Wednesday, April 20, 2011

An Update on the New DOT Rules

Well, Ray La Hood has finally announced the rules that were leaked in the press last week (see my link to a recent AP article), when I blogged about them. Some regulations are stronger than expected, others significantly weaker.

I was saddened to hear that LaHood and his colleagues had backed away from their plans to have the airlines refund baggage fees when luggage is delayed. Seemed like common-sense to me that when the airlines "mishandled" baggage, they should forfeit the fee that's meant to guarantee that service. But with oil prices continuing to rise, and with these increases the airlines' expenses going up exponentially, perhaps this was a necessary concession to an increasingly beleaguered industry. Still, since airlines do already reimburse passengers when a bag is completely lost, my guess is that most passengers will forget to request the luggage fee back, making this regulation virtually moot.

That 2nd line totally airfares will soon be gone
The 24-hour free and clear period for canceling an airline booking without penalty has also had some limits put on it. One will only be able to do this for tickets booked more than a week before departure, which seems logical to me as in that last week, juggling capacity numbers gets quite tricky.

Where the DOT has gotten tough is on the way fares are advertised. No more will you find come-on fares listing mouthwater airfares, only to find that with the addition of required taxes and fees you're going to be spending several hundred dollars more than expected. Instead, all advertised prices will include government taxes (rather than hiding them in the fine print). As for fees, the DOT has declined to cap those (sigh), but they are requiring that they be clearly visible on the front page of airline websites. Those dreaded luggage fees, in particular, are going to be well spelled out. According to a piece in today's New York Times "The new rules require the airlines and ticket agents to refer passengers to up-to-date information about baggage charges, both before and after a ticket purchase. Airlines must also include bag fees in e-ticket confirmations sent to passengers."

And bumping passengers will get more painful for the airlines, with the reimbursement for involuntary bumping almost doubling to between $800 and $1300 (depending on the amount of the delay).

Last but not least, the government will no longer just be capping the amount of time a plane full of passengers can sit on the runway. Now international flights will have a four-hour limit for this form of involuntary imprisonment.

Surprise, surprise, the airlines and the Air Transport Association are pushing back, claiming these moves will cause more cancellations of flights and higher pricing. The spokesperson from Spirit, in the overblown rhetoric that seems to be the norm at the only domestic carrier that has the gall to charge for carry-on bags (grrr), told the NY Times that the 24-hour cancellation rule would be "“like allowing a customer at a grocery store to take home a carton of milk without charge, leave it out in the sun and then bring back the spoiled milk the next day.” You gotta give 'em points for creativity.

The new rules will go into effect in late August.

1 comment:

  1. Gone are the days of getting wings from a flight attendant and a coloring book with a cartoon airplane to keep us smiling for hours. Thanks for keeping us posted on the changes the airlines like to hide. As an avid traveler, I truly appreciate it!