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New Proposed DOT Rules Aren’t Bad

Round two of the Department DOT Issues More Commandmentsof Transportation’s proposed “Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections” rule is out, and you probably assume that I’m going to say this is an awful thing, right? Wrong. There’s actually not much in there that makes for a big change (though there is one thing that I hate, no matter how minor), and in fact, there are a couple of things that I rather like.

I thought it might be helpful to go through a step-by-step look at exactly what’s being proposed here, and what this actually means for you as a customer.

  1. Ground Delay Rules
    They did actually address the ground delay rules, but instead of making them more flexible, they’ve gone ahead and widened the net.

    • The rule now applies to foreign carriers as well as domestic carriers. It’s far less of a problem on long haul flights anyway, though it’s also harder to get a new flight if things cancel. They are asking “interested persons to comment on whether any final rule . . . should include a uniform standard for the time interval” for international flights. We’ll see what happens there.
    • The rule will now apply to smaller airports as well as larger ones and the airline has to coordinate with the airport. Again, that’s not an issue. The big airports are the problems anyway, so airlines are already putting things into place systemwide.
    • Lastly, airlines are required to keep customers informed within 30 minutes of knowing information about a delay. Good.

  2. Ramp Delay Data
    Right now, only the big domestic carriers have to report long ramp delays. This would extend it to any airline with more airplanes that have more than 30 seats. Sounds good to me. Why shouldn’t everyone have to report? I’d love to see them all have to report on time performance, complaints, etc as well.
  3. Customer Service Plans
    Right now, US carriers have to create customer service plans on how to deal with delays, bumping, etc. This would extend it to foreign carriers. Fair enough.
  4. Contracts of Carriage
    One of my pet peeves is finally being addressed. This would require foreign airlines to post their contracts of carriage on their websites. It’s incredibly frustrating when that information isn’t accessible. In addition, customer service plans now would have to be included in the contract of carriage. It should be, so that customers don’t have to go all over the place to find their rights.
  5. Response to Consumer Problems
    Domestic carriers now have to post their contact information and respond to complaints in a timely manner. This would extend the provision to foreign carriers. It’s funny, because it’s the first time I’ve seen Twitter or Facebook in a ruling. They’re asking if that should be included in the rule or not. I would say no. While airlines should respond to people on Twitter and Facebook, the sheer avalanche of information for some airlines makes that difficult and unnecessary.
  6. Oversales
    There are a few issues addressed here and none of them huge. They are proposing to raise the cap on reimbursement and have that cap track inflation. That’s fine – it’s just a cap so if people are on more expensive tickets, they should be compensated. It may get airlines to bump cheap fares more often than they already do, I suppose, and it could reduce overbooking a bit, but I doubt it will have a big impact.

    Also, people on free tickets (frequent flier awards, etc) would be entitled to denied boarding compensation. I didn’t realize they weren’t already. There are a couple other things in there that are really procedural and just don’t matter much to you as a traveler.

  7. Full Fare Advertising
    I love this one. It would require displayed prices to be “all-in” and taxes and certain fees that are currently allowed to be excluded will no longer receive that benefit. Good. Also, one way fares can only be called that if they are one way and not “one way based on roundtrip purchase.” Lastly, fees that are “opt-out” (in other words, they’re already checked and you have to uncheck to remove) would be prohibited. Huzzah.
  8. Baggage and Other Fees
    Call this one the Southwest rule. It would require airlines to not only disclose the all-in price but also the price including bags separately. I think that’s kind of goofy, but whatever. The alternate proposal is what I want to see. It would require airlines to allow customers to check and uncheck what they want and then show the full fare including everything.
  9. Post-Purchase Price Increases
    I can’t say I’ve ever seen this happen, but it would prevent airlines from increasing the price after someone purchased a ticket. It may not be banned right now, but has anyone ever seen this? Maybe it happens with shady travel agencies or tour operators.
  10. Flight Status Changes
    This would require large airlines that fly domestically to immediately keep people updated about delays and cancellations. Uh yeah. Information is good.
  11. Choice of Forum
    The DOT would allow customers who are looking to sue an airline to do it in any competent court. Right now, apparently the airline can determine where that might be in their contracts of carriage, and it could be thousands of miles away. Sure, fine.
  12. Peanut Allergies
    This is the one I hate. I suppose we can call it the anti-Southwest rule. The DOT is considering banning peanuts. Dude, that sucks. But it’s only one of the proposals. Others might just have peanut-free rows, as airlines do today.

The reality is that these are all up for debate and the DOT goes out of its way asking for comment on a large number of issues. You can read the entire 84 page report yourself and if you feel so bold, throw some comments out there for the DOT to digest.

As you can see, there’s nothing particularly bad in here. It’s mostly clean-up, but I like some of the rules, including the pricing display one, a lot.

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