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DOT Proposes Sweeping Air Passenger Rights Changes

The Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed sweeping new consumer protections that would drastically change the flying experience for all passengers. Here's a roundup of the main components.

Tarmac Delays: Now that the DOT's new three-hour rule is in place, the next move is to require airlines to form contingency plans for tarmac delay scenarios and post them on their websites. These contingency plans will be part of each airline's contract of carriage. The DOT would also extend the rule to small-hub and non-hub airports, essentially covering all airports that serve more than 10,000 passengers annually.

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The DOT would also apply the tarmac delay rules, both the new rules and the existing ones, to international airlines that operate flights in the U.S.

Bumping: The DOT is proposing an increase to the compensation amount for passengers who are involuntarily bumped. Currently, the amounts are $400 for shorter delays and $800 for longer delays. The DOT's proposed minimums are $650 for shorter delays and $1,300 for longer delays. The new figures are adjusted for inflation, and the DOT is proposing an automated inflation adjuster to ensure compensation limits remain in line with current inflation rates.

The DOT also wants to require airlines to offer a cash/check option at the same time they offer a travel voucher. The DOT reports that many travelers do not know that a cash/check payment is available, and mistakenly believe the voucher is their only option.

Flight Status Notification: The DOT claims major U.S. airlines should promptly notify people of flight cancellations, or delays of 30 minutes or more on domestic flights. This would allow travelers extra time to consider alternative flights or transportation.

Fare Transparency: This is a biggie. The DOT is proposing new fare rules that require airlines to display fares inclusive of all mandatory taxes and fees, including airport fees, which can vary from airport to airport. Basically, ticket sellers would not be able to display a fare that differs in any way from what a customer would pay.

The DOT also wants to prohibit airlines from advertising "one-way" fares that are actually available only for round-trip travel. Airlines would have to use the term "each way." The DOT would also require ticket sellers to offer travel insurance and other add-ons as an opt-in rather than an opt-out.

Fee Transparency: Another big one. The DOT would require airlines to have a web page, prominently linked to on the airline's homepage, that lists each optional fee. Advertised fares would have to include not only the ticket price, but also a second price that includes all the services traditionally included in the ticket price, presumably food, bags, etc. Airline ticket websites would also have to provide the option of adding optional fees to a fare before booking so customers can see how much they'll actually spend.

Regarding baggage fees specifically, the DOT would require airlines to disclose fee changes on their homepages for at least three months after the change is made, and require that the e-ticket confirmation reveal any charges for carry-ons and for first or second checked bags.

Customer Service Plans: The DOT is considering creating a specific set of customer service plans all airlines must adopt. This includes delivering lost bags within 24 hours, and compensating passengers for this delay; allowing a 24-hour period in which customers can make and hold and then cancel reservations for no penalty; and telling prospective travelers what its lowest available fare is, whether the consumer is using the airline’s website, is at the ticket counter, or calls the airline’s reservation number.

Like I said, this is just an overview. There are more details available at regulationroom.org. The above proposals are now in a 60-day review period, during which anyone—including you—can comment on the rules. You can also vote on which issues matter to you. Over the next few days, I'll be putting together some more in-depth posts about the individual components of the DOT's proposed changes, including background information on the issues, and pros and cons about the DOT's ideas for fixing them.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you think about these proposals. Leave a comment below with your thoughts. Thanks!

Reminder! You have until the end of the day to submit your questions for DOT Secretary Ray LaHood. I've already received some good ones, so keep them coming!

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