that would have benefitted airline passengers were frozen. So the clock is ticking.
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Let's talk about those resort fees
Since President Biden called out mandatory hotel resort fees during the campaign, let's go there. At the moment, Marriott has an agreement with the state of Pennsylvania to start displaying a total price, including all resort fees, on the first screen. That means you can't get to the end of the booking process and then get hit with a 20 percent increase in the room rate and a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Marriott hasn't fully implemented that agreement yet, so we don't know if it will work.
But more is happening behind the scenes. The attorneys general of 47 states are investigating hotel resort fees for being deceptive and misleading. Several other lawsuits currently underway would curb or completely eliminate these hated resort fees. If a member of Congress were to introduce a bill to kill resort fees, then such a law might actually pass, even in a divided legislature.
That wouldn’t surprise me. Price transparency is a hot-button issue in a country where inflation has been running red hot. If you can offer voters some relief, they might reward you in the next election, no matter what side of the aisle you're on.
Even if Congress doesn't take the lead on this issue, I'm confident that the next two years will be decisive for hotel resort fees. These unwanted surcharges were rising two percent per month the last time I checked, which means they're popping up in business travel hotels and roadside motels. Hotels see these charges as an easy way to make up for the last two years, but even if Congress sits on its hands, the lawsuits will eventually get them. And those are just around the corner.
What about inflation and high prices?
Maybe the biggest issue for consumers is the cost of travel. The current administration is aggressively fighting high prices at the pump by releasing fuel from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Can Congress do anything? In a divided legislature, we're more likely to see consensus-based legislation designed to address common problems. So instead of trying to pass a national abortion ban or rewrite voting laws, maybe Congress would look for more ways to lessen the effects of inflation.
Congress may tell some businesses that they can't continue raising prices when their expenses are not going up. That kind of corporate greed is known to drive inflation higher, requiring thoughtful legislation to ensure it doesn't spread.
But perhaps none of that will be necessary. The last inflation report came in lower than expected, and some economists predict that the worst is over. That means we could have a less volatile 2023, with reasonable fuel prices and affordable airfares and hotel rates. You know, a normal year for travel. Wouldn't that be something?
What should you do about this?
Travel is difficult. If you fly, you face disruptions and delays. If you drive, it's high gas prices and hotel rates with mandatory fees. And I haven't even mentioned credit cards, which are designed to prey on our weaknesses and take a wrecking ball to our personal finances. Thoughtful legislation could make the airline industry straighten up and fly right and end the ludicrous resort fees. And it might also stop credit card companies from ripping you off.
You've already done your part. Your collective vote, it would appear, gave Congress a mandate to govern by consensus. Now we need to hold lawmakers accountable. After all, the next election is just 24 months away.
Your thoughts, please
Now that the election is over, what do you think? Will travelers get more consumer protections, or will Washington ignore their needs for another two years? I’d love to hear your thoughts. The comments are open.
About the art
Dustin Elliott says he wanted to demonstrate the theater of politics with this piece — the red and the blue always at odds, even if it leads to their destruction. Hopefully, that won't happen in an almost evenly divided Congress. "But it could," he says.
Trawick International offers a variety of international travel insurance, trip cancellation/interruption, adventure travel and student insurance plans. We offer 24/7 travel assistance to travelers domestically and internationally. We continue to research ground-breaking products and ideas which meet the needs of travelers everywhere. No matter what type of Travel Insurance product you need, we have the perfect travel insurance policy for you! Visit Trawick International to learn more.
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