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.


42 Responses to New Proposed DOT Rules Aren’t Bad

  1. tharanga says:

    How much of an issue is the peanut thing, really? (I’m genuinely asking). There are non-peanut rows? I had no idea.

    • Jason H says:

      The Canadian courts recently ruled peanut allergies were a medical disability and allowing peanuts on planes was a violation of human rights.

    • A says:

      Agree with you that a peanut ban is ridiculous. If an airline wants to cater to the nut allergy folks they have the right to make their planes “nut free zones.” I know people that have kids with those allergies and they’d pay extra for that. However I don’t buy the argument that an airline is violating human rights if some guy has some peanuts on a plane. If you are that concerned about your nut allergy you have the option to not fly. Drive or take NetJets if it’s that big of a deal.

      • tharanga says:

        A violation of human rights? But pretty for much any food you could serve, somebody somewhere is allergic to it. So I hope the logic was somewhat more subtle than that, because the illogical extreme here is to serve no food to anybody.

    • MeanMeosh says:

      The big problem, in my opinion, is how the heck do you enforce a ban on peanuts? If you just want to adopt a blanket rule that you can’t serve peanuts on planes, then fine, but how do you stop people from bringing them on board, intentionally or otherwise? Do we put the TSA in charge of searching for peanuts at security checkpoints? God help us all if that’s the case. Do gate agents have to do it before everyone boards? And what about the diabetic that keeps a Snickers bar in his pocket in case of a low blood sugar attack? Are you going to be the one to tell him to put it away when he opens it up entering hour 2 of a ramp delay at lunchtime? And for that matter, if I’ve just come from a baseball game and had one of those big bags of peanuts, and I’m now covered in residue, what would you do about that? I’ve heard some people comment that those with severe peanut allergies can be affected just by that.

      Seems to me that this is one of those rules that might have good intentions, but is going to be impossible to put in to practice. I think a better idea might be to allow people flying with a peanut allergy to identify themselves via a checkbox while booking. The airline can then remove peanuts or peanut products from that flight, and send an e-mail/voicemail to all passengers asking them to refrain from bringing them onboard. That would probably take care of 99% of the problem right there.

  2. Adam L says:

    I’m allergic to stupid people. I demand my own flight.

    • Xnuiem says:

      I will take that a bit further..I am allergic to stupid people, so much ice in my drink I dont get any actual liquid, paying for food a felon in county jail would pass on, the use of perfume, cologne, aftershave within 30 minutes of boarding or on board, and screaming kids (even mine).

      If that is a human rights violation is being 6’5″ and 240 with broad shoulders and then being required to sit in those 17″ wide seats for hours covered too? I should get something out of the deal instead of early onset arthritis.

  3. David says:

    When the price of oil is rising very fast, it occasionally happens that an airline will have some clause about ‘fuel surcharges’. I’ve seen some airlines (proper airlines, not the cheap+nasty ones) around the web say on their website that they retain the right to demand payment of additional fuel surcharges after the ticket has been issued – or refuse boarding. Very rare, but not completely unheard of. I presume this is what the DOT is talking about when it refers to post-purchase ticket price increases

    • True LH will add collect if the fuel surcharge is now higher when changing a ticket (same cities) or refunding a partially used ticket. But if the current charge is now lower, they will not refund the difference. Other carriers are starting to do the same.

    • Probably isn’t a bad idea. The cruise lines started doing that a few years ago with the fuel charges, where they can add on an extra amount per day if the price of fuel stays over a certain amount. I’m surprised the airlines haven’t snuck that one in already.

  4. SEAN says:

    I am alergic to shellfish, so I understand the Peanut issue on some level. Unlike shellfish alergies that would require someone to ingest some to have a reaction, just detecting the smell of peanuts is enough for some people to go into anapolactic shock.

    Some sensitivity please!

    • AndrewBW says:

      I’m with Cranky on this, and I speak with someone who went through years of treatment for traditional (pollen, etc.) allergies as a child.

      The term you’re reaching for is “anaphylactic,” and numerous recent studies have shown that food allergies in general are some of the most overblown, non-existent health problems today. More often than not, it’s a convenient boogeyman for psychotic parents with borderline Munchausen Syndrome-by-proxy.

      From a recent study:

      “Professor Adnan Custovic led the research team which examined the prevalence of peanut allergy in almost 1,000 eight year olds who belong to the Manchester Asthma and Allergy Study. This group of children were recruited before they were born and have been followed up at regular intervals since birth. In this study, children with suspected peanut allergy were challenged with peanuts in a safe, controlled environment. Research has shown a huge false positive rate for current standard blood or skin tests for sensitivity to peanuts. Although approximately 1 in 10 children had positive skin or blood test results to peanut, on the basis of the oral peanut challenge, only 1 in 50 had peanut allergy.”

      And you know what has been found to be the most successful treatment for people who do have legitimate peanut allergies? EXPOSE THEM TO PEANUTS (Google it).

