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Air Travellers Get More Protection

Department of Transportation LogoOn Tuesday, a series of regulations aimed to decrease the amount and length of tarmac delays, the number of fliers bumped from planes, and to make extra fare fees more explicit took effect. The new rules will be enforced by the Department of Transportation (DoT).

Under the new Passenger Bill of Rights initiative, international flights in and out of the US have been included in the ‘Tarmac Rule’. This means an airline will be fined up to $27,500 per passenger if its commercial aircraft sits on a runway for over four hours with customers on board. Charges for bags, cancellations, meals and other hidden fees will have to be prominently posted on carriers’ websites as well. Additionally, bumped passengers will have to be compensated at least double the price of their fare – for tickets less than $650.

Several other regulations will start being enforced by the government department in January. The most notable of these is allowing passengers to modify their reservations within 24 hours of booking – free of penalty fees.

Consumer advocacy group Flyer’s Rights has welcomed the new regulations, calling them a triumph over an industry with a horrible customer service record. Founder Kate Hanni says she believes the DoT will act to enforce the rules. They pushed for what has been put into effect so far, and there are more to come. She also noted that the new rules aren’t due to congressional legislation but because of a DoT ruling.

This follows the relationship between airlines and the White House changing with the induction of President Barack Obama into office. He, Vice President Joe Biden and State Secretary Hillary Clinton had supported more protection for air passengers before. The president directed the department to enforce rulings it started work on but had never implemented under the previous administration.

However, Hanni says she has come across airline lobbyists on nearly all her trips to Congress. She said there are still too many holes in regulations, with carriers not being required to have bathrooms on planes. There also aren’t any rules about legroom, so a fight could ensue later about the skyrider seats that have been introduced.

American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith played down the significance of the fresh rules and the possibility of future clashes between the airline industry and consumer advocates. He said that his carrier is working to increase legroom and was mostly in compliance with the new regulations prior to their enforcement. The airline will have to put a link on its site for all its optional services and create a complete list of charges for the services. He added that refunding luggage fees for lost bags is important for consumers and somewhat minor for carriers.

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