A Victory In The Skies: Senator Cantwell Champions New Consumer Protections For Flyers

By Aaron Allen | The Seattle Medium | June 5, 2024

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) visited the Rainier Beach Community Center 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. The event highlighted the importance of these protections, especially after the challenges Coach Bethea and his team faced during the 2022 holiday and basketball season when they were stranded in Las Vegas due to Southwest Airlines’ operational meltdown caused by Winter Storm Elliott.

Coach Bethea recounted the difficulties they experienced.

“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,’” Bethea described. “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.”

In response to this ordeal, Sen. Cantwell personally assisted Coach Bethea and his wife in securing a full refund and other reimbursements from Southwest Airlines. This incident motivated her to pursue legislation to ease travelers’ anxiety and protect airline consumers. Sen. Cantwell was inspired to push for stronger consumer protections after hearing stories from travelers like Coach Bethea and his team. In February 2023, after the Betheas spent more than a month negotiating with Southwest Airlines, Sen. Cantwell summoned COO Andrew Watterson to testify during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. At the hearing, she handed Watterson a handwritten note with the Betheas’ phone number and instructed him to call them.

As chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Sen. Cantwell fought tirelessly for strong consumer protections for travelers throughout the bill negotiation process. The final law includes several key provisions:

• Set Clear Right to Refunds: A hassle-free refund will be required if a domestic flight is delayed more than three hours and if an international flight is delayed more than six hours.

Read the full article in the Seattle Medium HERE.