Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Federal government decides to give airline passengers a break

By David Wilkening

The federal government’s new airline rules won’t prevent them from adding the hated fees -- more are expected this summer -- or make it any easier or quicker to get through security but most observers say this is generally good news for passengers.

“When the US Department of Transportation announced recently that compensation for getting bumped from an airline flight was going up, thanks to consumer advocates and the Obama administration’s response to the demand for a passenger’s bill of rights, the sound you heard was a collective cheer from travel hackers everywhere,” wrote the Nashville Business Journal.

“Travelers, your day has come — finally. The Department of Transportation announced new passenger protection rules for airlines,” wrote the Washington Post.

If an airline loses your luggage, it also now loses your baggage fee, which it will be required to reimburse. Airlines will also have to prominently disclose all fees — include those for checked bags, meals and upgraded seats — on their websites. And ticket agents will have to include all government taxes and fees when quoting fares.

Here are some questions and answers on the new rules:

Q: What’s the impact on hidden fees? A: Airlines will be required to post all potential fees on their websites, including bags, meals, reservation changes and seating changes. Airlines and ticket agents must provide baggage fee information and include government taxes and fees in advertised prices. Supporters of the measure say this should help in consumers comparing fares which in the past have been misleading because they are not always prominently displayed.

Q: What about compensation for being bumped from a flight? A: Bumped passengers currently can get cash equal to their ticket value, to $400, if the airline gets them to their desired US destination within one or two hours (as much as four hours for international flights). A longer delay means double the ticket price, to $800. The new rule means double the ticket price, to $650, for short delays and quadruple the ticket price, to $1,300, for longer delays

Q: What’s the impact on those irksomely long tarmac delays? A: Current rules that impose heavy fines on US airlines for tarmac delays will be extended to cover international flights and non-US carriers operating in the United States. For domestic US flights, the tarmac delay limit is three hours. For international flights, the limit will be four hours. Carriers will be required to provide trapped passengers with status updates at least every 30 minutes, plus food and water every two hours.

Q: How about when the airlines suddenly spring a delay? A: All airlines must offer passengers a flight status update service (email or text) to which they can subscribe. They must also notify passengers within 30 minutes of becoming aware of a situation that will delay, divert or cancel a flight.


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