Eight Democratic senators wrote a letter Monday urging Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to reconsider a one-year delay in better airline reporting about mishandled bags and wheelchairs.
The members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee said the department should have given people with an interest in the regulation, such as disabled travelers, a chance to comment on delaying the reports from Jan. 1, 2018, to Jan. 1, 2019. The department approved the delay as part of a broader administration review of all pending and recently approved regulations.
“Delaying these rules will do nothing to help injured veterans and the disabled,” said Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, the top Democrat on the panel. “If veterans are having problems with airlines mishandling and damaging their wheelchairs, it makes no sense why we can’t get a full accounting of what’s going on.”
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The rule published in the final months of the Obama administration changed how mishandled bags are counted and required separate reporting for mishandled wheelchairs and scooters.
A dozen major airlines that each carry at least 1% of the 800 million annual passengers now report how many bags are mishandled for their total passengers. For example, airlines reported mishandling 3.4 bags for every 1,000 passengers in January.
The new rule would count the number of mishandled bags out of the number of bags checked. Wheelchairs and motorized scooters would be reported separately.
Consumer advocates, Airports Council International-North America and Southwest Airlines each said would be a more precise standard as more travelers limit themselves to carry-on bags to avoid bag fees.
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Advocates for the disabled such as Paralyzed Veterans of America said they are reluctant to fly for fear of damaging expensive, motorized wheelchairs.
But the trade group Airlines for America, which represents most of the largest carriers, and Delta Air Lines, each asked for more time to comply.
On March 2, the department agreed to the one-year delay in the implementation so the department could review it. The justification was a memo from White House chief of staff Reince Priebus to freeze regulatory action until the Trump administration could review it.
“We certainly understand that the DOT may be in the process of reviewing certain regulations,” said the senate letter obtained by USA TODAY. But for lack of seeking public comment under the Administrative Procedure Act, the lawmakers “urge you to reconsider the decision.”
Senators who signed the letter were Nelson, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Margaret Wood Hassan of New Hampshire.
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