3-Jun-2010 10:06 AM

US Department of Transportation proposes additional consumer protections

US Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, proposed (02-Jun-2010) new consumer protections for air travellers, building on the US Department of Transportation’s recent rule banning carriers from subjecting passengers to long tarmac delays and other deceptive practices. Specifically, the new proposed rule would:

  • Increase compensation for passengers involuntarily bumped from flights;
  • Allow passengers to make and cancel reservations within 24 hours without penalty;
  • Require full and prominently displayed disclosure of baggage fees as well as refunds and expense reimbursement when bags are not delivered on time;
  • Require fair price advertising;
  • Prohibit price increases after a ticket is purchased;
  • Mandate timely notice of flight status changes.

Other details include:

  • Contingency plan for lengthy tarmac delays: The rule published in Dec-2009, which adopted a three-hour limit for airline tarmac delays for domestic flights, also required US carriers to adopt contingency plans for lengthy tarmac delays at large and medium-hub airports and to publish those plans on their websites. The latest proposed rule would expand the requirement for contingency plans to include foreign airline operations at US airports and would require carriers to adopt contingency plans for small and non-hub airports;
  • Reporting of delay data: The rule also would require the reporting of additional tarmac delay data to DoT. The DoT would collect this data from all US and foreign airlines operating aircraft of 30 or more seats on flights to/from the US and charter services. Currently data is only collected for the domestic scheduled flights of the 18 largest US airlines;
  • Compensation for bumped passengers: The proposed rule also would increase the potential compensation for being involuntarily bumped from oversold flights. Currently, airlines may limit compensation for bumping to USD400 if the carrier arranges substitute transportation scheduled to arrive at the passenger’s destination one to two hours after the passenger’s original scheduled arrival for domestic flights, or one to four hours for international flights, and to USD800 if the substitute transportation is scheduled to arrive more than two hours later for domestic flights, or more than four hours later for international flights. The proposed rule would quickly increase these limits to USD650 and USD1,300, respectively, and thereafter adjust the amounts for inflation every two years;
  • Fee notification: The DoT also proposed a number of measures to make it easier for consumers to know how much they will have to pay for air transportation. Carriers would be required to provide special notice any time baggage fees are increased, and notify passengers buying tickets whether they must pay to check up to two bags. It also asked for comment on several alternatives under consideration to provide greater access to air transportation to persons with severe peanut allergies. [more - US Transport Secretary]

The Air Transport Association of America (ATA) responded (02-Jun-2010) to the proposal, stating: “The ATA member airlines’ shared goal is to provide a safe, efficient, reliable and economically viable air transportation system consistent with the expectations of their customers, employees and shareholders. Today’s DoT notice of proposed rulemaking will be evaluated against that standard, with a focus on minimising potential passenger inconvenience." [more - ATA]

Meanwhile, Airports Council InternationalNorth America (ACI-NA) commended (02-Jun-2010) the proposal, commenting, "airports have long supported enhancing passenger protections". ACI-NA President, Greg Principato, added: “To the passenger, the effects of delays are the same no matter where the delay occurs or which airline actually operates the airplane. We do not believe there is any justification for only protecting a portion of the traveling public and ACI-NA is pleased that the DOT is proposing to amend the regulations.” [more - ACI-NA]

FlyersRights.org also applauded (02-Jun-2010) the proposal, stating "we applaud Secretary LaHood for moving to strengthen consumer protections and to ensure that the newly promulgated passenger rights are enforced as intended". [more -FlyersRights]

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