DOT Taking a Stand Against Fees, Bumping, Travel Delays

The Department of Transportation (DOT) will be announcing new passenger protections aimed at protecting consumers in the cases of delays, bumping passengers from flights, and lost baggage.  They are also taking steps to force airlines to include taxes and fees in advertised fares.

Starting in August, airlines will be required to refund any charged bag fees if a passenger’s luggage is lost.  They will also have to provide increased compensation if a passenger is bumped from a flight.  There will also be revisions in tarmac-delay rules.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stated the changes were to ensure airlines are treating travelers fairly.  “It’s just common sense that if an airline loses your bag or you get bumped from a flight because it was oversold, you should be reimbursed,” he said.

Last year U.S. Regulators passed a provision that forbids domestic passengers from being held on the tarmac for longer than three hours.  However, international flights were exempt from the change.  Following a fiasco last December, where snowy runways at New York’s JFK Airport led to passengers being stuck for more than 10 hours, the DOT began to look at a revision.  International flights now have a four hour window to either depart or let passengers deplane.

There is a risk with the new rule.  Airlines hold passengers to avoid cancelling flights.  With the associated fines (up to $27,500 per passenger), airline trade groups warn that more flights will be cancelled.  Given that some international flights depart only a few times a week, the potential delays could be much worse than the time spent on the tarmac.

The requirement to refund fees for lost bags lacks the teeth consumer advocates had hoped for.  Airlines will have to refund fees for lost bags, along with the current requirement to compensate travelers for the value of the lost items.  However, there will be no change to the bigger issue of late baggage.

According to SITA, 25 million pieces of luggage are mishandled worldwide each year.  Most of them eventually make it back to their owners, however, with just 800,000 being considered “lost.”  Additional costs are often incurred by travelers when luggage is delayed, as some travelers must purchase clothing and personal items when away from home.

Passengers that are bumped from oversold flights will be receiving more compensation.  Currently, depending on the length of the delay, airlines must reimburse passengers up to $400 or $800, depending on the length of the delay.  Those figures will increase to $650 and $1,330.

Another change included in the new rules will require airlines’ websites to prominently display all potential fees, including those for checked baggage, changing reservations, and upgrading seats.  Taxes and government-imposed fees will also need to be displayed in advertised fares.

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