DOT Releases New Passenger’s Bill of Rights

NEW YORK (MainStreet)  –  The Department of Transportation released a beefed-up version of its airline passenger’s bill of rights Wednesday, requiring airlines to pay for lost luggage and disclose hidden fees, among other provisions.

“Airline passengers have a right to be treated fairly,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a written statement. “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. The additional passenger protections we’re announcing today will help make sure air travelers are treated with the respect they deserve.”

The new rules, first proposed by the DOT in June, had been posted in the Federal Register for public comment as they awaited formal approval. Now they’re set to go into effect August 23.

The rules expand upon regulations put forth in December 2009 that say domestic flights are not allowed to sit on the tarmac for more than three hours after boarding. Now international flights will be included as well, though with a limit of four hours. During that time, all grounded planes will now be required to provide basic services like access to lavatories and water.

The new regulations will also require airlines to prominently disclose all fees on their websites, including those for baggage, meals, canceling or changing reservations seat upgrades. 

Speaking of seats, passengers bumped from overbooked flights will now be entitled to compensation worth twice the price of their ticket (up to $800) if the passenger is delayed for two hours or less. Those who face longer delays after being bumped can receive up to $1,300 in compensation, according to the new terms.

The bill of rights will also require airlines to hold reservations at the quoted fare without payment, and allow consumers to cancel a reservation without penalty within at least 24 hours of purchase, so long as the flight was booked a week or more before its departure.

Additionally, airlines will now be required to notify consumers of delays longer than 30 minutes. And they won’t be able to impose post-purchase fare increases unless they are due to government-imposed taxes or fees.

Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, said that while the new regulations are a step in the right direction, the DOT still has a long way to go before consumers are adequately protected from shady airline practices.

“Unfortunately, [there are] two major issues DOT did not act on,” Leocha told MainStreet, noting his dissatisfaction with the department’s failure to impose full-fee transparency wherever airline tickets are sold. “Keeping the fees only on airline websites means that the 60% of the American public that uses travel agents will not have these ancillary fees readily available in order to make educated price comparisons.”

Leocha said he also hopes the DOT will make airlines include customer service plans in their contracts, which would broaden consumers’ legal rights in the event of a mishap. Leocha said these changes may be forthcoming.

“DOT has promised to work on this issue and we expect a new proposed rulemaking before the end of the year,” he said.
For a full explanation of the new rules and regulations, visit the DOT’s website.

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