Agreement reached on bill to aid airport security

Associated Press

Washington — House and Senate lawmakers announced an agreement Tuesday on an aviation bill to boost airport security, reduce screening lines and require airlines to refund fees to passengers whose bags are lost or delayed.

The bill would also extend the Federal Aviation Administration’s programs and policies through Sept. 30, 2017. The FAA’s current operating authority is set to expire July 15.

The bipartisan agreement was announced by senior members of the House and Senate transportation committees. Approval by both chambers is expected to swiftly follow. Congress has only nine days to act in order to prevent a partial shutdown of the agency.

The bill would require airlines to refund checked bag fees to passengers whose luggage is lost or is delayed 12 hours or more for domestic flights or 15 hours or more for overseas flights. It also requires airlines to generally ensure that children 13 years of age or under are seated adjacent to an adult or older child traveling with them.

A bill that passed the Senate in April by a vote of 95 to 3 would also have extended other consumer protections to passengers, including a requirement that airlines refund fees for other services when not delivered, such as advance seat assignments or early boarding. But those provisions, which were opposed by airlines, were dumped during negotiations with the House.

To address long airport screening lines, the bill requires the Transportation Security Administration to hire a marketing firm to generate greater public participation in the agency’s PreCheck expedited screening program for passengers who have been vetted and determined to be low security risks.

The bill also requires TSA to ensure PreCheck screening lanes are open during high-volume travel times. And the measure authorizes a pilot program to develop and test more efficient passenger and luggage screening systems.

Responding to attacks in Brussels and Istanbul, the bill also authorizes a doubling of TSA teams that stop and search suspicious passengers in public areas outside airport security perimeter.