Cantwell Celebrates First-Of-Their-Kind Airline Consumer Protections Secured in New FAA Law

May 31, 2024

Cantwell joined by coach of Rainier Beach H.S. boys basketball team stranded in Las Vegas during 2022 Southwest Airlines meltdown

Bill signed on 5/16 guarantees hassle-free refunds for delayed flights, no-fee family seating, and mandatory 24/7 customer support

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, visited the Rainier Beach Community Center in Seattle alongside Coach Mike Bethea of the Rainier Beach High School Varsity Boys Basketball team to celebrate new consumer protections for fliers enacted in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2024.

Over the 2022 holiday season, Coach Bethea and his team were stranded in Las Vegas during Winter Storm Elliott due to Southwest Airlines’ operational meltdown. Sen. Cantwell personally helped Coach Bethea and his wife secure a full refund and other reimbursements from the company.

"It was a daily trek for my wife and I back to the airport in the morning to find out if we could even just get on a standby list to fly home [...] In the meantime, we had a party of 32 including the team. And you have kids who were wanting to get home for Christmas. Parents who were wanting their kids home for Christmas. And so what we basically did was my wife and I, we made sure we focused on making the kids as comfortable as possible. The airline's approach was basically day after day: 'You're on your own. Do what you have to do,'" Coach Bethea said at the press conference. "I remember the first day when I called out to Southwest Airlines. They put me on hold. And I actually went to sleep. And I woke up and I was still on hold."

"I asked the Betheas, what could we do to improve this situation? They really wanted to make sure they could get someone on the phone. And that is really what we made happen -- literally, in their case -- with the airlines, asking them to call them immediately and rectify this mistake. But I also knew that Congress needed stronger protections for consumers," Sen. Cantwell said. "So for the first time, Congress is setting into law passenger refunds for even non-refundable tickets. You’re now entitled to a hassle-free refund after a three-hour delay of a domestic flight, and a six-hour delay [for] international flights. Putting this into law [...] creates a strong legal foundation no matter who is in the White House in the future. That means it can’t be taken away: It’s in the law. This is a big win for consumers."

Watch the Press Conference Here