While there’s a roaring debate these days about whether or not the last eight years have been good for the U.S., there’s little doubt that the period has been pretty good for travelers.
Last week the Obama Administration released new rules designed to enhance the rights of airline travelers, and to ensure they have access to full and unbiased information when they select a flight. These consumer protections are just the latest in an ongoing series of steps that the administration has put in place over the past eight years– and that’s in addition to other traveler-friendly strides such as the implementation of PreCheck and Global Entry, and the relaxation of rules regarding travel to Cuba.
The Transportation Department this month said it has started a rulemaking proceeding that would require airlines to refund the fees that passengers pay for checked baggage in the event their bags are “substantially delayed” after their flight. The proceeding would determine what constitutes a substantial delay.
In October, DOT also issued new final rules that will:
- Require airlines to report on-time arrival and departure performance for all domestic flights that operate under their brand – not just their so-called “mainline” flights. Currently, airline on-time performance statistics only include mainline flights, but major airlines typically put their brand identity on the flights of smaller regional airlines that are usually independently owned and operated, and that often do not operate on-time as much as their larger partners.
- Ban airlines and online travel agencies from “undisclosed biasing” of flight listings that consumers search through. Airlines sometimes enter into special agreements with online agencies, offering them more remuneration for preferred placement of their flight listings in the overall search results. And historically, the higher up a flight is listed, the more likely it is to be booked.
- Change the way mishandled baggage incidents are reported. Instead of relying on passenger reports of lost bags, DOT will require airlines to report the total number of bags they mishandled vs. the total number of checked bags they carried.
In addition, DOT has started a separate rulemaking to determine whether airlines should be required to share information on all passenger fees with the online agencies that sell many of their tickets. In recent years, most airlines have started to assess separate charges for many things that used to be included in the passenger’s ticket price, such as checked luggage, advance seat selection, in-flight meals, ticket change and cancellation fees, and so on. DOT rules haven’t caught up yet with these changes in the way air travel is marketed.
These are just the latest rule changes. Five years ago, the administration finalized other consumer protection rules, including: (See our post from 2011)
- A requirement that airlines must reimburse passengers for the checked-bag fee if their luggage is lost and not recovered. Previous rules said airlines had to compensate passengers for the lost bag and contents, but did not cover the checked bag fee.
- An order that the fares advertised by airlines and ticket agents to consumers must include not only the air fare itself, but also all government-imposed mandatory taxes and fees. Previously, taxes and mandatory fees were split out from the basic fare, and were often hidden in tiny type at the bottom of ads. Airlines were also required to prominently display on their websites all the potential fees that a consumer might have to pay in addition to air fare and taxes.
- A rule that doubled the amount of compensation airlines have to pay passengers who are bumped from a flight on which they hold a confirmed reservation (not counting passengers who voluntarily accept an airline’s offer in exchange for agreeing to take a later flight). The amount depends on how long it takes the airline to get the bumped passenger to his destination on a later flight; compensation is set at twice the cost of the ticket, up to a maximum of $650 for shorter delays and $1,300 for longer ones.
- A mandate that airlines must let customers hold a reservation for at least 24 hours before deciding whether to buy it or cancel it, assuming the booking is made at least a week before departure.
And the one that got the most notice due to repeated press horror stories about hungry and impatient passengers stuck on board their plane for hours without taking off or going to the gate:
- A “tarmac delay” rule initially introduced in 2009 that said airlines had to provide food and water after two hours and give passengers the option to get off the plane on domestic flights after they had been stuck on the tarmac for three hours (or face stiff fines). Two years later, that rule was expanded to set a four-hour tarmac delay limit on the international flights of U.S. and foreign airlines.
So what do you think? Has the air travel experience improved for you over the last eight years…or not? Please share your observations and experiences below!