      “sensitivity” indeed. People are nuts. (har har!)

      • AndrewBW says:

        Gah, wish you could edit comments here: my first sentence should read, “…I speak AS someone who…” not “with”

      • Xnuiem says:

        Dont forget, these are the same parents that dont carry wipes, epi-pens, or benadryl for their kids “allergy”. If it was that bad, do it. I carry an epi-pen just because I had an issue with a medication, which is pretty rare, but just in case. It isnt worth the risk to carry a $5 device that could save your life.

        Besides, if that rule passes, can I still carry on Peanut M&M’s and if so, if I killed the kid behind me because of my peanut dust, would that be criminally negligent homicide?

  5. Oliver says:

    I am not allergic to peanuts, but quite frankly, if having peanuts (dust) in the general area is really dangerous to a fellow passenger, I am okay with not having them onboard. Not a big deal. And responses like “then just drive” are just idiotic.

  6. I do like the fare ruling, I always thought it was wrong to show a oneway fare based on roundtrip purchase. That was just tricking the public and should never have been permitted.

    No peanuts, gee how about not pets in cabin since someone may be allergic to cat or dog fur more then peanuts. How about no perfume since some women think they must put on 5 gallons of perfume every five minutes.

    I agree everyone should have to report ramp delays info, but for the ‘express’ type carriers who fly under the major airlines code, they should be allowed to report if the delay was due to the major telling them to wait for some reason. The negative data should go against the actural airline of the major is controlling it.

    • James says:

      Just as annoying as hotels showing a cheap rate based on a “3 night stay” or “double occupancy…”

    • Alex Hill says:

      Better yet, require the marketing carriers to consolidate the reports of all the operating carriers flying under a single brand. United’s report ought to include United Express flights too (or at least have a single line item including all United Express flights), whether or not they were cancelled at United’s request.

      • The problem with any of this is that (for example) here in California between LAX and SAN flights are operated by Skywest, but are booked UA, US, or CO. So who really controls the flight Skywest or UA, US, or CO. I believe the original codeshare agreement was between Skywest and UA with US/CO tagging on to that. But who can say to Skywest to hold a flight for whatever reason, all three or only UA. Kind of an interesting question since one delay would effect the data for all four carriers.

        • Alex Hill says:

          I was going to say “that’s why I said primary marketing carrier”, but I failed to include that proviso in my post, I see. Eep.

          The flights you cite are still be marketed as United Express (and will fly from a United Express gate, check-in will be with United, the announcements will say “United Express operated by SkyWest, etc), with US and CO codeshares, so should count for United only, IMO.

  7. Oliver says:

    Love the full fare advertising rule. United not to long ago actually switched from showing the full fare to a fare exclusive of taxes and fees on their website during booking, and I wonder if that change triggered this proposal.

  8. Chris says:

    On the peanut issue, keep doing what is already being done (nut free zones, don’t serve on a flight with a allergic person. There is no way to stop people from opening their own packages, previously given, or remove every peanut from every nook and crany of every airplane after every flight. Get a grip and make your plans accordingly.

    One the oversale compensation issue. No one likes to be involed. Oversells happen since people don’t call and cancel is they aren’t going to make a flight. Not sure about all airlines policies. Does Jetblue still not overbook? Do they give refunds or keep the cash for no shows? Southwest does not give a refund but will let you use the funds for future flights on resticted fares. Which is going to make more people mad? Use it as booked or loose it or possibly be involed.

    • tharanga says:

      Jetblue says they still do not overbook. Just googled it, and the jetblue twitterer said so today.

      but i wonder how they manage the extra legroom seats on a full flight, since the cheaper seats seem to sell out faster. Do they stop selling the cheap seats when they run out?

  9. JayB says:

    Thanks, Cranky. And we thought our goverment couldn’t do anything!

    A few more things to “enhance” passenger protection:

    1. Prohibit advertising any price that looks like a fare, but isn’t, because of the “…with required….” Airlines might as well advertise a IAD-SFO fare as “42 cents. Small-print, double asterisked: “First mile, with required purchanse of all miles to final destination, plus additonal fees.”

    2. Prohibit listing flights with “code-share” designators. Use the actual operating airline code and its flight number. At least for the first 6 digits of a flight number. If the marketing airline wants to get its designator in there, let ‘em add it on after the first 6 postions of the flight number. And, if the operator changes every day, OK, change the flight number so the customer knows who’s operating the flight.

    3. Prohibit “change-of-gauge” flight designations. No same-flight number for any trip that involves change-of-plane. If this current practice isn’t deceptive, disclosure nothwithstanding, what is?

    4. Prohibit restrictions against sales of “back-to-back” tickets. Let the customer beware of problems with checked bags, but so be it.

