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Biden says airlines can’t treat kids like “piece of baggage“


President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington, as Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., watch. Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS

President Joe Biden on Tuesday harshly criticized U.S. airlines saying they were charging families unfair fees and vowing to implement new consumer protections.

“We’ll prohibit airlines from charging $50 round trip for families just to be able sit together,” Biden said at his State of the Union address. “Baggage fees are bad enough – airlines can’t treat your child like a piece of baggage.”

Airlines for America (A4A), a group representing Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), United Airlines (UAL.O), American Airlines (AAL.O), Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) and others said Tuesday its member carriers do not charge fees to sit together.

A spokeswoman said airlines “make every effort to accommodate customers traveling together — especially those traveling with children.”

Biden touted regulations the Transportation Department is drafting to make “airlines show you the full ticket price upfront and refund your money if your flight is canceled or delayed.” Refunds would only apply if passengers opted not to take flights.

Airlines face growing calls in Congress to boost consumer protections after a series of disruptions including a holiday meltdown at Southwest that resulted in the cancellation of more than 16,000 flights.

Last week, the airlines shot back at the White House and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg saying administration proposals on aviation competition were “short-sighted” and will “drive-up costs and reduce choices” for consumers.

Biden in September touted his administration’s “cracking down” on U.S. airlines to improve treatment of passengers after they updated customer service plans.

“Secretary Buttigieg, at my request, called them out,” Biden said.

U.S. lawmakers have proposed sweeping legislation to require airline passengers get refunds for delayed flights, prohibit further shrinking plane seat sizes and give consumers new rights to sue airlines for unfair practices.

The U.S. Justice Department has also sued to unwind American Airlines Northeast Alliance with JetBlue Airways (JBLU.O) and USDOT reassigned 16 peak-hour flights at congested Newark Airport to Spirit Airlines (SAVE.N).

The Justice Department is expected to soon decide whether to sue to block a merger between JetBlue and Spirit Airlines.