Yesterday, I dealt with the a portion new rules that that the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced last April and that came into effect yesterday. That portion was the rule that a link to all airline fees be present prominently on the home page of airline websites. They aren’t. At least, they aren’t prominent as far as I’m concerned.
Today we take a look at rules that airlines will have to follow as well, but that only time will tell whether DOT needs more enforcement. I have included the DOT press release content after each subject.
• Overbooking rules
…new rules also double the amount of money passengers are eligible to be compensated for in the event they are involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight. Previously, bumped passengers were entitled to cash compensation equal to the one-way value of their tickets, up to $400, if the airline was able to get them to their destination within a short period of time (within 1 to 2 hours of their originally scheduled arrival time for domestic flights and 1 to 4 hours for international flights). If they were delayed for a lengthy period of time (more than two hours after their originally scheduled arrival time for domestic flights and 4 hours for international flights), they were entitled to double the one-way price of their tickets, up to $800. Under the new rule, bumped passengers subject to short delays will receive compensation equal to double the one-way price of their tickets, up to $650, while those subject to longer delays would receive payments of four times the one-way value of their tickets, up to $1,300. Inflation adjustments will be made to those compensation limits every two years.
• International tarmac-delay rules and expanded domestic rules
The Department of Transportation’s new rule also expands the existing ban on lengthy tarmac delays to cover the international flights of foreign airlines at U.S. airports, and establishes a hard four-hour time limit on tarmac delays for all international flights at U.S. airports. It also extends the three-hour tarmac delay limit for domestic flights, currently in place only at large-hub and medium-hub airports, to flights at small-hub and non-hub airports as well. All carriers subject to the tarmac rule will be required to report lengthy tarmac delays to DOT. In all cases, exceptions to the time limits are allowed only for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons. Carriers must also ensure that passengers stuck on the tarmac are provided adequate food and water after two hours, as well as working lavatories and any necessary medical treatment.
• Lost baggage fee refunds
Effective today, airlines will be required to refund any fee for carrying a bag if the bag is lost. Airlines are already required to compensate passengers for reasonable expenses for loss, damage or delay in the carriage of passenger baggage.
We have already seen how the airlines are attempting to skirt the intent of these regulations with the downplaying of the links to their pages of baggage and other ancillary fees. DOT’s mandate is, “The link on the homepage needs to be descriptive, clear and conspicuous, i.e., easy for a consumer to locate.” If anyone other than the airlines think their current efforts are prominent, let me know.
Time will tell how difficult the airlines make it for passengers to take advantage of these additional new rules.
I predict that the airlines will do all they can to refrain from clearly explaining the overbooking rules and compensation for travelers. Some airlines are already starting to install a bidding system to try to pay the least for bumping compensation. That can be expected to expand to insulate airlines from what they consider onerous overbooking compensation rules.
As for tarmac delays, the airlines have already made operational changes that seem to be working. Plus, international flights get priority in most cases, so extended delays are not a giant problem.
As for lost baggage rules — anyone who has dealt with airlines knows that they must wait at least a month until the baggage is declared “lost.” The rule should state that any airline that does not deliver the baggage with the passenger at the same time should refund the baggage fees. That would be fair. In this case, passengers will be waiting for more than a month for the refund of their baggage fees in the case of a lost bag.
The rest of the DOT rules will be coming into effect on January 24, 2012 barring any successful court challenges by the airlines to DOT and their right to regulate the airlines. (Airlines may think they would be better using the normal court systems without federal preemption and dealing with the FTC. However, I doubt that strongly.)
• Requiring all taxes and fees to be included in advertised fares.
• Banning post-purchase price increases.
• Allowing passengers to hold a reservation without payment, or to cancel it without penalty, for 24 hours after the reservation is made, if the reservation is made one week or more prior to a flight’s departure date.
• Requiring disclosure of baggage fees when passengers book a flight.
• Requiring that the same baggage allowances and fees apply throughout a passenger’s journey.
• Requiring disclosure of baggage fee information on e-ticket confirmations.
• Requiring prompt notification of delays of over 30 minutes, as well as cancellations and diversions.