    5. Prohibit restrictions against sales of “hidden city” tickets. Yes, there will always be “routing” rules. Again, let the customer beware of problems with checked bags, etc.

    s/Another one of those customer who’s just never satisfied!

    • Ron says:

      I second point 3, no advertising change-of-plane itineraries as “direct” flights. Also, make a clear distinction between non-stop and multi-stop on a single plane. If I remember correctly from what I read, this messing with flight numbers comes from a ruling in the mid-1980s about the order in which flights are displayed in computer systems, requiring that non-stop and “direct” flights be placed at the top (but not ordering them by the number of stops). Perhaps at the time, 1-stop flying without a change of plane was more common, and maybe back then people still understood the term “direct” to mean a flight with stops (though I have my doubts about the latter). Today, Southwest is pretty much the only airline that makes substantial use of marketing multi-stop flying on a single plane (which does have advantages over connecting itineraries). For the others, this flight-number manipulation is just a crafty way to get to the top of the list for the most important international markets they don’t serve non-stop (which is why, for example, almost every Delta flight from L.A. to Atlanta “continues” with a change of plane to some major international destination).

      • Ron funny you mention WN and multi-stop flights. Back in the early 90’s they had a flight that went between LAX and DTW that made 7 stops. Needless to say you could have connected in LAS or PHX and made 2 other stops and gotten to Detroit faster. But if you didn’t like changing planes that was the flight for you, and the fare was the same as any other flight in the market.

  10. Bob says:

    I guess I understand why everyone is so upset about the potential loss of their free peanuts. It’d be like banning popcorn from movie theaters. I’m sure if there were people going into shock or dropping dead during flights the moment the first bag of peanuts was opened, we would hear about it.

    But the bottom line is this…while the peanuts may not be killing people on the flight, there are other allergic reactions that can make a long flight intolerable. Is it really too much to give up to prevent others from breaking out…itchy throats…difficulty breathing? Are pretzels really that bad?

    • Bill says:

      Why should 130 people have to change their eating behavior for 1? Shouldn’t it be other way around?

      • “””””Why should 130 people have to change their eating behavior for 1? Shouldn’t it be other way around?”””””

        Bill remember this is the USA so majority rules until one person sues then everyone else must change (aka suffer/lose/pay the price/etc)

        Granted if I pulled some peanuts out of my pocket and all of a sudden someone near me started having an attack I would get rid of them or move to eat them. I don’t want anyone to suffer, but that is life in this country, you have to give up something in case one person that day somewhere in the flying world has an allergy to peanuts.

        It would be to simple to have a person make a reservation and say they are allergic to peanuts so it would be known ahead of time not to serve them on that flight and/or to made an announcement on the flight about no peanuts permitted around seat number whatever. Nope we must have a law that effects everyone all the time because someone sued.

      • Bob says:

        You’re right, Bill. That 1 person should change their allergies for everyone else. They should just not be allergic to peanuts. Or they should just stop having to travel.

        • Bill says:

          Very intelligent comment Bob. Let many suffer for one. What about people who wear cologne and a passenger is allergic to it? Not let anyone who smells nice board their flight?

  11. Bill says:

    If someone is allergic to peanuts then they should wear a mask if they fly. Why should one person infringe on my right to eat what I want?

    • Rui A. says:

      Because your “right” can possibly do (very serious) harm to others?

      • Bill says:

        Please read my comment above: Why should 130 people have to change their eating behavior for 1? Shouldn’t it be other way around?

      • Bill says:

        Besides that what is the passenger going to do if someone brought a bag of nuts on the flight and opened them up? Tell them they can’t eat them? Be realistic!

  12. Gary says:

    More information is always a feel good. But giving people information can also add to confusion and leave them – at best – no worse off. I’m always skeptical of ‘more disclosure’ as meaning telling people about things that we WISH they would care about and pay attention to, but won’t even after we tell them that they should.

    And discouring airliens from giving out food of any kind can’t possibly be good.

    • JamesK says:

      If I could only tell you the number of times I’ve said “sir/madam, I’m very sorry the flight left without you. However, I should point out it does say in red letters right here on your ticket folder that the flight closes 10 minutes prior to departure” and heard in reply “yes, but nobody told me I had to read it!”

  13. Dr. Stan says:

    Listing the FULL fare, with all required inclusions, would be a great benefit. CO especially has never, to my knowledge, listed the complete fare on its search engine. So you are presented with a $343 fare MEX-EWR, but by the time taxes and fees are added, you are looking at $600 or more. The even add insult to injury by clear verbal indications that there are ONLY 2 seats left at this LOW price…when they mean at the real $600 price. You can waste a lot of time plodding through the flight choices to get to the “real” cost page, where you decide it is not so attractive at all.

  14. Scott says:

    Love to see this in Canada too, where AC’s ‘Fuel Surcharge’ now runs between 80%-110% of the total fuel cost, and NavCanada surcharges can be twice the actual fee charged by NavCanada

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