DOT Implements New Airline Regulations

by  Carolyn Balk | Apr 21, 2011
Plane in sky
Plane in sky / AlexeyPetrov/iStock

Last June, the U.S. Department of Transportation heard air travelers’ frustrated voices when it passed the “Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections II” policy, which regulated compensation for involuntarily bumped passengers and outlawed price increases after a customer purchased a ticket. This spring, lawmakers are on our side again. Yesterday the DOT announced amendments to the June 2010 policies that address a host of flyer complaints, including clear disclosure of all necessary fees, increased payments for travelers kicked off packed planes, limits on tarmac delays, and adequate notification when flights are held up. Even better: The new regulations take effect in August. Here’s what to watch for this summer.

Hidden fee disclosure: One of the most important requirements forces airlines to clearly advertise fees instead of burying them in the fine print. Although the government won’t dictate the exact amount airlines may charge for baggage, ticket changes, food, and seating assignments, it will require airlines to post these charges more prominently on their websites. The policy also applies to online booking sites like Expedia and Kayak, which will have to include all fees in the initial search. The government specifically singled out baggage fees – which travelers have been up in arms about since they first debuted in 2008 – and demanded that airlines both explicitly state those costs and publish them on flyers’ e-ticket confirmations.

Involuntary compensation increase: Passengers bumped from overbooked flights will now get up to $1,300 in cash. As before, the compensation breakdown depends on how quickly the airline gets the flyer to the right destination: Travelers who land within two hours of their scheduled arrival (for domestic flights) or within four hours for an international trip are entitled to three times the cost of their ticket, up to $650 – a $250 increase from the current minimum. When delays last more than two or four hours, flyers should expect four times the price of their trip, up to $1,300.

Tarmac Delay Notifications: Tarmac delays that last more than four hours are forbidden, except for safety or security purposes (including weather). After two hours of taxiing, passengers are entitled to free food and water, lavatory service, and medical aid.

Checked baggage refunds: Airlines will finally be required to fully refund checked baggage fees if they lose passengers’ suitcases, plus they’ll have to cover the cost of any lost property. In addition, airlines may not charge passengers luggage fees for separate trip segments if the flights are on the same airline or code-share partners.

Flight delay notifications: Airlines will have to notify travelers promptly if a flight is canceled, diverted, or delayed for 30 minutes or more; airlines should broadcast the alerts at the airport gate, on its website, and via its reservation phone line.

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