Airline passenger rights upgraded

Flying the friendly skies got a bit more friendly this week as the Department of Transportation upgraded the Airline Passenger Bill Of Rights made the law of the land last year. As a result, fewer checked bags should be lost or damaged, fewer passengers should get bumped and fewer flights should get stuck on the tarmac.

“Airline passengers have a right to be treated fairly,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. “It’s just common sense that if an airline loses your bag or you get bumped from a flight because it was oversold, you should be reimbursed.

OK, let’s break it down.

Lost Bags and Bag Fees- No service = No fee
Airlines were already required to compensate passengers for reasonable expenses for loss, damage or delay of luggage. In a “how did that slip through the cracks?” moment of clarity, airlines are now required to refund any fee for carrying a bag if the bag is lost. That sure makes sense: no service, no fee. Airlines also have to apply the same baggage allowances and fees for all segments of a trip, including segments with interline and code share partners.

That actually could be good or bad news, depending on how it plays out. If the result is that airlines raise baggage fees to everyone in order to cover their loss as a result of this rule, that might not be so good for people like me who have never (knock on wood) had a bag lost.

Full Disclosure of Additional Fees- No more hidden fees
Airlines have to prominently disclose all potential fees on their websites and refer passengers to up-to-date baggage fee information both before and after they buy a ticket. That sounds reasonable, no big deal. A huge deal is that airlines and ticket agents will be required to include all government taxes and fees in every advertised price.

Airlines are also required to let reservations be held at the quoted fare without payment or canceled without penalty for at least 24 hours after the reservation is made, if the reservation is made one week or more prior to a flight’s departure date.

New also is a ban on post-purchase fare increases unless they are due to government-imposed taxes or fees (not fuel surcharges or other airline-imposed fees), and only if the passenger is notified of and agrees to the potential increase at the time of sale. This is a lot like cruise lines do with the potential fuel surcharge that might be added on later if the price of oil goes sky high. You agree to it as a condition of buying the ticket.

Bumping. Big fees paid to bumped passengers.
If you get bumped from a flight and the airline can get you to your destination within a reasonable amount of time, (1 to 2 hours later on domestic flights and 1 to 4 hours international) you will receive compensation equal to double the price of your tickets up to $650 (up from $400). Those subject to longer delays (more than 2 hours domestic and more than 4 hours international) will receive payments of four times the value of their tickets, up to $1,300 (up from $800).

Tarmac Delays. 4 hour limit on domestic and international flights
Thank those passengers who sat delayed on the tarmac for what must have felt like days during the December 2010 blizzard that shut down New York’s JFK airport for this one. Exceptions will be allowed only for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons but the new rule puts a four hour limit. Airlines are also required to supply adequate food and water after two hours, as well as working lavatories and any necessary medical treatment.

These new rules are certainly a big step in the right direction, speaking the universal language of all airlines (money) loud and clear.

Transportation Secretary LaHood concluded “The additional passenger protections we’re announcing today will help make sure air travelers are treated with the respect they deserve.”

Flickr photo by soypocolapantera

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