That headline may not mean much to travelers, but it is momentous and will eventually change the way airline tickets are sold, how on-time arrivals and lost luggage are reported and how online travel agents interact with their customers.
I will follow up with specifics about this proposed rulemaking in the coming weeks. Plus, comments will be filed with DOT over the next 90 days.
Here is the basic outline of what is proposed.
Disclosure of baggage fees and seat-reservation fees
The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) proposes to require airlines to disclose at all points of sale real-time, passenger-specific costs for carry-on baggage, checked baggage and seat reservations. This will allow consumers to compare prices across airlines more easily, including airfares, luggage fees and seat-reservation fees.
Under a scenario where this kind of rule comes into effect, a family will be able to make a reservation for four, ask for seats together and register that they will be carrying on four bags and checking two bags. The cost for the family to sit together and check their bags combined with the airfares will be displayed across airlines. The technology exists to vary the baggage and seat-reservation costs based on credit card used and frequent flier levels.
This kind of software has not been extensively developed because airlines still withhold the ancillary fee data and real-time pricing. Now, there is a possibility that consumers will see the benefits of pricing data being disclosed through the entire distribution system by the airlines.
Mainline carriers will have to report statistics combined with domestic regional airline partners
Right now, major airlines claim hundreds of destinations and tout that they carry so many thousands of passengers. But, in fact, mainline carriers only carry around half of their passengers to less than half of their destinations. Smaller, regional carriers with fake names like United Express or Delta Connection or US Airways Express reach even more destinations than the major airlines. However, they do this as an advertised part of the overall major airline network.
Until now, major airlines could use their regional numbers in all advertisements and claim enormous reach, but they could separate themselves from their regional partners when it came to reporting service statistics such as lost luggage, overbooking and delays. This rulemaking proposed to include regional carrier data together with mainline data for reporting purposes.
Consumers who fly from New York to Des Moines or Jackson, Mississippi, will find themselves being shifted to regional carriers, even though they are flying on a Delta or American ticket. For consumers, the statistics that matter are those that cover their entire trip, including connections. Consumers are ill-served by reporting regional airline data separately from that of mainline carriers.
Major travel agencies will adopt minimum customer service standards
Few consumers realize that online travel agents such as Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline and Cheapoair are regular travel agents. These online travel agents can and do assist their clients when they have problems during travels. These companies have toll-free telephone numbers and real human agents who can assist their clients with problems while traveling. However, their customer service standards and operations, in some cases, are not clearly spelled out. This rulemaking will provide passengers with a better idea of what they can expect from their travel agents when faced with problems during travels.
Airlines like Spirit, Allegiant and Republic will be included in transportation statistics
Presently, these smaller airlines carry less than one percent of the nation’s air traffic. Hence, they are exempted from the reporting requirements that are faced by the likes of Southwest, American, United and Delta and other larger airlines. This rulemaking proposes to include these airlines by lowering the threshold for participation to one-half-of-one percent.
Now, should the proposed rulemaking become a published rule, consumers can see just how well the ultra low cost carriers perform when it comes to on-time departures and lost luggage.
This NPRM has a ways to go
The rulemaking has to go through a 90-day comment period and the Department of Transportation (DOT) has asked for comments from consumers specifically. We will explain the procedures for making comments and getting your voice heard. Travelers United (formerly Consumer Travel Alliance) is also planning on conduction surveys of consumers together with other consumer organizations and sending the results to DOT.
This will be an adventure. The timeline has the comment period closing August 21, 2014. Then, DOT will digest the comments and modify the rulemaking. That rulemaking will probably be sent to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) around the end of September. OMB normally takes 90 days to review the proposed rules. That brings us to the end of 2014. Finally, if approved by OMB, DOT will publish the rule and give airlines around 90 to 180 days to implement the rules. That means that these possible changes, if approved, will come into effect between spring and early summer 2015.
We are still a long way from the finish line, but a better landscape for consumers when it comes to disclosure of airline pricing and comparison shopping for airline tickets is within sight.