Coming Soon: New rules to protect travelers

George Hobica, April 20, 2011
Fares from Washington DC:

    Airfarewatchdog responds to new DOT regulations to go into effect 120 days from being published in the federal register.

    1. Refund of bag fees if luggage is lost.

    This is an absolute no brainer and too bad the airlines had to be regulated into doing this. If you send something by FedEx and it's an hour late past the promised delivery time, you get a refund no questions asked. Disappointed that the rule doesn't include delayed bags--just lost ones. It should have included delayed as well.

    2. Full disclosure of all fees on websites.

    In fact, if you know where to look, most airlines have already done this, but the fees aren't all on one easy to find page. Ryanair in Europe actually has had this for years--a link to showing all its fees, clearly spelled out. US airlines need to do this too. It will lead to better customer relations. All fees, including frequent flyer fees, bags, online booking, changes, pets, infants and whatever else should be clearly organized in one place. Whether they should be displayed at check in  counters is another matter--it'll be a pretty big sign.

    3. Involuntary bumping payment increased. 

    Even $1300, the new maximum, won't compensate someone who missed a $10,000 cruise, or forfeited a $5000 vacation and missed two days of work plus other expenses. We would rather have seen some mechanism for passengers who incur enormous financial loss because of a bump situation to get compensated fairly. The good news is that a relative few passengers are involuntarily bumped each year (about 65,000 in 2010).

    4. Tarmac delay rule extended to international flights.

    Good idea. Overdue. Airlines and airports are getting their act together and developing strategies to offload those passengers who wish to return to the terminal in the event of long tarmac delays. Remember, the rule does not say a flight has to be cancelled. Just that you have to let whoever wishes to return the to terminal the chance to do so.

    5. Requiring taxes to be shown in all advertised fares.

    This seems unfair to us. So now should restaurants add the meal and or sales tax to all menu prices? Should the local electronics retailer include sales tax on their television ad prices? Hotels? Rental car companies? Why are airlines being singled out? We do think that any fare that requires a round-trip purchase be listed in ads only as a round-trip fare. But requiring taxes to be listed is discriminatory and will be a nightmare for the airlines (especially since some taxes vary depending on connecting city and routing).

    6. One regulation we need: compensation for schedule changes made long after you bought your ticket.

    You buy a ticket in April and in October the airline tells you they don't fly that route anymore, but you can buy a new fare on another airline for three times the price or get your money back. No. The original airline should put you on the alternate airline at the same price you paid. You buy a nonstop flight but the airline switches you to one making two connections at the same fare. No.  A hamburger is not the same as a filet mignon.

    Your airline used to fly daily from a city but now only 3 times a week. Five months after buying your fare and making land arrangements that are non-refundable, you have to buy two nights hotel at your own expense to wait out the next departure home. No. The airline should pay for the hotel.

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