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Aviation bill calls for great reforms to enhance safety, security, comfort

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The U.S. Congress is expected to vote Wednesday on a substantial funding authorization package for the Federal Aviation Administration that would make a number of safety upgrades and modernize U.S. airports. File Photo by Brian Kersey

By Ed Adamczyk, UPI

Federal lawmakers will vote Wednesday on a bipartisan bill that would usher in dramatic reforms within the Federal Aviation Administration, to make upgrades to safety measures and U.S. airports.

The bill calls for funding to modernize airports, adds safety guidelines and adapts the U.S. aviation system to the most up-to-date technologies. It also offers protections for airlines that charge for baggage, seat assignments and flight changes -- policies that earned airlines $4.6 billion last year.

A provision authored by Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., to end the policy was dropped from the bill at the last moment.

"Airline travelers are being gouged by exorbitant fees, but the airlines will stop at nothing to protect this billion-dollar profit center," Markey said later.

He added that "through an opaque negotiating process, the airlines have managed to kill this important consumer protection provision."

A rider included in the bill provides $1.7 billion in relief aid to states affected by Hurricane Florence -- and prohibits carriers "bumping" passengers from flights, a provision included after a United Airlines passenger was forcibly removed from a flight last year to make room for a United crew member.

The legislation also sets minimum requirements for seat widths and passenger legroom, and requires more rest time for flight attendants. It bans e-cigarettes and animals in overhead bins, allows pregnant travelers to board first and calls for assault prevention and response training for airline agents.

The bill calls for a task force to "review practices" related to sexual misconduct aboard flights, without identifying the FAA's authority.

The Communication Workers of America praised the proposal for additional training.

"CWA urges Congress to approve the bill this week before funding runs out on the current extension," it said in a statement.

Both houses of Congress are expected to pass the bill, one day after the FAA's monthly Air Travel Consumer Report said just three-quarters of all U.S. flights arrive on time.

The modernization provided by the bill is sorely needed at some U.S. airports that still use outdated infrastructure.

Late Tuesday, Delta Air Lines experienced a "brief technology issue" that delayed a number of flights nationwide. The problem caused hour-long stops for planes on the ground at several Delta hubs, the carrier said.

Delta said the problem was solved quickly and no flights were canceled.

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