Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has introduced a bill preventing air and cruise lines from denying refunds to pregnant passengers and their companions canceling traveling to areas where the mosquito-borne Zika virus is transmitted.
But Vaughn Jennings, spokesman for Airlines for America, an industry lobbying group, said federal law prohibits states and localities from enacting bills dealing with airlines’ rates, routes and services.
If the county legislature approves it, Nassau would be the first municipality statewide to pass legislation to implement controls and penalties on travel carriers in the wake of the worldwide Zika outbreak, county officials said.
“Carriers that care about their clients shouldn’t need a law to do the right thing,” Mangano said. “But for those who don’t, we have a law in place for travelers who are pregnant to have recourse against carriers.”
At least seven new Yorkers, including one from Nassau, have been infected with the virus, which has been linked to a wide range of symptoms from flulike symptoms to severe birth defects when pregnant women are infected.
Jennings said Nassau’s bill is “unnecessary” because many airlines have already announced they will give refunds, and allow passengers to rebook without penalties, if they cancel trips because of the Zika outbreak.
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said he supports the concept of the bill but questions whether it could run afoul of federal laws regulating interstate commerce.
“We need some time to research it and make sure the bill has teeth and can be implemented,” Abrahams said.
Cristina Brennan, a spokeswoman for Republicans in the legislative majority, said the bill “seems well intentioned” and will be reviewed by counsel.
Nassau’s Zika Virus Refund Law would prevent travel service providers from denying refunds to pregnant women or their companions if their destination is Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica or any other country or territory where there is active Zika virus transmission.
The law would be enforced by the Office of Consumer Affairs, which can issue fines of up to $5,000 per infraction.