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Airline Mismanagement

There's some good news for us as hapless hostages of the airlines' mainly missing sense of fair play.

New DoT regulations require the airlines to slightly improve their act, much to the airlines' dismay.

 
 
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New Airline Passenger Rights

Some good new provisions to help us in our battles with the airlines
 

The growth of airline passenger rights is slow but steady.

The DoT's latest regulations add considerably to our rights.

Part of a series on being bumped from flights, see the other articles in this series listed on the right.

 

 

Although described by the airlines variously as unnecessary, too expensive to implement, impractical, anti-competitive, and inappropriate interference in their (the airlines) business (see our page full of amazing airline quotes), the DoT stuck to its guns.

The net result are some mild extensions of our rights as passengers, and most significantly the extension of these rights to cover us when we are flying on foreign carriers operating flights to/from the US as well.

While far from a complete prescription for relief from airline tyranny, these new regulations greatly improve things for us when things go wrong with our flights.

The DoT's April 2011 Ruling

On 20 April 2011 the US Department of Transportation published new consumer protection regulations that apply to both US and foreign carriers operating flights within, to or from the US.

Most of the provisions will apply starting 120 days from the publication of the DoT's announcement; a few of the provisions related to how airfares are advertised will not come into effect until 180 days after the publication.

The exact wording of the new regulations can be seen towards the end of this pdf document (ie from about page 183).  But to quickly update you on the changes that have been instituted, here is an explanation, largely from the DoT itself, of the key points.

Tarmac Delay Contingency Plans

• Requires foreign air carriers operating to or from the US with at least one aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats to adopt and adhere to tarmac delay contingency plans.

• Requires U.S. and foreign air carriers to not permit an international flight to remain on the tarmac at a US airport for more than four hours without allowing passengers to deplane; subject to safety, security, and ATC exceptions (sounds like some major loopholes there!).  There is a three hour limit on domestic flight delays already.

• Expands the airports at which airlines must adhere to the contingency plan terms to include small hub and non-hub airports, including diversion airports.

• Requires US and foreign carriers to coordinate their plans with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) - hopefully this might reduce the number of times passengers are stuck on planes due to on officials being available to allow them out of the plane and into an airport.

• Requires notifications to passengers regarding the status of delays every 30 minutes while aircraft is delayed, including the reasons for the delay if known.

• Requires notification of any opportunity to deplane from an aircraft that is at the gate or another disembarkation area with its door open if the opportunity to deplane actually exists.

Tarmac Delay Data

• Requires all carriers that must adopt tarmac delay contingency plans to file data with the Department regarding lengthy tarmac delays.

Customer Service Plans

• Requires foreign air carriers that operate scheduled passenger service to and from the US with at least one aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats to adopt, follow and audit customer service plans.

• Establishes standards for the subjects US and foreign air carriers must cover in customer service plans. Examples include :

• delivering baggage on time, including reimbursing passengers for any fee charged to transport a bag if the bag is lost;

• where ticket refunds are due, providing prompt refunds including refund of optional fees charged to a passenger for services that the passenger was unable to use due to an oversale situation or flight cancellation; and

• allowing reservations to be held at the quoted fare without payment, or cancelled without penalty, for at least twenty-four hours after the reservation is made if the reservation is made one week or more prior to a flight’s departure date .

Posting of Customer Service Plans and Tarmac Delay Contingency Plans

• Requires foreign carriers to post their required contingency plans, customer service plans, and contracts of carriage on their websites as is already required of US carriers.

Response to Consumer Problems

• Expands the pool of carriers that must respond to consumer problems to include foreign air carriers operating scheduled passenger service to and from the US with at least one aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats (i.e., monitor the effects of irregular flight operations on consumers; inform consumers how to file a complaint with the carrier, and provide substantives responses to consumer complaints within 60 days).

Oversales

• Increases the minimum denied boarding compensation limits to $650/$1,300 or 200%/400% of the one-way fare, whichever is smaller.

• Implements an automatic inflation adjuster for minimum DBC limits every 2 years.

• Clarifies that DBC must also be offered to “zero fare ticket” holders (e.g., holders of frequent flyer award tickets) who are involuntarily bumped.

• Requires that a carrier verbally offer cash/check DBC if the carrier verbally offers a travel voucher as DBC to passengers who are involuntarily bumped.

• Requires that a carrier inform passengers solicited to volunteer for denied boarding about all material restrictions on the use of transportation vouchers offered in lieu of cash.

Full Fare Advertising

• Enforces the full fare advertising rule as written (ie, ads which state a price must state the full price to be paid). Until now, carriers could exclude government taxes/fees imposed on a per-passenger basis (ie the typical line 'taxes and fees extra').

• Clarifies the rule’s applicability to ticket agents.

• Prohibits carriers and ticket agents from advertising fares that are not the full fare and impose stringent notice requirements in connection with the advertisement of “each-way” fares available for purchase only on a roundtrip basis.

• Prohibits opt-out provisions in ads for air transportation.

Baggage and Other Fees and Related Code-Share Issues

• Requires US and foreign air carriers to disclose changes in bag fees/allowances on their homepage for three months, to include information regarding the free baggage allowance.

• Requires carriers (US and foreign) and ticket agents to include on e-ticket confirmations information about the free baggage allowance and applicable fees for the first and second checked bag and carry-on; but allows ticket agents, unlike carriers, to do so through a hyperlink.

• Requires carriers (US and foreign) and ticket agents to inform passengers on the first screen on which the ticket agent or carrier offers a fare quotation for a specific itinerary selected by a consumer that additional airline fees for baggage may apply and where consumers can go to see these baggage fees.

• Requires US and foreign air carriers to disclose all fees for optional services to consumers through a prominent link on their homepage.

• Requires that the same baggage allowances and fees apply throughout a passenger’s journey (on the one ticket).

• Requires the marketing carrier to disclose on its website any difference between its optional services and fees and those of the carrier operating the flight (in the case of code-share flights).  Disclosure may be made through a hyperlink to the operating carriers’ websites that detail the operating carriers’ fees for optional services, or to a page on its website that lists the differences in policies among code-share partners.

Post-Purchase Price Increases

• Bans the practice of post-purchase price increases in air transportation or air tours unless the increase is due to an increase in government-imposed taxes or fees and only if the passenger was provided full disclosure of the potential for the increase and affirmatively agreed to the potential for such an increase prior to purchase.

Flight Status Changes

• Requires US and foreign air carriers operating scheduled passenger service with any aircraft with 30 or more seats to promptly notify consumers through whatever means is available to the carrier for passengers who subscribe to the carrier’s flight status notification services, in the boarding gate area, on a carrier’s telephone reservation system and on its website; of delays of 30 minutes or more, cancellations and diversions within 30 minutes of the carrier becoming aware of a change in the status of a flight.

Choice-of-Forum Provisions

• Prohibits U.S. and foreign air carriers from limiting a passenger’s forum to pursue litigation to a particular inconvenient venue

 

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Originally published 27 Apr 2011, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
Related Articles
All about airline overbooking of flights
How to reduce your chances of being involuntarily bumped
Volunteering to be bumped
What to do if you are involuntarily bumped
How to negotiate the best bumping compensation part 1
How to negotiate the best bumping compensation part 2
Your legal rights if bumped in the US
Your legal rights if bumped in the EU
Is the DoT Trying to Embarrass the Airlines part 1
Is the DoT Trying to Embarrass the Airlines part 2
New legal rights in the US 2011
 
 

 


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