The Department of Transportation (DOT) wants the airlines—and perhaps more importantly, travelers—to know it means business when it comes to baggage. Here, for your reading enjoyment, is the text from a recent DOT release on baggage policies:
"Airlines may not arbitrarily limit compensation for passengers who purchase necessities because their baggage is lost or delayed, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) said in a notice issued today.
In its notice, the Department's Aviation Enforcement Office said that a number of carriers have policies stating that they will reimburse passengers only for buying necessities purchased more than 24 hours after arrival and limiting such reimbursements to the outbound legs of trips. This is in violation of DOT regulations which require that airlines cover all expenses caused by lost or delayed baggage up to $3,300 per passenger on domestic flights, DOT said.
'Travelers should not have to pay for toiletries or other necessities while they wait for baggage misplaced by airlines,' said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. 'We expect airlines to comply with all of our regulations and will take enforcement action if they do not.'
The Department said airlines should review their passenger handouts and contracts of carriage to make sure they comply with DOT rules. The Aviation Enforcement Office will monitor carriers' compliance and take enforcement action if necessary after 90 days from the issuance of this notice.
Last month the Department fined an airline for providing compensation for delayed baggage only for the outbound leg of round-trip flights and only for purchases made more than 24 hours after arrival, among other violations."
Translation: Learn from Spirit's mistakes. The baggage policies detailed in this release are the exact policies Spirit violated (among others), which earned the airline hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
Between its response to the ExpressJet fiasco ("Learning more about the facts of this incident hasn't done a whole lot to temper my anger," DOT Secretary Ray LaHood said at the time) and the heavy penalties levied on Spirit, the DOT appears to be taking an aggressive stance on airline customer service issues. The stern warning above is only another example of this. It's good policy (and politics) to defend the consumer, and let's face it: Nailing the airlines for customer service miscues is like shooting fish in a barrel. But while this populist attitude and new-sheriff-in-town pose has probably won the DOT a few fans, it will mean nothing without effective, responsible action. Let's hope that continues.