Big airlines vs passengers: 'Consumers are just fed up with this'

FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2017, file photo, the air traffic control tower is in sight as a plane takes off from San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

WASHINGTON (SBG) - Flying the friendly skies is not friendly for everyone -- from people getting dragged against their will from an overbooked flight, to cancellations and delays, to fees for just about everything.

This week, Jet Blue Airlines announced it would be the first airline to increase the cost to check your first bag to $30.

Some airline evacuation videos have raised questions from consumer groups that say plane overcrowding isn't just uncomfortable, it's also unsafe.

"I think we're at a real tipping point where consumers are just fed up with this," said John Breyault, National Consumers League vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud.

Breyault said most airlines have chosen to shrink the seat pitch – the distance between two seats.

That's now down to about 31 inches on most carriers' economy class. On at least one low-cost carrier, Spirit Airlines, it's down to 28 inches. To put that in perspective, the seat pitch on an Amtrak train is 39 inches.

Next on the shrinking block could be airplane lavatories, with many people now looking to Congress to step in. FAA re-authorization legislation is now working its way through Congress.

In the more than 500-page House bill, there is a section on passenger rights, including compensation for flight delays, cancellations and lost baggage. Still, the bill is anything but settled and Breyault worries the federal agency supposed to regulate this, the Department of Transportation, is not always protecting passengers.

"There are those who worry that the DOT has become one of these captured agencies, where they think they're working more for the airlines they regulate than for the average flyers that rely on these airlines," he said.

The top airline lobby group, Airlines for America, declined a request for an interview but said in a statement:

"Airlines are making investments in a wide range of innovative technologies to maximize personal space in the cabin through the use of new materials and modern seat designs while maintaining a level of comfort passengers expect, and safety is and will always be at the forefront of those decisions. We support the federal government's role in determining what seat size is safe. The Federal Aviation Administration has affirmed that all U.S. carriers meet or exceed federal safety standards regarding seat size, and the FAA approves seat configurations before they go into service. Right now, air travelers are benefitting from robust competition through access to record low fares, more choices and better service when they fly. Carriers are responding to the increased competition by offering passengers a wide variety of additional amenities, price combinations and service offerings to choose from that meet individual needs -- including their choice of seat – and more people are traveling than ever before. We believe market forces should ultimately determine whether the industry is meeting customers' expectations, rather than government regulation. Travelers reserve the right to choose who they give their business to, which route best serves their needs, and which variety of service options they value most."

For a look at lobbying dollars spent by airlines, click here.

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